What is FOD and How Can You Prevent It?

You’re either a maintenance technician working around a hangar or garage, or a pilot that has recently started to hear this word “FOD” being thrown around a lot. But what is FOD, and why are the maintenance and aviation industries so concerned about it nowadays?

The acronym “FOD” can stand for two different safety terms depending on the context in which you’re talking. FOD can mean either foreign object damage or foreign object debris. Let’s break down the two different terms:

Foreign Object Debris

Foreign object debris is anything and everything that could cause undue harm to the machine you’re working on. This type of debris can be anything from a misplaced tool, a bird’s nest in the cowling, or yes even your cell phone that you forgot to put back into your pocket.

We’ve all misplaced tools a time or two in the hangar or garage. While most times doing so doesn’t result in anything harmful, it could lead to dangerous scenarios for your aircraft, car, or the people operating them. However, it’s your lucky day because there are five super easy processes you can implement today to prevent FOD in your hangar or garage.

Foreign Object Damage

Foreign object damage, however, is the result of foreign object debris. Pretty simple, right?

When we think in terms of aviation or automotive maintenance, think of all the times your airplane or car may have gotten a dent or scratch. This is typically from a misplaced tool or a piece of hardware that should have never been left where it was in the first place.

Even worse, in terms of jet engines think about the damage that could be done if foreign object debris were to enter the engine without anyone noticing. Eeeeek!

How To Prevent FOD

  1. Create a FOD prevention checklist
  2. Organize your tools and hardware
  3. Sign out and in your tools when working
  4. Use a tool mat while working (ie. Grypmat)
  5. Do a FOD walk at the end of the day

Create a FOD Prevention Checklist

A FOD prevention checklist is super simple to create and is the difference between you preventing FOD from occurring or not. A checklist ensures that you create a habit of checking for various types of FOD throughout the day.

It’s your lucky day, we made a simple FOD prevention checklist for you. Simply use this around the hangar or garage to reference every time you work:

Before Job Checklist:

  • Visually assess your hangar or work area for the current status of debris or objects. If there is any debris, clear it from the work area.
  • Record all your tools and hardware on your tool sign-in and out sheet.

During Job Checklist:

  • Keep all hardware and tools on one localized mat or area at all times. (Where Grypmats come in handy!)
  • Every 10-15 minutes visually assess your tool mat or area for any missing hardware or tools. If something is missing, immediately try and locate it.

After Job Checklist:

  • Confirm and sign-in all unused hardware and tools.
  • Make a checkmark beside all confirmed returns upon visually seeing them in place.
  • Perform a FOD walk around the entire vicinity of your workspace to pick up and dispose of any FOD.

That’s all there is to it. Seven simple checks to do throughout your day’s work. Your airplane will thank you and your wallet be even happier.

Now let's dive into every step a little deeper.

Organize Your Tools by Shadow Boxing

unorganized tool bench

One of the leading causes of FOD are tools that have been misplaced or lost in the job process. In the photo above you can see, it's real easy to get a tool bench that has everything you own thrown all over the place. This is no good!

The most effective way in our opinion to keep track of your tools before and after the job is by implementing a tool shadow boxing system for your toolbox.

What is shadow boxing?

shadow boxing your tools

Shadow boxing is simply a way to outline or dedicate a certain area of your toolbox or table to each tool. Think of it like creating a cozy home for every tool you own.

There are a lot of different ways you can go about shadowing your tools. Regardless of the level of investment you want to make in your shadow boxing, you should seriously consider doing it at some level.

Here are a few different ideas on how you can create a shadow box system for your tools and budget:

Basic Shadow Boxing (read: the cheap way)

The cheapest and best option for the hobbyist level mechanics is simply outlining your tools with a good old fashion Sharpie.

Whether you outline the inside of your toolbox or find a spare piece of wood to do this, they both work just fine.

Map out your tools by organizing them in a way that fits them all and optimizes space. Then, take your Sharpie and begin outlining them. This will now be THE only place your tool should go when it isn’t being used.

*DIY TIP* If your toolbox or bench space is limited, try hanging your tools instead. The same outlining process still applies, you’ll just need a method of hanging like hooks or nails. 

Moderate (For the do-it-yourselfer)

If you have a lot of tools and are serious about keeping them organized, try making your own foam cutouts for your tools.

First, go to your local craft or hardware store and find yourself foam (or this stuff). The density of the foam doesn’t really matter, but I personally suggest that the denser the better so it will last you a while.

Next, cut the foam to the size of your toolbox shelves.

Once you have done this, trace with sharpie your tools shapes on the foam for the various shelves sizes (just like the basic way explained above). Then use a straight razor to cut out the tool’s outlines.

Adhere the foam to the inside of your toolbox and let the magic of organization overcome you. There’s something truly gratifying when you put your tools into their own dedicated cubbies.

After a half day worth of work you will have your own custom shadow box for a fraction of the cost.

Plus, it’s a fun project!

Advanced (have professionals do it)

Have more tools than you care to mess with? Perhaps you’re a small maintenance shop that wants an added level of professionalism. There are plenty of companies that you can work directly with that will craft custom shadow boxing solutions for your tool needs.

Be warned, however, this can get pricey. It may be well worth it if you want inserts that will last you far beyond the DIY foam alternatives.

Sign Out Tools and Hardware

It’s easy to lose track of what you use throughout your day. This wrench here and that rivet there, it gets to be a lot to manage in your brain.

That’s why having a system to log all your tools and hardware with is great for the times when you may forget. Or maybe your next door neighbor decides to come by and chat a bit about their kids again. You get distracted, and before you know it you forget what tools you should have.

We’ve created a handy tool sign out template. The goal of this sheet is for you to print it out, hang it up near your work station with a pencil attached.

tool sign out sheet template

Every time you go to do a job, first go to your tool sign out sheet and log everything you are taking out of your tool bench. Hardware, tools, phone, anything you name it and log-it.

Fill out the following:

  • The number of items signing out
  • Name of the tool being signed out
  • The date and time

Then proceed to do the job.

Once you are finished for the day, put all your tools and extra hardware away. Before you leave, go back to your tool sign out and in sheet and add the time you put the tools back. As you are filling out the sheet be sure to visually confirm the tool is back in its “shadowed” home before checking off the “confirmation” column on the right.

This process is extremely important for tool accountability and preventing any unwanted FOD in your hangar or garage.

Make this a habit by doing it every single day no matter how big or small the job is.

Use a Grypmat

We have talked about different ways to prevent FOD before and after you are working on your project. However, one of the most important parts about preventing FOD is doing so at the actual site of the project, airplane or car itself.

This is where lost tools and hardware end up after all!

The best way to prevent foreign object damage and debris at the site of the job is by utilizing a tool mat to protect your machine and keep your tools and hardware in place.

how to prevent FOD

Grypmat’s are flexible tool mats that not only keep all your tools and hardware in place during your tasks, but they help prevent dents or scratches to your precious airplane or car. The mat contours to any surface which makes those hard to work areas a bit easier and safer to manage.

While using a mat to keep tools organized, we recommend that every 10 to 15 minutes make a habit of looking over at your Grypmat to ensure you visually see everything that you brought with you from sign-out at the start of the project.

If something is missing, pause your task and look to try and find where it could have gone.

Doing this every so often throughout your job will make it much easier to find something that went missing than looking for it at the end of the day when you are tired, annoyed, and just want to go home.

Do a FOD Walk

Last but certainly not least is performing a FOD walk. Most notably done in the military, FOD walks can take many different forms. From walking in an abreast line from one end of a runway to the other looking for debris, to walking around your hangar or garage, they both are important.

Once your project is done, you have put your tools back in their home, and you have signed everything back in on your sheet, do one final FOD walk up and down your work area scanning for anything that may be debris or out of place.

If you find anything, pick it up, put it back or throw it away immediately.

No More FOD We Say!

Knowing what is FOD is your first step in preventing it in your work environment. Implementing these five best practices will make you not only a safer mechanic, but it will also give you the peace of mind that you are taking preventative steps in your workplace.

Best of luck in safe maintenance practices, and if you have added recommendations or questions, comment below and our team will be sure to help!

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