Even though reduced volumes of work have lowered the demand for tools electricians use, tool manufacturers continue to improve products to increase efficiency, productivity, durability and safety.
“As the economy improves, electricians who purchase their own tools will most likely retool, thus helping the hand-tool market rebound faster compared to the market for contractor-supplied tools,” said Susan Spawr, RCDD, national product manager for Graybar (www.graybar.com), a provider of electrical, communications and networking products and services.
A continuing trend in the electrical market, Spawr said, is diversification of product lines by several well-known tool manufacturers.
“Many companies are offering diversification of product lines to offer products outside their core in order to expand their businesses,” she said. The following companies are doing just that.
Klein Tools: The company makes test and measurement products; hole-making tools; voice/data/video (VDV) tools; laser-etched fish tapes; and lighter, stronger benders. Klein also has targeted new products to the utility market (www.kleintools.com).
Ideal Industries: Ideal has a hole-making line and recently acquired Western Forge and Pratt-Read, manufacturers of American-made hand tools (www.idealindustries.com).
Milwaukee Electric Tool Corp.: The company makes test and measurement equipment and manual hand tools (www.milwaukeetool.com).
Spawr said, while there have not been major changes in the basic hand tools used by electricians, there have been significant advances in testers. Spawr provided examples of recent tool enhancements in several categories.
The Milwaukee 11-in-1 screwdriver features a special bit designed to fit firmly into wiring devices and set-screw connectors to prevent stripping that can result from slipping while tightening. The tool can be used to strip No. 12 copper conductors and has a hole for bending/looping the wire. The ECX bit seats firmly into the screw to terminate the wire and to then install the device. In theory, it would only take one hand tool to terminate devices, which could improve job-site efficiency.
Greenlee (www.greenlee.com) has a new and improved line of hole saws, which are made with an oxide finish that resists rust buildup for easier cutting. Greenlee marketing materials state that the new hole saws cut 30 percent faster, based on independent testing of a 11/8-inch hole saw that cut 14-gauge steel at 800 rpm with a 50-lb. load measured at the cutting surface. Greenlee promotes that the hole saws are being made of high-quality steel that is fully hardened and designed to last longer.
An example of how a basic tool has been improved to do more is the new Ideal Ratch-a-Nut screwdriver with four screwdriver bits, three nut drivers, two wire looping holes, a ratchet for the nut/screwdrivers, and a ratchet for the wire-nut driver.
“[It’s] much easier than carrying the seven or eight tools it replaces,” Spawr said. “This tool should allow users to get work done faster and more accurately.”
Ergonomics and safety
As the electrician population ages and the industry continues to focus on electrician safety, ergonomics is increasingly more important. Several tools from Ideal are examples of ergonomic advances: Reflex and Kinetic wire strippers have a patented “neutral wrist position” ergonomic shape, an electrician’s hammer features an exclusive antivibration grip, and the Ideal Tuff-Grip Pro fish tapes have a generously proportioned and dual-grip design for improved ergonomics and performance.
Regarding safety, OSHA 1910 requires employers to provide employees with training and personal protective equipment (PPE) if they face hazardous conditions, including work on live wires, making OSHA 1910 Training Programs potential areas of growth this year and in 2011. Important safety products include those for lockout/tagout (LO/TO), insulated tools, and arc-flash PPE. For instance, Ideal’s 1,000V insulated pliers come with both VDE (Germany) and Underwriters Laboratories Inc. (United States) listings.
Test and measurement tools
There have also been several recent breakthroughs that significantly improve the usefulness of testing equipment.
For one, wireless technology has come to testing equipment, enabling one person to do jobs that previously required two people. For example, the Fluke Corp. (www.fluke.com) 233 digital multimeter with wireless remote display allows readings to be taken as far as 30 feet from the measurement point, which can be ideal for measurements in locations where viewing the display is difficult.
Another significant trend in test equipment, Spawr said, is the use of expert systems technology to help users locate and diagnose common mechanical problems and prioritize repair actions without prior machine history. For example, the Fluke 810 vibration tester contains an expert system that compares the vibration characteristics of the machine being tested to a database of known good devices, automatically diagnosing more than 80 percent of the problems a technician is likely to encounter. Prior to the introduction of the 810, personnel at small- to medium-sized industrial facilities who needed to check vibration characteristics of common devices, such as motors, pumps and gearboxes, had to rely on their five senses to evaluate a machine or hire a contractor to do the job.
Thermal imagers, such as the new Fluke Ti32, enable maintenance personnel to spot small problems before they become big ones. Thermal imagers continue to improve in performance, ease of use and features offered, making them more accessible and more usable for an ever-increasing variety of applications.
“The innovation of building LEDs into testing meters can help eliminate the need to carry a flashlight for working in dark areas,” Spawr said. “High-contrast screens enable the user to clearly see readouts in both bright and dark lighting conditions. Over-mold designs of cases aid in dexterity when wearing PPE. Testers with the highest international protection ratings protect against moisture and debris and improve job site durability.”
Cordless tools still are the dominant platform for power tools used in the electrical industry with the 18V platforms being the core voltage platform.
For several years, to meet demands for more power, cordless tools with increased voltages were developed—up to 36V and some 48V prototypes. Then, lithium-ion battery technology allowed tool designers to achieve more power output in lower voltages in packages that are smaller and lighter.
“The overall trend with power tools is generally toward more power; lighter, smaller and longer run times; [and] versatility of many products besides just a drill and saw on a battery platform,” Spawr said. “Where in certain instances, it is the goal to have a single tool do more applications, the trend has also been to develop tools that are application-directed to increase productivity and/or safety. Another trend is to have more products (not only power tools) that require batteries to use a common battery platform.”
Milwaukee, the company that introduced lithium-ion technology to the professional tool market, has invested in three voltage platforms: M12, M18 and M28.
M12 has allowed Milwaukee to offer manual power tools that are lighter and more portable and a variety of tools with a common battery platform. In the next several months, Milwaukee will transition all 28V cordless tools to the new M28 lithium-ion power packs with more advanced electronics to instantly upgrade performance and runtime of all V28 tools without changing the individual tools. M28, Spawr said, allows for the cordless tool to be used in lieu of some corded tools for certain applications. M28 is designed to provide the job site power and runtime needed and demanded by electrical professionals.
Usage influences tool and accessory designs.
“Most electricians prefer impact drivers rather than larger drills for fastening conduit, struts, panels and similar tasks,” Spawr said. “Impact drivers are lighter weight, higher in torque and impacting for better controlled power, cause less fatigue and stress on workers, and provide overall ease of fastening. To facilitate these applications, Milwaukee developed the Shockwave bit sets designed to absorb and flex under high torque impact conditions to prevent bits from breaking and screw heads from stripping.”
Voice, data and video (VDV) tools continue to find more space in the electrician’s tool bag. Like tools in other categories, new VDV tool and test products are designed to improve efficiency and productivity.
Allen Tel Products (www.allentel.com) recently introduced a new tool that can increase the speed and efficiency of voice and data jack installations—E-Z Tool. The family of E-Z Tool and E-Z Jacks is designed to increase efficiency and profitability of installations. Time and labor savings can be significant compared to a standard single-wire punch-down tool, without sacrificing network reliability and performance.
“The E-Z Tool design,” Spawr said, “makes it quick and easy to insert Cat 3/5e/6 E-Z Jacks into the termination tool. With one simple squeeze of the handle, the E-Z tool simultaneously seats, terminates and cuts all pairs.”
Fluke Networks (www.flukenetworks.com) has introduced the new DTX-CLT CertiFiber optical loss test set that provides a complete Tier 1 fiber certification (loss, length and polarity) solution for both multimode and single-mode fiber.
Leveraging the DTX CableAnalyzer interface, Spawr said, the test set performs easy and quick validation of fiber link performance and installation quality, measurement of optical loss at multiple wavelengths, and polarity confirmation.
“It even measures fiber length, eliminating the need for unreliable guesswork and estimation methods,” Spawr said. “Installers can cut testing time significantly by testing two fibers in both directions at two wavelengths—without swapping main and remote units.”
It also can save, upload, manage, and print comprehensive certification reports using Fluke Networks’ LinkWare PC software.
While you’re hard at work on the job site, tool manufacturers are working hard developing the next best, latest and greatest tools for you to use.
GRIFFIN, a construction and tools writer from Oklahoma City, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.