In addition to electrical wiring, contractors today install twisted copper wiring for conventional telephone service, high-speed data transmission, computer networks, security and fire-alarm systems, and “smart” building controls. They rout and connect fiber optic cable to carry voice, data and video transmissions.

While many basic tools are appropriate for both electrical and data communications work, special tools are needed for low-voltage copper cable, and fiber optic installations require specific wiring techniques and tools.

Karl Griffith, director of reseller markets for Graybar, said a list of basic data communications tools includes:

Scissors to cut four-pair or smaller cable and cable rip cord, to strip 22 or 24 AWG conductors, and other small cutting jobs; cable cutters for cutting cables larger than four-pair; cable strippers for removal of outer jacket from cables; punch-down tools to install conductors on blocks and jacks (66, 110, BIX, Krone); label makers to identify cables, patch-panel ports, block locations, faceplates and other items; screwdrivers are needed to install faceplates, patch panels, blocks and other equipment; butt sets are essential to locate the dial tone and test circuits between central office and customer premises equipment; tone and probe tools to trace circuits; and knives for cable preparation and general duty.

“Tools for fiber optic installations are generally close-tolerance precision tools that have been developed to perform a very specific operation in the connectorization or termination of optical fiber,” said Tom Reinert, Ideal Industries fiber optics product manager.

He said the basic tools necessary to install or service a fiber optic network, include: jacket stripers to remove the outer jacket on simplex and duplex fiber cables; serrated Kevlar cutters to cut and trim the Kevlar strength-member directly beneath the jacket; fiber buffer strippers, the precise, close-tolerance tool for removing acrylate coating from the bare glass fiber; a good bare fiber cleaner would be swabs treated with an approved cleaning agent, such as 99 percent isopropyl alcohol; scribes to score cable to fracture cleanly and leave flat ends; cleavers, a multipurpose tool that measures the distance from the coating end to the breakpoint and scribes the glass so it fractures at an angle less than 3 degrees; polishing tools, including polishing fixture to hold the connector perpendicular to polishing pad and polishing film, which is used to provide a consistent and uniform finish to the connector’s end face; crimp tools, used with some types of connectors (some connectors require epoxy to attach cable to connector); inspection microscope for inspecting end face polish of fiber; and visual fault finders that use a laser light to locate breaks and faulty splices.

Laptop computers, Griffith added, have become a necessary tool for many contractors for use as a terminal to program key systems, PBX or network equipment. They also store technical manuals and information and provide access to a manufacturer’s technical data over the Internet.

Unlike electrical cable that must be installed according to well-defined code standards for proper routing, low-voltage wiring is governed only by nonbinding, recommended procedures set by industry organizations such as TIA and Building Industry Consulting Service International (BICSI).

Data-communications wiring, which does not require conduit, is frequently run under raised floors or above suspended ceilings. Special tools have been developed to route cable through areas with restricted access, including telescoping fiberglass poles and casting tools that launch a specially designed dart that pulls a monofilament line from one access spot to another.

Manufacturers were quick to develop tools to meet data communications demands, and they have quickly improved their products and developed new tools to meet the changing needs of the rapidly developing market. Ergonomic designs make them easier to use than older tools and there is a trend toward multifunction tools. Many are being designed to use replaceable parts, such as cutting blades.

Distributors are in an excellent position to evaluate tool trends. Graybar’s Griffith said: “We have seen two key changes over the past several years in hand tools—they are longer-lasting and have incorporated ergonomic designs to make repetitive tasks easier. Customers tell us that because many tasks are repetitive, ergonomic design and durability are more important than price when making purchasing decisions for hand tools.”

The right tools make workers more productive.

For example, electronic punch-down tools can seat five pairs of cable with one pull of the trigger, said Griffith.

There also is a trend toward more multipurpose tools.

“Tools are becoming more innovative and multifunction oriented,” said Ideal’s Reinert. “The fewer tools that an installer has to carry, the more efficient he or she can be.” Nine data communication tool manufacturers provided information used in the preparation of this article; here are observations from their representatives:

Brady Corp., Nancy Kane, electrical/data communications market manager: “Portable printers reduce the time spent on designing and producing labels, and automation of label production decreases identification errors at installation and saves time when making moves, adds, and changes. Thermal-transfer print technology produces high resolution and nonsmearing legends. The ability to print bar codes, graphics memory to store and recall lists, and PC compatibility adds to the versatility of today’s labeling tools.”

Cembre Inc., Chris Drew, sales manager: “Tools are more reliable and lighter-weight. Cordless crimpers are becoming more popular due to concerns about repetitive strain injuries.”

Harris Corp., John Perala, product line manager, distribution: “Designers of data-communications tools are considering performance, ergonomics, durability and the cost of tools. Workers can be more productive using tools designed for specific jobs. Future tool designs will combine features to offer more multiple-task tools.”

ICC, Mitchel Macauley, product line manager: “Tool designs are driven by demands for easier use and a real need to achieve the ‘ideal’ function consistently. Contractors want ergonomic hand tools that improve installation time without compromising proficiency and aptitude. Overall, today’s tools save time and money by eliminating callbacks by producing identical, correct and reliable terminations or connections each time, cutting down preparation time, allowing users to be fast and efficient, which significantly reduces installation time.”

Ideal Industries Inc., Wendy Thomas, data communications field sales manager: “Communications cable is installation-sensitive. If not installed correctly, it won’t certify to the required standard, support the user’s application, or support future growth. Enhanced cables and applications require better methods and products to install them. The easier it is to correctly install a product, the better. Using the right tools matched to the cabling products is critical because of the potential demand placed on that installed cable. Something as simple as an adjustable blade eliminates problems in dealing with higher category’s larger-size four-pair cable. Installing a cabling infrastructure correctly and efficiently the first time, saves both the installer and the end user money, aggravation and downtime.”

Leviton Voice and Data Division, Tyler Vander Ploeg, associate product manager:

“The increased application of SFF (small form factor) connectors has placed new requirements for tool manufacturers to address any of the functional changes this may involve. Tools with universal application can be used on products that come from different manufacturers, which is much more beneficial than tools which only can be used with one brand.”

The Siemon Company, Brian McCaffrey, product manager: “Fiber tools have changed drastically with the new loss requirements of fiber connectors requiring higher performance field terminations. Trends develop from new technologies, thus requiring new tools and installation equipment—10 Gigabit fiber transmissions require better terminations to achieve desired performance. Tools can increase an installer’s productivity by saving time during installations and also improve the quality of termination of connectors, resulting in a higher-quality installation.

Tempo, Tim Kopp, technical applications specialist: “Ergonomics and competition are probably the two biggest influences in tool design. Tools are more ergonomically designed because workers in this industry are prone to repetitive-motion-type injuries such as carpal tunnel syndrome. More comfortable grips and tool shapes have really started to take off in the last couple of years. There are faster, more precise tools for stripping and terminating cable. Tool manufacturers are producing better, more robust and comfortable tools at a better price point than ever in an effort to set themselves apart from competitors.”

Unicom, Salvador Lara, marketing communications manager: “Ergonomics and flexibility influence the design of today’s tools. Many have been redesigned to perform the tasks of several other tools, for example adjustable wire/cable strippers and modular plug crimping tools. Integrated feature designs of tools allow users to carry fewer tools than before.”

“Tools are always changing,” said ICC’s Mitchel Macauley “The basic changes will focus on the improvement of the life and repeatability of tools. As new materials evolve, expect lightweight and more robust materials to play significant roles in the development of tools for tomorrow.” EC

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