A former tradesman is hoping to reunite the industry’s victims of crime with their tools with the help of the Tool Trace registration system. Professional Builder’s Lee Jones reports.
For a tradesman, the arsenal of tools acquired over a lifetime of building are the heartbeat of their business, and losing them can leave the victim powerless to ply their trade. Sign written vans, innocently designed to proudly advertise a builder’s skills, will in the process betray the presence of tools, whilst a vehicle parked outside a job all day makes it a relatively easy target for the opportunistic thief. It is a tale told by many a victim of crime, and one which Nick Birchall, builder and developer of Tool Trace, is himself intimately acquainted.
“Having been in the construction industry since I was 15 tool theft is a problem I’ve encountered a lot of the years,” explains the 55-year-old Kendal-based entrepreneur. “I’ve owned my own construction business for the past 15 years and in that time have had two vans broken into and all the equipment inside lifted. Insurance companies seem to go out of their way to make sure that you don’t get your money back, and, if there’s an excess on each tool stolen, then it’s hardly worth making the claim in the first place.”
Every builder has been there, or knows somebody who has, but where Nick departs from the ordinary is in devoting his time to take on the thieves. “I looked at the likes of RFID tags, but these are expensive solutions, and I ultimately decided that if it was going to be really effective something simpler was required – and the result is Tool Trace.”
The free-to-register website allows construction workers to quickly and easily register their tools using nothing more than a smartphone, laptop or PC. If tools are then illicitly removed, they can be reported as stolen with just the touch of a smartphone screen, and the information, model, make, serial number, or even identifying marks, is immediately available to any other registered user.
The Tool Trace database then gives potential buyers of second-hand tools the ability to check the database and discover in real time if tools or equipment have previously been reported as stolen.
Continues Nick: “Ordinary people have no access to the National Police Database and authorities will only ever utilise it re-actively anyway – when they find a cache of suspicious tools and run a search, for instance. By contrast, Tool Trace is more proactive. There are thousands of tradespeople out there who know there’s a problem. If they get offered anything they can carry out a quick search to find out if it’s stolen, which makes it a lot harder for any criminal to dispose of the equipment. It’s going to put a lot of doubt in the minds of anyone who is knowlingly dealing in stolen goods if they are aware that builders are actively checking to see how they might have acquired the equipment in the first place.”
The cloud-based database has been in development since 2016 and, in addition to his knowledge of the building industry, Nick was able to draw upon his experience as the founder of the Queen’s Awards for Enterprise winning, specialist communications company, PAV Data Systems.
“The Police just don’t have the resources to repatriate tools even when they find them,” concludes Nick, “especially if they’re not properly marked so, as the name suggests, what my system provides is traceability – and a better chance of getting the tools back as a consequence.”
For further information on Tool Trace click here
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