Manufacturers of manual and power hand tools strive to develop products that help users be more efficient and productive. In recent years, efforts have centered on making tools that are versatile, user-friendly and durable. The variety of multipurpose tools is growing. Power tools pack more power in smaller, lighter packages with a significant shift from corded to cordless models.

Dennis Rees, national product specialist at Graybar, notes that his company has witnessed a variety of technological developments during its 136 years in business.

“Perhaps none is as significant as the emergence of battery-operated power tools,” said Rees.

Cordless-tool technology took a dramatic step forward this year with the introduction of Milwaukee's V28 line of power tools using lightweight lithium-ion batteries.

“This is a cordless-tool breakthrough,” said Rees. “Lightweight lithium-ion battery technology increases productivity with more power and twice the run time of 18V battery operated tools. It is the most important innovation in tool technology this year. Lithium-ion batteries provide maximum performance during the entire battery charge without the gradual decrease in power typical with NiCd batteries.”

“The two factors that are driving hand tool design today are ergonomics and value,” said Ed Liss, marketing manager for distribution at Bahco North America. “Comfortable gripping surfaces that reduce hand stress are becoming more common as the cost of workplace injuries continues to rise astronomically. Consumers expect increasingly greater value, in the form of more features and lower prices.”

David Onachilla, vice president of marketing at Gardner Bender, said: “We believe there are four basic factors that impact tool design--speed, safety, ease of use and profitability-and that they drive the trends in ergonomics (safety, reduced work strain), multifunction capability (speed) and durability (long-lasting tools, profitability).

“Gardner Bender focuses new product development around these factors. All our new products in the last year include strong ergonomic design elements and improved durability. Latest is our new noncontact, voltage-sensing Circuit Alert wire strippers (one for standard wire, one for Romex) which use proprietary, patent-pending technology to warn users when voltage is present by both visual and audio indicators located in tool handles.”

Greenlee Textron, Jim Eisele, senior product manager: “Various styles of crimping tools incorporate features that help ensure complete uniform compressions while reducing fatigue on hands, wrists or shoulders, making it easier to perform crimps in difficult-to-access or high-density locations. New cable cutters represent a significant advancement in battery-powered tool technology.

“These cutters offer an unmatched combination of small size, lightweight, ergonomic feel and fast cuts with unique two-step scissors-style cutting blades. Our cutter features a patented friction drive that results in a small and lighter tool. The Greenlee 8600 Conduit Cutter with patented cutting wheel is the only tool that cuts conduit without raising a burr.”

Hilti Inc., David Crawford, product manager, drilling: “The primary factors influencing the design of electric hand tools used by electricians are increased user safety, increased user comfort for greater productivity, and optimization of tool performance for more tool power related to tool weight.

“Hilti TE 16/TE 16-C rotary hammer drills are powerful yet compact and allow for repetitive anchor-hole drilling in the medium-diameter range into concrete and masonry, drilling in wood and metal, and a chiseling feature for light-duty applications. Active Torque Control stops the tool in a fraction of a second if the tool body begins to rotate too quickly.”

Ideal Industries, Jon Howell, product manager, hand tools: “Function, ergonomics and versatility are the main factors influencing hand tool design. The tool must first meet a need. Then manufacturers try to make it more comfortable and ergonomic. Versatility is important because a tool with multifunction capability increases efficiency and makes jobs easier, faster and with less effort required.”

Klein Tools, Larry Wegner, manager of marketing communications: “Because professionals want tools that will help them be more productive, development of hand tools revolves around productivity. Codes impact tools, so there continues to be a growing emphasis on insulated tools.

“Professionals want a wider selection of tools, and that drives the trend toward multifunction tools. However, there also still is a need for specialized tools for tasks that can be best completed with tools designed for specific purposes. Klein's hollow-shaft magnetic nut drivers are a good example--a unique tool that allows one-hand operation for nuts and long-bolt applications. Tools today are more stylized with streamlined designs and brighter colors which help identify the tool. The concept of professional-grade tools also is stronger than ever.”

Milwaukee Electric Tool Corp., John Sara, cordless tools product manager: “The primary factors driving tool design are ergonomics and durability, and there must be trade-offs between the two to make the best tool for the application. The most significant introduction is the V28 Lithium-Ion Cordless Tool System, which provides 28V of power with a battery that weighs less than an 18V NiCd battery.

“V28 batteries provide up to twice the run time and delivers up to 40 to 50 percent more power than 18V tools. Our Compact Series cordless driver/drills with the exclusive Clip-Lok System lets the users secure drills on their belts to keep it handy for operations where two hands are needed.” EC

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