Tool Organization

Looking for ideas/inspiration on properly managing the tool in your build room or lab. Any ideas, pictures and how your team handle this would be appreciated.

Thank you!

In our shop we have each drawer labelled with what is in it. The kids are supposed to put them back when they are done with them or at the end of a session. If you take it out put it back. Reserve 10 to 15 minutes at the end of the session for tool and material return and sweep up.

In our pit I have a student assigned to take care of the tool cases. When the pit crew is done working on the robot the tools are put back on the top of the tool case. The “Tool Boss” takes care of putting them all back in the right places. When quick repairs are required the Tool Boss hands tools and parts to the pit crew. Speeds up repairs and keeps things organized.

I really love shadow boards. There are a number of different ways to make shadow board, my favorite way is using Kaizen Foam.

This is my portable tool box:

In our shop we don’t have great tool box organization either. But personally I find that if I group all my tools and then cut out foam to fit the tool, like Frank mentioned, that it works very well.

I would also recommend labeling each drawer. You could enforce a rule to to always put tools back when done as previously mentioned. And last label all the team tools with your team number. We use a electric pencil engraver and engrave 5460 into all the team tools. This ensures that if a tool runs away into a students personal toolbox team mentors can identify that its the team’s tool.

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More general chores & cleaning process management than tools specifically…

  • Pit is set up in the shop (in an 8x9 box, so that smallish pits feel normal and 10x10 pits feel huge at events) and contains the primary tool set (and everything else we have at events).
  • A secondary toolbox near the fab tables holds extras of tools we need a lot more of in the shop than we do at events - i.e. calipers, scribes, clamps, etc. Everything that belongs in the secondary toolbox is marked in bright orange so it gets sorted there instead of to the pit.
  • Categorize things so it’s easy to figure out where a thing should go, instead of expecting everybody to memorize the correct (but arbitrary) location for all the things.
  • We start (nearly) every meeting with cleanup. Everybody cleans together, it’s pretty chill, it takes less than fifteen minutes, all the tools get put away in the process (as does everything else, plus the sweeping and vacuuming and such). Because everything is getting put away and organized at the same time it’s easier to spot items that are missing or broken or otherwise not how they should be. It only actually stays put away for the few minutes until we all start working, but it’s enough to notice problems. We rarely clean any other time or put anything away at the end of meetings. End of meetings is just making sure our mess is in our space, and not in the hallways or CAD lab or other classrooms.
  • Don’t keep tools that you don’t need, it makes it harder to keep the ones that you do need organized. Do you need 9 hammers and 17 flathead screwdrivers from mixed sets where 1/3 of them are rusted and everybody avoids using anyway?
  • Don’t keep broken tools longer than a year. Fix it before kickoff or get rid of it. Or tape it to the wall and use it as a stern warning future generations, but don’t leave it in the toolbox or let it float around in space being useless and in the way.
  • Have a designated sanctuary for important stuff, or a system by which everybody knows a thing is important and not to be moved. We use cafeteria trays. Works in progress, tools and components that are out for a good reason, important bits of raw material, etc. Issue stern warnings and threats of public humiliation for wrecking santuaries due to lack of awareness of surroundings.
  • Have a designated purgatory (think like the return cart at the library). Keeps clutter off the workspaces, and keeps kids from incorrectly guessing where a thing goes and putting it someplace the person that needs it will never look for it. Clear all the cutter to purgatory and deal with purgatory during clean up.
  • Have a designated parking lot for identified problems. A white board, sticky notes, google form, etc. Train kids that spot problems that anybody could fix but nobody wants to fix in the middle of a project and write them in the parking lot. Deal with the parking lot at the same time you’re dealing with purgatory.
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Seconded for Kaizen foam. I used it at work for years for a shadow board on a rolling cart of frequently used tools. Everything stays put and you know it’s all there at a glance. One word of caution: when something breaks or comes up missing–and it will–its like losing a piece of your soul. Those new pliers that sort of fit into the cutout where the old ones used to be are just going to remind you of what once was.

Harbor Freight has some pretty nifty drawer organizers for $6-$7. They’re pretty sturdy and the price is right. Most stuff on Amazon and the big box home improvement stores is a little gouged IMO.

Similar to Alison’s post, so I’ll just point out a few differences:

We have red tape or paint on the tools which go in the outside toolbox (where we do most of the cutting of parts). Also, green tiger-stripe tape on metric tools. (some have both).

A “purgatory” bin in some of the hardware storage boxes as well. It’s a lot easier to have someone go through the purgatory bins than every bin, and solves most of the issues.

Also, I have made “shadow boards” by masking tape/papering the tools and spray painting the board.

“Project totes”. This lets a project keep the parts and tools it needs together during the build process. E.g., if only one subteam is working with #25 chain, they will keep the #25 chain supplies and tools rather than returning them to their “normal” home each day. You do need to go through each box regularly (about once a week) to remove things that really ought to be back in the main toolbox.

Something we’ve considered but have never quite done: Have a number of “pit” toolbags or boxes, color code them and their contents, and assign one to each working team. Then they only need to go to the big toolboxes for oddball jobs.

Like Allison said above, we also set up our pit in our build room. This helps the team get used to where tools are in the tool chest and storage drawers.

A label maker does wonders as long as highschoolers don’t get hold of it. Our tool chest is organized and labeled. Drawers are labeled with things such as Screwdrivers, Measurement, Wrenches, Power Tools, Wires (extension cords and Ethernet cables), cutters, electric consumables, electrical screwdrivers, etc. Then we have plastic stacking drawers as well in the pit that hold materials and consumables.

As best we can, we like to make sure all of the tools get back into their respective places each night. There are tools that are standard for building like specific size wrenches or screws in which case we have a container (that may or may not have been a chip and dip server) to put any tools or hardware in that no one wants moved. At least at the end of the night/week try to put everything back. At competition we have a bucket that can be attached with Velcro to the robot cart to put basic and specifically required tools.

If we ever have students that don’t have anything to do we usually put them to cleaning tools or on a rare opportunity reorganizing wrenches and hex keys.

We also have a spot on our white board for a constantly shifting grocery list for parts and pieces. If you don’t know what it is, taping an example to the board is acceptable too.