Tech

Anti-theft tech and insurance firm ARMD offers a system consisting of motion sensors

Tool theft is a common and significant issue in the UK, with a tool stolen from a tradesperson every 17 minutes, according to Direct Line. Anti-theft tech and insurance firm ARMD offers a system consisting of motion sensors, location trackers and SIM cards to alert tradespeople and the police in the event of a break-in. ARMD has launched an insurance product for tradespeople linked to a smartphone app, which allows them to manage and track valuable tools.

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At 2:30 in the morning, Derek, a carpenter from the Midlands, was awoken by his van alarm. He rushed outside to find thieves making their getaway. Derek has had his tools stolen over a dozen times in his career, including in broad daylight when criminals threatened to harm his family if he reported them. Last autumn, a burglary that resulted in the loss of £7,000 worth of tools felt like the last straw. Derek was considering quitting carpentry, the job he had done since leaving school, due to the recurring thefts.

Tool theft is a common crime, with a tool being stolen from a tradesperson in England, Wales and Northern Ireland every 17 minutes, according to Direct Line. The loss of tools can be a significant inconvenience, with complicated insurance claims and potential loss of trade while sourcing replacements. Anti-tool theft tech and insurance company, ARMD, offers a motion sensor and location tracker designed for commercial vehicles, which can alert owners and the police in the event of a break-in. A SIM card hidden in the front of the van connects the system to a mobile network, triggering an automated phone call alert if the hub is unplugged.

According to a research briefing on tool theft published by the House of Commons Library last year, there are other technologies available to combat the effects of tool theft besides ARMD’s anti-tool theft tech and insurance. For example, The Tool Register is a smartphone app that functions as a tool inventory. Nonetheless, ARMD has launched an insurance product for tradespeople in late 2021, which is linked to a smartphone app displaying the insurance claim value of every valuable tool. ARMD aims to pay out genuine claims as fast as possible, and it has over 3,500 users and over 200 tool insurance customers signed up so far.

Electrical Contractors’ Association (ECA) says that some members have resorted to putting cages inside their vehicles and using fake logos to obscure the fact that they are in a building trade, to prevent tool theft. Other measures include installing covert cameras in vans, using forensic marking products like microdots, and labeling tools as protected. Heavy-duty locks, vaults, and alarm systems are also commonly used to secure equipment in vans or sheds. However, the ECA admits that there is still no James Bond-style biometric gun technology to protect against tool theft.

Milwaukee’s One-key system, launched in 2016, uses sensors built inside or clipped onto tools, which connect to a tradesperson’s smartphone via Bluetooth. The system allows tradespeople to set up a geofence around a specific area, and if a tool is taken outside that area, an alert pops up. Milwaukee has around 400,000 users across Europe who use the One-key system, and it is also developing versions of its tracking devices for removable tool batteries. Tradespeople can disable some Milwaukee tools remotely, making them unusable until recovered and reactivated.

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Andy Hartley, the Key Account Manager for building firm GCL, and the Southeast Regional Chairman at the Electrical Contractors’ Association (ECA), says that if the technology is available, it needs to be utilized to prevent tool theft. He remembers a job site in London where tools were stolen between 10 to 15 times. However, Brian Berry, CEO of the Federation of Master Builders, questions the efficacy of these measures if the demand for stolen tools continues to be high. He suggests that stricter regulations or licensing of building firms may help.

Tradespeople have reported that tool theft is a common crime, but successful prosecutions or recoveries of stolen tools are rare. The National Police Chiefs Council has acknowledged the difficulty in prosecuting tool theft cases due to limited forensic opportunities. Carpenters, like Derek, have reported tool thefts and have struggled to cover the cost of replacing stolen tools. Despite this, some businesses have turned to technology and insurance to prevent tool theft and make claims easier, while others have suggested tighter regulation of building companies to address the issue.

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