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Laser etcher saves wing big money

The 162nd Maintenance Group’s new laser etcher carves a control number into a wrench. Having the machine on base will save the unit more than $100,000 and help maintainers keep track of tools. (Air National Guard photo by Master Sgt. Dave Neve)

The 162nd Maintenance Group’s new laser etcher carves a control number into a wrench. Having the machine on base will save the unit more than $100,000 and help maintainers keep track of tools. (Air National Guard photo by Master Sgt. Dave Neve)

TUCSON, Ariz. -- Despite its 27,000 pounds of thrust and exhaust capable of rolling a van 50 feet away, an F-16 Fighting Falcon can be ground to a violent halt by a single unaccounted for tool.

This is why each of the 100,000 tools at the 162nd Fighter Wing has a control number etched into them. It is also why the wing recently spent $54,000 to purchase a new laser etching machine.

"We've been etching each tool manually with a control number for years; recently the Air Force mandated that that all tools be re-etched with a new 9-digit code," said Senior Master Sgt. Victor Lara, Fabrication Element supervisor.

The new number helps maintain 24-7 accountability of each tool; the code specifies which base, shop and tool box where each tool belongs.

"On average it costs 85 cents per tool to have an off-base shop laser etch the code onto it. Also, the old code has to be removed. With more than 100,000 tools on base that could cost the Guard $170,000," said Staff Sgt. Mike Fobell, aircraft electrician.

Purchasing the new Galvanometer laser was Sergeant Fobell's 'brainchild,' and he's invested three weeks learning how to operate the new machine. "It can laser etch flat metallic surfaces. The lifespan is 20,000 hours, or about 10 years," he said.

Even after the initial etching is complete, the Guard can continue to use the machine to etch new tools as old ones become unserviceable and create nameplates or other items for use around the base.

"It's a smart investment," said Sergeant Fobell.