I'm part of a small team of datacenter worker drones, and we're constantly wasting time hunting for tools because we can't find what we need.

In the case of some tools, I've just taken to buying literally 20 times as many as we need so that we can find them faster. But I can't do that for all of them.

Many are too expensive to buy one for every person and charge them for lost tools like I understand automotive shops sometimes do. We don't have personal lockers or space to install lockers, nor space for complete duplicates of all tools (one copy per employee) either.

What policies or procedures can we try, to reduce misplaced tools and the time wasted therefrom. I looked into public whipping, but labor laws what they are these days, that's off the table.

I'm also tangentially interested in theories/reading on the topic of time-efficient organization. (Store something where it will be used/needed, avoiding opaque containers)

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    Are you all on the same shift or staggered? Is there a single central place where they tools could/should be stored? How expensive are the tools that can't be duplicated? How big is the "small team"? – UnhandledExcepSean Feb 12 '20 at 19:13
  • staggered shifts. there are a couple shelving units to choose from based on what the item is. But it's not uncommon to find missing tools up high on some equipment, inside a machine, on the floor. – Billy Feb 12 '20 at 19:15
  • Hi Billy, Welcome to Lifehacks. – Stan Feb 13 '20 at 16:51
  • This is a suggestion for a suggestion. Individuals are more likely to participate in a program that they have helped plan. Ask your employees for suggestions and encourage discussion to refine them into a workable answer to the problem. You may want to incentivize and reward your employees rather than warn and punish them into compliance. – Stan Feb 14 '20 at 20:49

A place for everything and everything in its place.

You mentioned that you tried to use Tile (an audible signal device) to locate items; but, that its efficiency is limited due to the high noise level of the workplace.

Visible storage may be the solution to your problem. Display tools so that you can see which ones are in stock/storage and which ones aren't. One example of this is the "pegboard" storage systems with detailed silhouettes of tools painted to identify them and their storage positions. There are hooks, bins, racks, shelves, and jars, etc. to choose from. Avoid closed or opaque boxes, drawers, etc. which hide contents.

Such a system is not compact. It will require sufficient space to keep things separate, and accessible. This is not a trivial consideration.

Such a system is not inexpensive. It will require an initial significant investment for the materials and installation.

The return on your investment depends on your tool replacement cost. Your experience should be your guide. Over time it may pay off in terms of installation, maintenance, and workplace efficiency

It must be efficient. Ideally, your tools are individually stored with labels. When there are more than one of the same tool, number each and store them separately. Use large, clear, specific labels to avoid confusion.

It must be easy. The key to success is how easily tools can be removed and replaced. Any extra effort needed to store the tool will be less effective. Ease of use will encourage your careless or lazy colleagues to cooperate. For example, wind power cords around the tool before you put each into its own labeled, fitted bin or hang the tool so that gravity solves where the power cord hangs.

Create a paper trail to trace the tool location. You could try to implement a "library card" lending system for borrowing a tool from storage. This "paper trail" can be used to identify the last person using the tool. When a worker takes a tool from storage, a token is placed in the tool storage to indicate which worker has it. Each worker has their own personal token(s).

Initially, some encouragement will be necessary to get everyone on board. This is more effort than the casual sharing that was the norm there.

Missing tools do not find their way out of the shop by themselves. There's a chance that they are being discarded by accident or stolen. You'll want to explore each of these personnel possibilities if organization techniques do not remedy bad work habits.

Good luck.

  • I have some paper-trail thoughts. Give each worker 20-ish laminated cards with his/her name. When the worker takes an item from its central location, he/she leaves a card. And if someone else takes it from that person, the taker gives a card to the lender too - or both go to the central location and swap their cards appropriately. At the end of the day, each worker must return all tools and retrieve all 20 laminated cards. – BrettFromLA Feb 15 '20 at 16:16

In the bicycle shop where I work, each tool board has its own colour of tape wrapped around every tool - this helps people to know where to replace tools when they're done using them.

Another solution I heard from another mechanic was that each person had a set of numbered (or initialled) tags (just small ones like on a keyring) - every time they took a tool from the board, they hung one of their tags in its place. Then, when they replaced the tool, they took the tag back. That was everybody knew who had the tool, or who took it last.


My suggestion is to duplicate the cheap stuff and everyone has their own personal lockable tool bag/box they are responsible for.

The expensive stuff could be tracked via Bluetooth (Tile). If it does get misplaced, you can quickly find it.

  • The ambient decibel level here is around 85. We wear hearing protection most of the time. I have Tile on my keys/wallet. It's only value here is to tell me if the item is in the building or not. There is Zero chance of hearing them. – Billy Feb 12 '20 at 21:00
  • @Billy what about active RFID tags? They'll get you within range, but I guess it depends on the size of your facility and if you can easily navigate all of it quickly. – reeeky2001 Feb 15 '20 at 18:08

The high school where my Dad teaches automotive has a tool room and a tool lady. Students check out tools from the tool lady. During cleanup time at the end of class all tools are returned to her. She then cleans the tools and puts them away where they belong.

You should get an estimate of how much time is lost by your current system. If there are 20 people working at a time, it may well be worth it for management to hire a designated tool person. Alternatively, tool check in/check out duties could be assigned to an existing employee on each shift. You could have a locker for tool storage and only give those employees the key.

  • A first attempt could even be made at this with a sign-in/sign-out sheet. (depending on reliability of employees) – goodguy5 Mar 6 '20 at 20:02

There is nothing said about the size of the tools, nor their material. In multiple chemistry groups I saw their chemicals labeled with a bar code; larger bottles and smaller ones (down to 5 mL, for smaller sample sizes their enveloping bag got the mark). Everyone borrowing an item from the shop or using the chemical at his / her place got «an account» and has to log-out the piece; the scanners are easy to hold in the hand.

enter image description here (source)

Bar code labels may be as small as the finger nail of your pinky finger, especially if they are chess-board like (see a demo here).

enter image description here


enter image description here


Advantages seen by the PI's were multiples:

  • The students in the lab have an easier time to know «who has the bottle / tool in question», to locate quickly the item.
  • The benches and hoods were cleaner than earlier, it became much less likely that both John and Mary, kept «their» bottle of chemical xyz in a private / secret corner. Bye, bye hoarding on expense of the labmates.
  • As there was a designated student responsible to supervise the return of the chemicals, the stock of frequently used chemcials was replenished early.

enter image description here

(An example.)


You can put a basket in the middle which each type of tool in it and just use what you need and put it back.

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    This adds nothing to the existing, much more detailed, answers. – Chenmunka Mar 20 '20 at 14:11

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