The most significant trends in tools used by electricians continue to be driven by the needs of the those who purchase and use them.

“Manufacturers are listening carefully to contractors’ needs for increased safety and improved productivity,” said David Moeller, Graybar national construction market manager. “They are responding with new technology—tools and accessories that decrease installation time and increase flexibility for multiple uses. Lithium-ion battery technology provides much longer battery life, which greatly improves productivity. Some new ladders hold tools and materials and include leg levelers, allowing people to climb safely on uneven surfaces. Increasingly, hand and power tools are designed to be more ergonomic to reduce hand injuries.”

Dennis Rees, Graybar national product manager, considers lithium-ion battery technology still the most significant recent development in power tools.

“Major tool manufacturers,” he said, ”now offer lithium-ion battery-powered cordless tools. Now the question is, how much efficiency can they provide? They all claim different efficiencies from their lithium-ion technology, and they will continue to try and make their tools lighter and smaller while providing longer run time.”

Lithium-ion batteries allow for smaller, lighter and more efficient tools. Manufacturers want cordless tools to perform as well as corded ones. Lithium-ion technology makes that possible, Rees said.

“All major power tool manufacturers are looking at battery technology to find the next innovation,” he said.

Moving to manual tools, Rees said the industry is not seeing many new products, but rather improved designs of industry-standard tools.

“The main development is hand tools with more ergonomic-type designs that reduce user fatigue and stress,” he said. “Manufacturers are especially trying to improve hand tools used for tasks that require a lot of repetition, developing new ergonomic handle designs and handles with better cushioning.

Safety on the job is a major concern, and regulations pertaining to safety are a key issue for contractors, Rees said, observing that many tool features designed to reduce the risk of injury and encourage safety evolve from safety regulations.

ELECTRICAL CONTRACTOR invited key tool manufacturers to comment about trends in tool products in the past 12 months. Listed alphabetically are summaries of those who responded.

Channellock, Scott T. Jonap, vice president, sales and marketing:

“In manual hand tools, we see the trend toward more versatile, multifunction tools as an industry hot point. End-users have increasingly more complex needs with regard to their hand tools, and they want to carry as few tools as possible in their belts. Tools that offer the greatest versatility and quality at a reasonable price will continue to enjoy an advantage.

“Channellock is taking advantage of the latest manufacturing technologies to improve the quality and performance of our products. An example is the use of laser heat-treating technology to efficiently harden the areas of increased abuse, specifically cutting edges and jaw teeth on all of our products. Laser heat treating results in unmatched consistency of the hardness pattern for a more durable pair of pliers.

“Channellock’s new lineman’s pliers with integrated fish tape puller was introduced to simplify the task of pulling wire and cable. We have introduced a line of 12 wide-jaw capacity adjustable wrenches that feature four different sizes in three different grip configurations.”

FCI Burndy, Bob Poirier, senior product manager:

“Battery-powered crimping tools are smaller, lighter, faster and can do more crimps per charge for a full range of connector and wire sizes. Ergonomics and tool structure are our challenges, and we are constantly making more powerful tools that run on battery platforms. Burndy has recently created two new products: an in-line design of our popular MD6 tool on battery-actuated platform, and we are developing and testing a 15-ton battery-actuated tool.”

Gardner Bender, Derek Erickson, product manager, hand tools:

“The trend in hand tool design continues to be focused on multifunctionality. Enabling a contractor to use one tool for two or more functions can increase his productivity. All electricians carry a standard collection of hand tools. The difference between today’s set of ‘basics’ compared to those carried in the past is in their material composition and functionality. Tools feature comfort grip handles, stainless steel parts and additional components.

“Advances continue to be made, but they are founded on the basics. But new ideas, materials and technologies continue to thrust product design forward to produce innovative tools that can really change how professionals do their job. New tools incorporate innovative materials and add new features to existing tool concepts to create original designs. Ergonomic designs influence development of new tools or enhancement of existing tools.”

Greenlee Textron, Brian Allison, senior product manager:

“Advancements and improvements of manual hand tools in the last 12 months include adding or combining features of tools, such as adding stripping holes or tape pulling features to pliers, offering a retractable blade on saws, or adding on tool storage for saw blades/knife blades.

“In the past year, Greenlee has introduced battery-powered tools, including a compact 6-ton crimping tool,12-ton multifunction tool, a dieless crimping tool, and the first and only battery-powered cable tool designed specifically to cut basket-style cable trays.

“Adding battery power to these types of tools reduces repetitive motion injuries, so the addition of battery assist can be considered a safety improvement.”

Hilti USA, Robert Chetelat, product manager:

“Contractors have demanding applications and needs. Therefore, tools are being designed to last longer and to provide better performance. Lithium-ion battery technology allows manufacturers to offer cordless tools that were traditionally offered only in corded versions. Tools are becoming more efficient and are being designed for longer run times.

“Lithium-ion technology brings features to 14.4-volt tools previously seen only on higher-voltage models, including individual battery cell management that helps ensure consistent applications per charge over the life of the battery and drop resistance to protect batteries. All Hilti lithium-ion tools are enabled with our theft-protection system.

“In the past 12 months, cordless lithium-ion tools introduced by Hilti include impact driver and impact wrench, cordless rotary hammer, and rotary hammer drill. New concrete/masonry drill bits are the first with gradient technology.”

Ideal Industries, West Howard, product manager:

“The most significant advances in hand tools are in ergonomic designs, and as the average age of American electricians approaches 45, ergonomics has become an essential engineering goal. For example, dual-durometer grips on our pliers give the electrician improved hand control and comfort, plus reduced compression of nerves and blood vessels.

“Productivity is especially important today. This means that today’s electrical contractors have to get more work done in less time with fewer trained electricians. One way to lessen this burden is for manufacturers to add more features to hand tools the electricians already use.

“Our product design engineers use highly advanced CAD software to facilitate innovation. The software allows them to rethink established ideas about tool grips, shapes, handle design and what a hand tool can and can’t do. From there, we can quickly create dozens of prototypes that are tested in the real world by electricians who provide feedback.”

Makita USA, Wayne Hart, communications manager:

“The increased number of cordless hand tools with lithium-ion batteries is the most significant advance. Eighteen-volt tools have 12-volt weight. Makita’s slide-type battery design allows product designers to build the handle to fit the human hand, not the battery. Advanced battery technology and better designs have produced more compact cordless tools that are powerful yet weigh less. These tools are especially good for doing overhead work or in tight work spaces.

Improved battery charging time also is an important advance.

“Anti-vibration technology is also an advance that reduces vibration as much as three times in select tools. Reducing vibration improves efficiency and power and makes tools easier to use.

“Makita tools introduced in the past year include trim saw and metal cutting saws and compact impact driver and driver drill.”

Milwaukee Electric Tool Corp., Rick Gray, director, cordless product management:

“It would be great to have a power tool breakthrough every year, but the fact is that does not happen. Most improvements to tools come through evolution, but there are times when a significant development occurs that brings immediate changes, and Milwaukee’s introduction of the first lithium-ion powered cordless tools was such an event.

“The trend in cordless tools today is the continuing development of what lithium-ion technology will bring to the tool industry. Other companies have added lithium-ion tools, and there are more tools in more power classes offering longer run time, weight-to-size advantages and other benefits. Tool users see the advantages of these products, and that is being reflected in purchasing demands. We are receiving input about what tools they would like to see—so the trend shifts to breadth of line. We’re also seeing lithium-ion demand causing distributors to consolidate lines of NiCd offerings. With lithium-ion tools, we’ll see more tools in more sizes as we continue to learn what we will be able to do with the technology.

“For all power tools, ergonomic advances continue, and smaller, lighter-weight tools contribute to improved ergonomics. With cordless tools, some buyers look for breadth of line while others want one tool to be able to do more, making it a challenge for manufacturers to fill those needs.”

Panduit Corp., Tim Oliver, business development manager:

“The most significant advancement in cordless tools is development of smaller and lighter battery-powered tools designed for specific lighter-duty jobs. When tool design is matched to the specific job, both capital and operating costs can be driven downward. Greater portability also translates into quicker movement from one task to the next to reduce labor costs

“The adoption of cordless tools powered by lithium-ion batteries is driving new levels of productivity for electricians. Specifically, the longer life of lithium-ion batteries is resulting in more operations per charge and less user downtime due to battery changing and recharging.

“The latest advancement in pneumatic cable tie installation tools is the addition of an optional CO2 canister for portability. The canister is designed to be carried on a tool belt, which enables the installer to take the tool to the job without being tethered to a fixed air line. Improved operator safety has also been the focus of the latest manual cable tie installation tools. Panduit cable tie tools now feature cushioned handle grips to improve ergonomic safety by reducing the shock given off by the tool.”   EC

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