PLC Training - What tools should you have in your vehicle for PLC programming and working on industrial equipment

tooltim.jpgI've been through a lot of different philosophies on what you should carry in your vehicle for working on industrial equipment and PLC programming.  From at once carrying everything but the kitchen sink to today where I carry a little bit of everything but not so much that you have to have a large vehicle to get around.

If you haven't already, check out What should be in my PLC programming laptop backpack? - Tools, PC, programming cables.  What I carry in my vehicle builds on this.  My backpack has only what I use everyday in it.  Then I can pull out of my vehicle box the particular items I need for the specific job and either put them in my backpack or carry them in.  On bigger installs I'll bring my whole vehicle box in but not often.

$90 Mobile Tool Chest

This is a really good size tool box to have in your vehicle.  Fully loaded it is about all you want to put in and take out of your vehicle.  Even when I was carrying more tools, I carried four of these tool boxes.  They are just a real nice size.

Inside it has a tool tray that I haven't found a lot of use for and I should probably throw away.  It seems to mainly collect junk.  I have cut mine in half to give me a little more room for other items but still haven't brought myself to discard it.

Another thing I like about it is it doesn't have sharp edges like a lot of metal boxes so you can easily throw it into the back seat of a rental car.

It also doubles as a good height for a chair when you need to take a load off.


$18 Small Tool Box

That's right, boxes inside of boxes is the key to my organization.  I have specific boxes for hand tools, PLC cables, drills and fasteners, and volt meters/testers.  If I get to the job site and I'm going to be connecting to a machine then I just pull the PLC cable box out and leave the main box in the car.  One of these boxes will fit in my tool backpack. I'll detail out what is in these boxes at the bottom of the list.

I stole this idea from a friend that I worked with.  I had large nice tool boxes at my shop and a vehicle full of tools.  He probably had 40 of these boxes that were for specific task.  So when we would get to the job site, I would be back and forth a hundred times (exaggerating) getting tools while he would grab 3 or 4 of these boxes and have everything he needed to do the job.

This isn't the most robust box but at $18 it is decent for the weight.  I do break them every so often.  If anyone has a rugged yet still lightweight small box then send me info on it. Also it comes with some smaller boxes but I discarded them because they don't stack well in the tool chest and always were in the way.


$17 Small Parts Organizer

I have one of these in my tool chest.  I carry wire nuts of all sizes, fuses, relays, crimp connectors, RJ45 connectors, and every other small item you can imagine needing on a job site.

I only carry a quantity that typically covers my unexpected needs at a job site and replenish it after each job.  For example it probably only has 10 yellow wire nuts which is enough for the unplanned need.  However if I'm heading to a job and will need 50 wire nuts, then it doesn't come out of this box.  This just covers unplanned needs when working on machines.  We'll talk about planning for jobs in a later article.

I'll detail out what items are in mine at the bottom of this list.


$42 Socket Set

This is a nice sized socket set that will cover 99% of what you need out in the field.  Yes this means I leave my 1/2 sockets at home but I can only think of a few times that it didn't have what I needed for a breakdown and in those cases I needed a LOT more than most people carry in their work vehicles.


$16 First Aid Kit

Every setup I have from my backpack to my shop tool cabinets has some type of first aid kit.  Luckily they don't get much use but they could save someone's life some day. 

Mine exceeds OSHA and ANSI specifications.  I don't know how much that really matters but it was only a few dollars more.


$28 Micro Flame Butane Torch

This is a very handy item to have with you.  You can solder wires with it, heat shrink tubing, and in a pinch can put out enough heat to break loose a rusty bolt.


$20 Fire Extinguisher

This is an item that is not permanent in my toolbox but should be.  My worry is breaking the valve off of the top when it is getting thrown around.  I'd love to hear your suggestions on this one. As is I only carry one for sure when I'm going to be cutting and welding.



Hand Tool Box

$14 Screwdriver and Nut Driver 11-in-1 Multi Tool

This is a great tool with interchangeable blades.  Very similar to our insulated screwdriver kit in our What should be in my PLC programming laptop backpack list, its uses are pretty much a regular hand tool times 11 including several Phillips, flat blades, square drives, hex bits, and torx bits.


$10 Phillips and Flat Blade Screwdrivers

Even though the multi-tool above covers everything these two screwdrivers do, these are the most used tool in my box.


$18 Channel Locks

There are very few items on this list that I would say you need this specific product, but these Irwin Tools VISE-GRIP GrooveLock Pliers Set with V-Jaws work better than most other channel locks I have used.


$30 6", 8", and 10" Adjustable Wrench

I try to use the right size socket but sometimes you need an adjustable wrench to reach something.


$14 Wire strippers - Multi-Tool Wire Stripper/Crimper/Cutter

This is a very versatile set of wire strippers that will do the bulk of your power and control wiring needs. It strips and cuts 10-22 AWG.


$15 Hex Key Allen Wrench Set Inch and Metric

Make sure you get an allen wrench set that has the ball ends.  They are a lifesaver in tight spots.  The long handles of these give you good leverage and they are decently hard so they don't round off easily yet don't snap in half in the palm of your hand if you pull too hard.


$28 Side Cutter Crimping and Cutting Tool for Insulated and Non-Insulated Terminals

My wire strippers take care of the bulk of my cutting and crimping of wires but these are good for bigger crimps and reaching in to tight spaces since the cutter and crimper are on the end of these as opposed to the handle of the wire strippers I carry.



 Electrical Box 

$11 Digital Multimeter for Volts, Ohms, and Amps

Most people are surprise to find that I don't carry a Fluke 117 Multimeter or a Fluke 323 Clamp Meter.  Fluke meters are one of the best, but when troubleshooting machines I mostly need to check whether I have voltage or not, do I have continuity or not, what is my mA signal, etc.  I'm not looking for the precision of a Fluke.  If I drop a Fluke or it gets soaked by water or some other chemical, then I'm out hundreds of dollars.  If I drop this one then I'm out $10.  But I have been impressed with the quality of these meters.  I have never had one fail though I have broke a few leads and left the meter on by accident.  It doesn't have an auto off feature.  I'm not partial to this particular meter, the idea is to have something disposable to take on site. I keep two of these in my box.


$27 Digital Multimeter Clamp Meter with Amp, Volt, and Ohm

Same as above, people are surprised to find I don't carry a Fluke 323 Clamp Meter. One thing to note is this meter does not replace the meter above.  Most notable for troubleshooting is this meter can't measure milliamps or mA which a lot of analog signals use. I keep two of these in my box.


$15 Non-Contact Voltage Tester

These are good to have in your box to probe around and make sure the power is off or to check for power where you can't remove the insulation.


$9 Electrical Tape Scotch Super 88

When it comes to electrical tape, don't skimp.  There are lots of rolls of electrical tape that you can buy for $1 a roll, but I've found cheap tapes don't stick over time, with temperature swings, or in humid environments.


$15 Assorted Color Electrical Tape for Phase Marking 

Great for marking phases or when you need to distinguish different cables when you are pulling them.

Drill, Tap, and Fastener Box 

$69 Drill Bit Set

This is a decent drill set including drill bit sizes 1/16- to 1/2-inch in 1/64-inch increments.  When selecting a drill set, I would say it doesn't need to be top of the line but make sure it is a good grade of high speed steel HSS.


$93 Drill and Tap Set with #6-32 to 1/2"-13 Tap Sizes

In addition to the drill set above, I like this drill and tap set because it contains the majority of sizes I need to tap on site and it makes it real easy when restocking my box to see if I have all the drills and taps I need.


$35 Combination Drill and Tap Bit

If you don't have one of these kits and you are building control panels then get one.  These save a ton of time by drilling and tapping at the same time.  It also has a countersink on the bottom of it but I don't use it often.  This kit includes 6-32, 8-32, 10-24, 10-32, 12-24, and 1/4-20.


Nuts, Bolts, and Washers.

I keep a variety of hardware, all bagged in the 2 x 3 bags of the Small Parts Organizer including:

  • 6-32 screws 1/2", 3/4", and 1" long, flat washers, and nuts
  • 8-32 screws 1/2", 3/4", and 1" long, flat washers, and nuts
  • 10-32 screws 1/2", 3/4", and 1" long, flat washers, and nuts
  • 1/4-20 bolts 3/4" and 1" long, flat washers, and nuts

Spare drills and taps for:

  • 4-40
  • 6-32
  • 8-32
  • 10-32
  • 1/4-20
Since these are the most common sizes I use, I keep at least 5 extras of each drill and tap. 


PLC Programming Cable Box 

PLC Programming Cables

You can find all the cables at the link above. 


$16 SD Card Reader Compactflash, CFI, TF, SDXC, SDHC, SD, MMC, Micro SDXC, Micro SD, Micro SDHC, MS, UHS-I

This can read about any type of data card you may run into out in the field.




Small Parts Organizer

$7 Ziplock Bags 2x3

This is key for the small part organizer .  I carry way more parts in it than there are sections so everything in my small parts organizer is in bags.  It makes it really easy to grab what you need and it is very obvious what needs refilled when you get back from the job site.

Everything listed below is in these bags.



$30 Wire Crimp Connector Kit

This a good variety of crimps to get you started.  I would discard the case and bag them individually to go in the Small Part Organizer box.


$10 Wire Nut Set

This covers most of the wire nuts you will typically need.  I also carry the big blues but rarely need them.

You don't need the full quantity of these in your box.  Just fill the 2 x 3 bags with each color. 


 $$$ Fuses

This is the one item on the list that I'm not making a recommendation on a kit to purchase. In fact just to make sure I'm clear on this, I do NOT recommend purchasing a spare fuse kit.

I have many thousands of dollars of fuses and they are all important to the work I do but the fuses I carry with me are probably not the same as one the next qualified person carries with them.  We end up carrying different fuses based off of the equipment we normally work on.  Below are some of the more popular ones that you will run into but is by far not a complete list.

  • Class J 30, 35, 60, and 100 amp fuses
  • Class CC 2, 3, 5, 10 ,15, 20, and 30 amp fuses
  • 5mm x 20mm 0.032 (for 4-20mA circuits), 0.5, 1, 2, 5, 10, and 15 amps

Cube Relays

I carry a couple of 2 and 4 pole standard cube relays with 24VDC coils and 120VAC coils and a couple of bases.  This covers the bulk of small relays I run into and if it isn't one of these then I can swap out the base and get the customer back going.


$10 Resistor Kit

A basic resistor kit is good to have because you can use a combination of series and parallel circuits to manage to get the value you need.

NOTE:  Probably more important than this kit, I carry 250 OHM, 5K OHM, 10K OHM. the 250 ohm resister is good for a lot of network terminating resisters and analog applications and the 5K and 10K ohm are used for a lot of pull up resistors.  These three resistors have probably got me out of 10 times more binds than the kit and are not included in your typical resistor kit.

Also while it is fresh on your mind and this kit hasn't turned into a tangled mess, go ahead and bag these resisters separately and label the value on the bag.

 This box has lots of other odds and ends that I commonly see fail in the field or that are impossible to find in your typical hardware store.  

Vehicle supplies will vary depending on the type of customer you serve but these are the basics to get you through the typical job.  Later we will talk about planning for jobs and how we decide what specific additional items to carry for a specific jobs. Next, continue to the PLC Training - Warnings and precautions before you get started lesson.

Next Steps

Go to the PLC Training Getting Started Lesson series to select your next lesson.  There are also many other Lesson Series on PLC Programming and Industrial Automation.