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Tough manufacturing environments require tough toolkits.

Tough manufacturing environments can be hard on tools and toolkits. A Midwest manufacturer of hydraulic components risked the discontinuation of their toolkitting program because foam inserts couldn’t stand up to the plant’s tough cleaning regimen. The heavy oil used in their assembly operation required workstations and tools to be power washed at the end of every shift. Standard foam tool trays and shadowboards would be damaged quickly under these conditions.

Lean operations can’t function without toolkitting

The company understood the many benefits of using 5S principles to run a lean operation. Despite their challenges with foam toolkits, they would not ask their assembly team to work without tool trays. They knew the critical role toolkitting plays in enabling their team to implement the 5S principles of: sort, set in order, shine, standardize, and sustain so they connected with ToolKeepers to see if we could deliver dozens of tough toolkits.

Tough PVC custom toolkit
Tough PVC replaces HDPE foam allowing this kit to survive power washing after every shift, which is required in this extreme manufacturing environment.

Listen, research, and get creative

We listened and learned from discussions with the plant manager and observed an assembly shift which provided us a good understanding of the problem. We concluded that even the high-density polyethylene (HDPE) foam ToolKeepers typically uses couldn’t stand up to the 4000+ PSI water pressure needed to clean the tools.

Back at our office, we gathered our smart and creative team to continue researching the challenge. The team decided that a material less porous than foam might work, and we’d need to assemble the trays without adhesives. Luckily, the 200,000 sq ft ToolKeepers plant houses a few different types of waterjet machines that coincidentally use high pressure streams of water to cut a range of materials:

  • Standard waterjet machines use water to cut HDPE foam.

  • Abrasive machines incorporate tiny grains of garnet to cut everything from stone to metal to the durable PVC plastic backing we use on foam tool inserts.

ToolKeepers ingenuity to the rescue

Durable PVC toolkit by ToolKeepers
Durable PVC toolkits are installed at every workstation in the manufacturing plant.

With the help of our design engineers and abrasive waterjet machine technician, we came up with an idea. An extra durable and extra thick sheet of PVC could replace the HDPE foam, and the backing could be applied using screws instead of adhesive. A prototype kit was shared with the plant manager who called it the perfect solution.

Each assembly workstation in the plant is now equipped with solid PVC tool trays and toolkits that can be power washed - with tools stored in their proper locations - multiple times each day. Even with a slick oil residue covering the tools, precision-cut cavities hold each tool securely during the workday and during post-shift cleaning. ToolKeepers has delivered dozens of these super tough tool trays that allow this plant to operate more efficiently and achieve its 5S aspirations.


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ToolKeepers creates custom toolbox inserts that help companies do their best work. We'd love to talk about your needs.


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