A chain is only as strong as its weakest link, and to put a spin on that old expression, it can be said that the integrity of electrical and datacom systems can be compromised by a single faulty connection.

Electricians depend on crimping tools to consistently make connections that meet applicable system-design criteria and industry standards. 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 and make the connection to the conductor.

“Function, ergonomics and versatility have been crimping tool trends for several years now,” said Jon Howell, product manager for hand tools at Ideal Industries. “The tool must first meet the need of the job. A really great tool must be ergonomically designed to be easy and comfortable to use. Versatility is critical because a tool with wider range of use increases the efficiency of the electrician, making the job easier and faster to complete.

“Precision is also important, because no matter the size of the crimp or how strenuous the application, you have to make sure that the crimp is not going to come off after it is installed. Ensuring the crimp nests are the correct size and shape, and that the tool provides the right amount of force to ensure a good connection is critical to providing a high-quality tool that professionals can trust.”

Crimpers are classified two ways: By how power is applied—manually, hand-hydraulic, remote-hydraulic or battery actuated or by whether the tool uses dies for different types and sizes of connectors, or is “dieless.”

Dieless tools are easy to use but accommodate a relatively limited range of connectors. Die-type tools can be used with a much wider range of connectors, but they require a different set of dies for each connector type and size to be crimped.

Whether manual or power-assist crimpers are employed depends on the size of cable being connected and the volume of work. Manual tools are used for connecting small- to medium-size wire and cable when the number of connections to be made is small. As cable sizes and the number of connections increases, power tools are more efficient and less tiring to use.

Representatives of manufacturers offering a broad range of crimping tools discuss features and capabilities of products available today:

Channellock, Scott T. Jonap, vice president, sales and marketing: “The traditional crimping hand tool remains the standard tool of the industry. Traditional crimping hand tools have not changed much in the past few years. Where the industry is seeing changes involves the addition of ergonomic comfort grips to crimping tools in the place of traditional plastisol grips. We have expanded our line with new tools with a Santoprene core with TPR-rubber overmold to provide a durable, secure, ergonomic grip that reduces fatigue that may develop from prolonged use.”

FCI Burndy, Robert Poirier, senior product manager: “Today there are more self-contained hydraulic, remote hydraulic and battery-actuated tools, and the goal is to make them smaller, lighter, faster and more crimps per fully charged battery. We offer crimping tools that when used with cutter dies will allow the tools to crimp and cut cable. Electrical and datacom require different tools and in some cases different dies. Overall, small hand tools are required to install datacom connectors. Tools used are strippers, punchdown tools, and crimpers specific to these connectors.”

Greenlee Textron, Jim Eisele, product manager: “Developments in crimping tools include expanded options in battery-powered tools that do not require dies. The popularity of multifunction tools has continued to grow. In addition to crimping, multifunction products can perform cable cutting, threaded rod cutting, DIN rail cutting, ACSR and guy strand cutting, and driving knockout punches. In general, crimping tools are smaller, lighter, and battery-powered tools are less expensive. In the future, buyers can expect to see more choices in battery-powered models.”

Ideal Industries, Jon Howell, product manager for hand tools: “Versatility is a key product feature that adds value to the tool by being able to serve multiple applications at once. The best way to do this is by increasing the range or style of crimps that one tool will do. Some crimping tools can be used to make both electrical and datacom connections. For example, we have tools with many interchangeable dies that work both with datacom and electrical crimps.”

Ripley, Ken Gray, director of marketing: “We manufacture two types of crimping tools: one for coaxial hex connectors and the other for fiber-optic connectors such as SC and ST types. These tools are hand operated. While hex-type coaxial connectors are still used, especially in other countries around the world, compression connectors are becoming the standard. Compression connectors offer better and stronger connections that are less likely to come off. A compression-type tool would be used for this type of application.”

Panduit, Bob Klavitor, business development manager: “The growing trend is toward using battery- powered crimping tools. Battery-powered crimping tools are coming in smaller packages and lighter weight designs. Crimping cycle times for battery-powered tools are getting faster for increased productivity. Introduction of nickel metal hydride battery technology has eliminated the problem of short-term battery life experienced with older nickel cadmium battery types.

“Electrical power applications can use either dieless or die-type tools. Multipurpose tools have continued to be offered in the market for crimping electrical connectors, cutting cable and punching holes in sheet metal. For datacom work, die-type tools are used almost exclusively. Die-type crimpers can provide die number embossment for post crimp inspections.

“New developments should include smaller, faster tools that can crimp a wide range of wire sizes. Pricing of battery powered tools should continue to be more affordable as battery and tool technologies continue to advance.”

Thomas & Betts, Dan Vega, product manager: “Pliers-type crimp tools are a mainstay for small commercial electrical jobs. Most pliers-type installations require less than 25 crimps per day and typically are for 26 to 10 AWG max.

“The next level is a ratchet tool that uses mechanics to increase output force. Ratchet tools can be found for crimping sizes from 26 to 250 MCM. The larger wire sizes will require a larger tool that is not as user-friendly as the smaller wire sizes. Typical installations are from 24 to 200 crimps per day.

“Power-assisted tools represent the final level of crimping tools. The most common power sources are pneumatic, hydraulic and battery. Some tools combine power sources to achieve maximum force (battery-powered hydraulic). For smaller crimping applications (22 to 6 AWG), typically you need to be crimping over 200 crimps per day to justify a power-assisted tool. For larger connections (larger than 6 AWG) these power-assisted tools become more common because of the forces required for crimping.

“The trend toward multipurpose crimpers is not as pronounced as it once was. The more functions you try to pack into a tool, the more things you typically have to give up. For example, to have a tool that will crimp and strip wire, most likely you will sacrifice size to get both functions. Also, we have found that multipurpose tools usually do not have the same quality level as single-function tools. For example, it’s hard to get a high-quality wire stripper incorporated into a high-quality crimping tool.

“The major difference between electrical and datacom crimping is the amount of crimp force required for these connections. Electrical power typically requires a larger range of wires, and the forces required to crimp these wires span a very wide range. Datacom applications are usually smaller wires and/or multiconductor cables, and the forces required to crimp these style connectors is much less. However, we have seen many datacom crimp tools in the same body as electrical power tools. This gives the datacom installer the same ergonomic design, which is advantageous even for smaller crimp forces.”

Weidmuller, Colby White, marketing analyst—North America, DIN-rail products, HDC, marking systems and tools: “Ergonomics plays a big role now in the design of crimping tools. The trend is to design tools that are molded in a way that provides the greatest level of comfort and ease-of-use for the user.

“In the industrial control world of wiring, wire and crimp size generally ranges from 20 to 14 AWG. Hydraulic crimpers are gaining popularity due to the ease-of-use they offer, particularly for wire gauges of 10 AWG or larger.

“The trend toward multifaceted tools is not new, nor is it necessarily increasing. In the automation and industrial controls markets, tools that perform both cutting and stripping are quite common. Crimping tools are rarely combined to perform other functions, with the exception of tools used in the datacom industry, where you will find tools that both cut and crimp, and in some cases, even strip the wire.

“Datacom connectors require crimping tools with added precision. Typically the crimp is for several wires at a time, not just one. The connector is designed to accommodate the wires such that the crimp is very easy to perform and virtually error free. In contrast, single wire crimps, like that of ferrules or fast-on connectors, are extremely easy to perform and do not require the tool to be as precise.

“Tools will continue the trend toward better ergonomics, and increased quality. Also, look for more electric and hydraulic tools designed for use with smaller wire gauges in order to reduce the repetitive stress imposed by the continuous cycling of the crimp tool.” EC

GRIFFIN, a construction and tools writer from Oklahoma City, can be reached at 405.748.5256 or up-front@cox.net.