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Second-generation Intelligent Tool Control creates worldwide application possibilities

Lost tools will be a thing of the past as new modular controller offers the ability to custom build intelligent tool control into a multitude of tool storage solutions

Zeroshift announces the second generation of its innovative Intelligent Tool Control (ITC) product. The control architecture is now available in a separate slot-in module expanding the application base of this patented technology into a much wider array of storage formats.

This new approach allows users to schedule maintenance without removing the entire tool cabinet from the production environment. It also provides the company with a range of options for the commercial roll out of the product, including licensing and joint ventures on a territory-by-territory or sector-by-sector basis.

In operation, the ITC controller is paired to a cabinet which incorporates tool-silhouette foam cut outs. Each tool cavity is further equipped with an optical sensor, which automatically detects the removal or replacement of a tool, without the need to modify the tool in any way. To access a tool, users must first enter a PIN via either a swipe card or a keypad. The system will compare the PIN with its internal or network database and allow (or disallow) access to the tool drawers. The individual sensors will then notify the control system when a tool is removed or replaced. Tools can be made of any material including wood and plastic and even very small items such as precision sockets can be accommodated. Unlike other systems on the market, there is none of the vulnerability associated with RFID or paper-chitty based systems. Additionally the system allows users to track the calibration status of tools ensuring that costly and dangerous errors in assembly and repair are avoided.

"Intelligent Tool Control can be part of a highly integrated tool/inventory management system or operate totally independently without any external connectivity," explains Zeroshift's ITC manager Paul MacGregor. "It's a very powerful system with reference installations at leading aerospace companies in UK and US already generating a considerable amount of interest from manufacturing and maintenance companies across a range of high-technology engineering and defence industries. The second generation module is only going to increase this interest as leading precision manufacturing firms worried about tool control recognise the control and flexibility it will now offer."

"By separating the brains behind the concept from the cabinet, what we have effectively done is allow end users or channel partners to integrate our patented technology into their own  cabinets, or it allows new entrants to the cabinet market to provide the full solution," explains Bill Martin, managing director of Zeroshift. "This has widened the application base significantly, as intelligent tooling concepts based on our proprietary technology can now be used in virtually any tool storage infrastructure. Given our range of options we have engaged Baker Tilly Corporate Finance to carry out a strategic review of our options for the global roll out of the technology."

The first target sector, Aerospace – where FOD (Foreign Object Debris/Damage) is a real and palpable risk – is where ITC expects to revolutionise the way companies address increasingly demanding FOD compliance practices and routines. Boeing has stated that the cost of one FOD damage incident to an engine can easily exceed 20% of its new cost (an MD 11 engine costs $8-10m) and, according to Professor Edwin Herricks, director of University of Illinois Center of Excellence in Airport Technology (CEAT), the worldwide global cost of FOD has cost estimates ranging up to $4bn. A major aerospace company calculated that a $1,000,000 investment in automated tool tracking technology could pay for itself in just three years based on savings on manual tool audits alone.

"It is clear to see that FOD and its potential ramifications is a very expensive problem," explains MacGregor. "While some of this is due to foreign objects ingested at airports, a great deal is due to tools left in the 'planes during build and maintenance. We are aware of one engine manufacturer who loses about $5,000 worth of tools every month in just one of its plants. Multiplied out across a global industry worth over $250bn pa in aircraft manufacture and repair and that is an extremely expensive set of lost tools before you even start to ask which engine were they left in! That's the problem that ITC is designed to help solve."

Customers have recognised the value ITC brings. It is already being used by plane and engine manufacturers in the UK and in the US and discussions are at an advanced stage for the delivery of major volumes into the US defence sector.

The cost of FOD is measured in both money and potential human tragedy but it is not the only issue that ITC helps to address. In the current world of shadow boards, tags and plastic boxes (no, we are not joking!) an organisation can't even begin to properly manage its tooling inventory. With ITC tooling inventory management can be integrated into the wider enterprise management systems and a major cost item is brought into focus and control.


About Zeroshift Ltd

Zeroshift is a privately owned British innovation company backed by the Entrepreneurs Fund and a number of private individuals. It specialises in the development and application of power transmission and electronic control solutions across a wide range of transport industries.

Zeroshift's main area of IP is an innovative system that replaces the conventional synchromesh in an Automated Manual Transmission (AMT) to provide an affordable, highly fuel-efficient, zero torque interruption fully automatic transmission. Zeroshift's Intelligent Tool Control System (ITC) is a next-generation solution to the reduction of Foreign Object Debris (FOD) in aircraft.

The company plans to IPO in 2008.

Press release issued by Zeroshift Ltd on November 28, 2007


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