Cool Tools: Crimping Tools
Published: January 2012
Electricians use crimping tools to make consistent connections that meet industry standards and criteria of specific system designs.
By applying force, a crimping tool makes a permanent connection by compressing a connector around stripped wire or cable or pushing cable into a connector designed to cut though or displace insulation to connect to the conductor.
For electrical work, a variety of manual and power-assisted crimper models are available to accommodate different types and sizes of connectors—some use interchangeable dies for different connector sizes; others are “dieless.”
There are basic tools for electrical connections and other crimper models designed specifically for datacom work, including coaxial cable.
Manual tools are used for connecting small- to medium-size wire and cable when there aren’t many connections to be made. As cable sizes and the number of connections increase, it is more efficient and less tiring to use power tools.
Among the most significant recent advances for power-assist crimpers are controlled-cycle mechanisms, which consistently provide high-quality terminations, while reducing the risk of repetitive motion injuries to the user’s hand and wrist.
Representatives of leading manufacturers discuss features and benefits of the latest crimping tools.
Burndy’s Senior Product Manager Bob Poirier said: “Today’s handheld crimpers are more ergonomic, require less handle force, and will crimp a wider range of terminals. Self-contained hydraulic tools also are more ergonomic and are faster than previous models. Battery-actuated tools today range from 6 to 15 tons of crimping force and are more ergonomic, much faster and produce more crimps per battery charge.
“Some of the smaller hand tools can be used for crimping small terminals and splices and for cutting small wires. Larger hydraulic- and battery-actuated tools are designed for cutting and crimping and some can be used to cut wire using cutter dies.
“Frequency of use, speed, type and size of connections being made determine whether a manual or power-assist tool is best,” Poirier said.
Greenlee’s Don Eichner, vice president of product management and engineering, said: “Today’s handheld, battery-powered crimpers have revolutionized today’s electrical industry by providing more features and benefits.
“The use of battery-powered crimpers over manual crimpers in the electrical power field is growing in popularity as the battery-powered tools save time and hand and arm strain.
“Perhaps the most important new feature of these new types of tools is the integral pressure sensor. The sensor monitors each crimp and notifies the operator with a beeper and flashing lights if the tool is not producing the necessary force for a successful crimp.
“Most of the new crimping tool models have another new feature called Automatic Retraction Stop, which automatically retracts the ram just enough to get ready for the next cycle, saving time and energy. Battery cutting and crimping tools with the retraction-stop feature enable the user to stop the ram retraction at any point by simply tapping the trigger. This saves the contractor time and battery life when making repetitive cuts or crimps. The two-stage hydraulic system on a pistol-grip tool provides for fast advance and power speeds, saving time.
“Many of the new crimping tools are designed with a forward handle position to improve the balance of the tool. Also, tools with overmolded tacky grip areas make gripping the tool easier and more comfortable.
“For added safety when working in dimly lit or dark workplaces, some new crimping tools come with an LED work light that illuminates dark work areas. The LED also provides battery charge level and tool maintenance status,” Eichner said.
Ideal Industries’ Bruce Hartranft, senior product manager, tools and supplies, said: “For electrical work, crimpers must make proper UL-recognized connections. For datacom installations, crimping is about quality of signal. Most cable, dish and security firms have rigid specifications for signal quality; the connection actually is more important than the cable.
“Multifunction tools,” he said, “provide the user with the ability to cut, strip and crimp all with a single tool, providing huge time savings.
“With manual crimpers, ergonomics and comfort have improved. Leading manufacturers have moved to dual-durometer grips with improved fit and feel.
“Accuracy has improved with precision investment-cast crimping dies to ensure tight crimp tolerances. Ratcheting crimpers are displacing simple pliers crimp tools. The ratchet mechanism ensures the tool has completed a full closure before releasing.
"Handheld tools still dominate the market for power-assisted crimpers. Electricians go to where the work is, not vice versa, so the crimps tend to be applied at the machine, motor, switch gear, etc. Bench crimpers tend to be used at subassembly and production facilities, mostly bench work for doing repeated applications of the same crimp,” Hartranft said.
Panduit’s Bob Klaviter, product manager for power and grounding, said: “Ergonomics remains a top issue for manually operated tools, as repetitive motion injuries to the hand and wrist continue to be one of the most frequent lost-time injuries. Tools that incorporate controlled cycle mechanisms that ensure the tool, not the operator, controls the termination also are preferred. Tools with this feature consistently provide high-quality terminations.
“Advances in rechargeable battery technology have greatly improved productivity of battery-powered tools. Originally powered by nickel cadmium batteries, next came nickel metal hydride [NiMh] batteries that eliminated memory effect that prematurely shortened the life of NiCad batteries. Today, lithium-ion batteries provide up to 135 percent more crimp cycles and up to 30 percent faster crimping speeds than NiMh batteries. In addition, lithium-ion batteries weigh half as much as NiMh batteries, making the tools much lighter and easier to use.
“Battery-powered tools eliminate repetitive stress injuries to the wrist and hand that can be caused with manually operated tools and also have very fast crimp cycle times—less than 3 seconds in some cases—making them more productive than manual tools.
“Datacom applications have turned to the same quality control crimping requirements used by telecommunications companies, which typically specify the use of die-type tools with dies designed to terminate a single barrel size connector to a single size conductor. The connectors are color coded and marked with a die index number, which matches the color code and die index number marked on the crimp die. In addition, the crimp dies emboss a die index number in the barrel of the connector, which affords visual inspection to make sure the correct die was used.
“For general electrical industrial use, both die type and dieless crimping tools are used. Dieless tools usually have an integrated indenter to crimp connectors, eliminating the cost of purchasing crimp dies and the possibility of mismatching dies to the connector,” Klaviter said.
Ripley’s Rick Salvas, national accounts manager—broadband, said: “Compression tools for F connectors are dedicated exclusively for the compression of the F connector. We have seen a big increase in the number of coaxial F connector compression tools available in the marketplace over the last five years as the demand for cable, video and data continues to increase worldwide.
“The F connector is not pressed into a hex shape configuration at the connector body but is compressed at the end of the connector body. The use of a compression tool along with a compression connector has resulted in better quality connectorization. The compression connection has far greater cable pull strength and electrical results as compared to hex connector crimping.
“F connector compression tools have resulted in better installer productivity as well as easier cable preparation. Compression tools, if well designed, will reduce installer hand fatigue. A well-designed F compression tool is light in weight (approximately 1 pound or less) and fits easily into a tool pouch. Some tools may incorporate minor tool body features such as an area on the tool body for aiding in the insertion of the connector onto the coax cable. In most cases, F connector compression tools are designed to only perform the connector compression and the connectorization to the coax cable.
“We are seeing lower prices, more added tool features and additional user- friendly enhancements. Compression tools with multiple adjustments or settings have become easier to set, therefore increasing installer productivity,” Salvas said.
GRIFFIN, a construction and tools writer from Oklahoma City, can be reached at email@example.com.