A record number of exhibitors displayed thousands of products at the 1999 NECA Show in New Orleans. As usual, members of the Show Stopper Award Committee - also known as the "Show Stopper posse" - fanned out through the exhibit aisles, lifting and examining and testing the heft of new products, reading the literature, or watching product demos on booth VHS monitors. Then, on the last day of the show, the entire posse came together and compared notes and opinions on the various products, before deciding which would receive the coveted Show Stopper Award.

The result: 25 products were given the Show Stopper Award. This year, for the first time ever, the committee voted to create (for this year only) a new "Notable" category of recognition for those products which came very close - but won no cigar. You will find the "notable" products in a section following the Show Stopper award winners.

One thing was clear at the Show Stopper meeting: A product's ability to create labor savings was a strong factor in the selection of the award winners. This is understandable. Manpower is not only the highest project cost but the current labor shortage is a major constraint on new business development (See my article, "Forecasters Lean Conservatively to Slight Slippage for 2000-Contractors Say 'We're on a Roll,'" for more on this subject.) So, tools that reduce time and/or time-consuming errors were of the most interest to the committee.

Safety also played a big role, with some products earmarked for the Show Stopper Award due to employee safety features and insurance requirements.

This year's product posse had a wide range of valuable products to review for the Annual Show Stopper Awards. There were new, there were unusual, but mostly there were dramatic enhancements of existing products: On-line Web portals, fiber optic terminators, testers, valuable enhancements to software designed for electrical contractors, high-tech voice/data/video products, and underwater sealing systems, among many others.

The level of exhibit hall floor traffic put smiles of satisfaction on the faces of vendors who warmly welcomed the attendees into their booths. The exhibitors appeared to be pleased by the turnout but perhaps even more by the intensity of interest contractors were showing in their products. "They came to buy," said one exhibitor. "Business is good all around," he added, smiling.

1999 Show Stopper Award Winners
AMP's Solarum terminates FO cable cleanly, quickly
"It not only improves the termination process but also saves time, terminating clean in a minute in the dark," said one Show Stopper posse member of AMP's NetConnect Solarum System, a high-speed fiber optic networking system that is easy to terminate and install. It provides full system performance at distances up to 600 meters for Gigabit Ethernet and up to 2 kilometers for slower-speed protocols. With superior bandwidth, the system is ideal for both fiber-to-the-desk applications and intrabuilding backbones.

Belden's Multimedia twisted four-pair cuts crosstalk
"This twisted four-pair construction greatly reduces crosstalk. It's a little more expensive but is necessary for certain applications and is sturdy enough for long cable pulls," said one committee member. Belden Wire & Cable Co. presented MediaTwist unshielded twisted pair cable for multimedia applications. The four-pair cable has extremely uniform dimensions and internal physical spacing. It provides proven performance beyond 100 MHz, delivering stable performance to 350 MHz. Electrical characteristics exceed TIA/EIA Category 5 standard by a wide margin.

Carlon's "Flexible tubing allows me to install longer runs"
"This flexible tubing allows me to install runs from 20 to 100 feet, whereas I'd have to reduce the runs down to 10 feet in many cases," was one member's assessment. Carlon's Flex-Plus Blue electrical nonmetallic tubing (ENT) is available with a complete line of fittings and accessories. The lightweight, nonconductive pliable ENT is UL listed and CSA certified. In sizes from half an inch to 2 inches, it comes in long-length coils and reels to reduce scrap. A time-saver when pulling wires, the color-coded ENT requires no special tools.

Project management software "…. designed specifically for my needs"
One posse member had prior experience with Constructw@re for the Subcontractor (formerly Advantage Sub from Emerging Solutions) project management software. "This product was designed specifically for my needs. It helps me keep track of all project-related information," one said. It creates, stores, and tracks RFIs, transmittals, change orders, purchase orders, phone conversations, pay applications, schedule of values, and much more. Easily generated reports provide critical data to managment.

Ditch Witch's directional driller has small footprint
Posse members were wowed with the small footprint of the Ditch Witch model JT520 compact directional drilling unit, the most compact model in its Jet Trac line. It was designed to meet customer requests for a smaller directional drilling system with greater maneuverability for work in urban and residential areas. The complete system can be pulled behind a 3/4-ton pickup truck and fits through a 36-inch yard gate. It requires only two crew members.

Wire Wagon is "So good because it answers big, everyday problems"
The Wire Wagon rolling carrier, from Elder Designs, got a 100% approval rating from the Show Stopper committee. "This product is so good because it answers big, everyday problems of handling wire and other materials," said one. The high-capacity, easy-loading wire rack is also capable of hauling conduit, material, ladders, and tools during conduit installation. It is available in two sizes - Model 101 for 2,500-foot spools and Model 102 for 500-foot spools. The product can also function as a portable workbench.

Encore's colored wire - "No one can make a mistake"
The big appeal here was that, "The difference of colors of these wires is so great that no one can make a mistake," according to one posse member. Encore Wire comes in a wide variety of color THHN in sizes No.18 AWG through 1,000 Kcmil to simplify complex wiring jobs. Easily identifiable colors eliminate the need to tape, and reduce the possibility of costly mistakes. Colors are available in all sizes of THHN manufactured by the company, including the recently added No.1 AWG.

Estimation's materials management software provides a "… new level of efficiency."

"This adds a new level of efficiency to the entire project," commented one posse member. "Now I can estimate the project and create purchase orders in one system." Estimation, Inc.'s, Purchase Master offers an easy, comprehensive way to track project materials and manage requisitions, generate and track purchase orders, and back orders. Purchase Master exports data into industry-standard accounting systems and integrates fully with Estimation's Bidmaster PLUS, allowing estimators to import their bid information directly into Purchase Master.

FieldCentrix and Solomon Software enable remote entry of project data
Posse members were impressed with the depth of communication provided by the Enterprise software from FieldCentrix, Inc., and Solomon Software. It not only enables voice communication but also allows employees in the field to remotely enter project data into the mainframe. It provides wireless and Internet-based field service solutions. It consists of three modules - FX Mobile, FX Service Center, and a back-office integration module, FX Interchange. FX Mobile is designed for the field technician using handheld PCs. FX Service Center supports dispatchers and office personnel.

Fluke's Digital Cable Analyzer tests copper and fiber to current standards and future requirements
"This is one of the most sophisticated testers on the market," was one member's remark. "It not only tells you something is wrong but identifies the physical location of the wiring problem." The DSP-4000 from Fluke is a digital cable analyzer designed to certify high-speed copper and fiber cabling to the standards of today and those emerging tomorrow. It exceeds performance specifications for Categories 5 and 5E and the coming Category 6. The tester offers powerful diagnostics to identify and locate opens or breaks, short circuits, and anomalies.

Greenlee's Cable Puller is economical and sets up in minutes
Posse members were impressed with the low cost and portability of Greenlee's Li'l Tugger cable puller, which produces a pulling speed of up to 60 feet a minute in even small-diameter conduit with minimal effort, dramatically reducing physical strain and potential injury from long, difficult runs previously pulled by hand. A simple four-piece assembly weighing just 20 pounds, the device can be set up in minutes and easily moved from one pull to another.

Hilti's cable hanger system - "Versatility and adaptability"
Versatility and adaptability were the features cited by the Show Stopper committee for Hilti's plenum-rated X-ECH cable hanger system for telecommunications, computer, and electrical cabling applications. It is quickly fastened into most concrete or steel base materials with the company's powder-actuated tools. Offered in three sizes, the hanger system can also be fastened by drilling and anchoring, as well as screwed to a variety of materials.

ILSCO's Transparent Connector offers visual inspection of the installation
The committee was impressed with the transparent insulating cover of this connector, as it allows easy visual inspection for proper installation. The cover has a "trim to fit" tip that ensures proper fit of the cover over the cable insulation. ILSCO's RocketSplice is a ClearSplice connector that is dual-rated for copper or aluminum to 90 degrees C and covers a conductor range from No 18 to 500 MCM in only seven sizes.

Ladder Boy is cited for safety and ease of use
Safety was a strong factor in the selection of this product, the original Ladder Boy safety device from Ladder Safety. "This handy product enables us to quickly and easily secure the ladder into place," remarked one posse member. It provides the means to secure an extension ladder to keep it from falling. Once installed, the device stays attached to the ladder for convenient use and storage. Available for O-rung and D-rung ladders, it comes fully assembled complete with tie-down strap, weatherproof canvas pouch, and installation tool.

McCormick's CAD/estimating software - "I may buy it for my own business"
"I was really impressed with the CAD capabilities of this estimation software. I may buy it for my own business," said one posse member. McCormick Systems offers CAD Estimating, an add-on module that automates the takeoff process by reading an existing CAD drawing. The software then transfers the counts and lengths directly to the company's Win 6000, 8000, and 12000 line of estimating products. By associating CAD symbols and layers, the program captures them to appropriate items and assemblies.

Penn-Union's Tap Kit eliminates the need to cut wire and install junction boxes
Speed and ease of installation were the big factors contractors cited for selecting Penn-Union Corp.'s tap kit NMTK 142-122 for rewiring existing buildings and wiring new construction. It eliminates the need to cut wire and install junction boxes. Rated at 300 volts and 20 amps, the UL-listed device taps 14/2 and 12/2 nonmetallic sheathed cable with ground. The kit is intended for use in accordance with NEC Section 336-21.

Raychem's Inflatable Sealing System installs in flowing water
"One of the easiest, most effective sealing systems I ever saw," a posse member remarked about the Ross duct seal from Raychem Corp., an inflatable duct sealing system. Wrapped around cables, it effectively seals power cable ducts, stopping or preventing water from leaking into manholes or vaults. It can be easily installed, even in flowing water. The duct seal is inflated with air or carbon dioxide gas and conforms to the irregular geometry of cable and ducts.

Cabling system for residential contractors
Committee members involved in residential work were impressed with the ease of installation of Residential Cabling System's (RCS's) modular structured cabling products for residential cabling applications. Components include five sizes of distribution panels, cross-connect equipment, and multimedia-ready wall plates that provide connections for voice, data, video, and audio connections throughout the home. Surge suppressors are also among the devices.

Ruud's pulse-start metal halide lighting - "Savings for my customers"
"Energy savings for customers is the big attraction here. If I can save my clients money, they'll remember me when it comes time to bid the next job" said one committee member. Ruud Lighting offers a full range of fixtures featuring Uni-Form pulse-start metal halide systems. They provide up to 25 percent savings in annual energy cost and up to 20 percent more light over old-design metal halide sources. Performance benefits include excellent color uniformity and faster warmup and restrike times. Luminaires are available in wattages between 150 and 450.

SP's "Quick Pipe" block prevents roof damage
There was a consensus about the company as well as the Show Stopper winning product. SP Products, which has won numerous Show Stoppers in past years, now wins an award for the "Quick Pipe" block that provides a strong, lightweight one-piece unit which avoids hauling and cutting treated lumber to support pipe. Instead, the foam base prevents damage to the roof membrane as attached pipes expand and contract during temperature changes. The high-density polyethylene resin resists UV for 25 years and withstands temperatures up to 185 degrees C.

SELLECT's cadTakeOff facilitates on-screen takeoff tasks
Committee members were highly complimentary of SELLECT Inc.'s line of cad software and extended an award to its cadTakeOff software. This facilitates takeoff as tasks that were traditionally performed on blueprints can be made on the CAD screen with greater speed and accuracy. It links any CAD drawing to multiple brands of estimating software or to in-house programs. The company also offers an electrical CAD training course for a quicker path to successful application.

Hinged base composite lighting pole cited for safety, efficiency, and durability
Shakespeare presented the Tuff-Hinge composite pole for safe, efficient, and long-lasting outdoor lighting installations. The above-ground portion of the fiberglass-reinforced composite pole is secured with a stainless steel pin to an aluminum hinge bonded to a 4-foot underground fiberglass section. A stainless steel vandal-resistant bolt clamps the hinge in an upright position.

Square D switchgear "Allows us to work in really tight spaces"
"The small, compact size of this product will allow us to take this into some really small, tight spaces, and it's especially helpful in retrofitting older buildings," said one posse member.
A sealed interrupter switch is an innovative design feature of Square D's HVL/cc medium-voltage switchgear. It reduces the equipment's footprint up to 75 percent compared to traditional metal-enclosed switchgear. Encased in an epoxy enclosure, the double-break interrupter eliminates external arcing and prevents switch contamination, important in dusty environments.

T&B battery-powered compression tool provides power and portability
Committee members were impressed with the power of Thomas & Betts' BattpacTBM15BSCR 15-ton battery-powered compression tool, as well as by its internally sealed oil circuit, eliminating any need for refilling. The portable, self-contained tool features a high-grade forged steel head that allows a rotation of 180 degrees. Also incorporated is a rapid two-stage advance compression system.

Tool management system - "A real money-saver and tool-saver"
"This is a real money-saver as well as a tool-saver," said posse member Ricky Kostner. ToolWatch Corp.'s portable ToolWatch pen makes it easy to keep track of your tools. Simply scan the system's durable bar code labels on the tools as they're handed to an employee. This captures the date, time, and location of the assigned tool. Periodically place the pen in the docking station to recharge its batteries and automatically transfer information to the database.

Notables
While posse members agreed on these 25 products, they were also impressed by a number of others. They found the following 15 offerings worthy of notable mention, and created a new category, for the first time, to recognize these additional products.
Not quite Show Stoppers, these items deemed worthy of Notable Mention, are briefly described:

Time and material billing software

Accubid presents Time & Material Billing that provides tools to store unique customer information and pricing, dispatch work orders, invoice consistently and efficiently, and monitor your business day to day. Also released is a voice/data communications database for the company's estimating and billing programs that is specifically designed for data cabling and fiber optics.

Liquidtight connector

Arlington Industries offers the LTSC50 one-piece screw-in liquidtight connector. The half-inch device has a built-in gasket to maintain the liquidtight integrity. Simply cut your liquidtight conduit, screw the fitting into the conduit, and the assembly is complete. There is nothing to take apart or drop. To remove, just unscrew. It is listed for both metallic and nonmetallic conduit.

'Shoebox' compact fixtures

C.E.W. Lighting, Inc., has the Spartan Lighting compact high-output shoebox series in four different beam patterns. From 50- through 200-watt metal halide or 35- through 150-watt HPS, this fixture is suitable for all outdoor applications. The cast-aluminum housing has a flush-mounted door guaranteed to withstand the elements. It is available in powder-coated bronze and white.

Multiroom video system

Channel Vision's residential multiroom video technology uses a digital RF modulator as a cost- effective way to multiply audio/video systems. Each A/V source is assigned to an unused channel on an existing cable or antenna system. A full line of black-and-white and color CCTV cameras is available for residential surveillance.

Quotation analysis

ConEst Software Systems released ConEst 2000 version 3.0 that introduced the Quotation Analysis feature. This offers users the ability to analyze bids before submitting the quote to the general contractor. Also available for the design/estimating software is a voice/data communications database. It is designed specifically to cover the full scope of data communications installations.

Energy-efficient high-bay fixture

The WattWatcher high-bay fixture from Day-Brite Lighting can save more than $30 a year compared to the company's standard high-bay unit. It pays back its cost in 16 months, using 365 watts instead of the 460 watts required by the standard fixture. Foot-candle maintenance, light uniformity, and color quality are virtually the same for both the efficient and the standard units.

Cordless power tools

DeWalt manufactures the XR-2 family of 18-volt cordless power tools. The heavy-duty 1/2-inch adjustable clutch drill/driver has 355 inch-pounds of torque. Features include variable speed, reversing, 0-450/0 and 0-1,450 rpm. Also in this group are hammerdrill/drill/driver kits, trim and reciprocating saws, pivoting head flashlights, and flexible floodlights.

Telephone distribution system

Etcon Corp.'s DD1 serves as a Category 5 distribution device, accommodating up to four incoming telephone line pairs. It terminates as many as 48 telephone home run pairs (12 for each incoming line). Features include insulation displacing connectors for use with punch-down tools. The unit is an economical solution for residential and commercial installations.

Fiber-optic test kit

A fiber-optic test kit coming from Fotec offers excellent performance at a low price. The FOtest'R cable test kit will test both multimode and single mode fiber networks and cable plants in any premises or campus environment. It contains a LAN fiber optic power meter and an 850/1,300 nm LED source. Included is a Unidapter that fits any ST, SC, or FC connector.

Adjustable strut

Grinnell presents Power-Strut that provides a series of metal-framing support solutions. It is easy to connect. Clamping nuts can be inserted anywhere along the continuous slot channel. A 90-degree clockwise turn positions a nut's grooves and teeth with the in-turned channel edges. The fitting piece gives the connection of channels. Tighten the bolts to secure the connection.

Cabinet-style transformers

Jefferson Electric's cabinet-style transformers are ideal for all general loads, including lighting, industrial, and commercial. Transformers are three-phase, 15 to 1,000 kVA, with primary voltages from 208 through 600; secondary from 120 through 480 volts. Their small footprints save space, and they are up to 20 percent lighter for easy handling. Features include 220-degree C insulation.

Patch panels

Ortronics offers standard and high-density modular patch panels and TracJack workstation outlets to expand its Category 6* GigaMo+ product line. The 19-inch-wide panels are available with six- or eight-port module groupings and include front and rear designation strips. The outlets have snap-in CAT 6 modules that are front-loadable and removable for easy 110 terminations and changes.

Electronic tracking system

The Subsite Electronics 750 Tracker and Display is an advanced tracking system for horizontal directional drilling. It can be used as a walk-over tracker to monitor tool-head location and obtain data needed to adjust steering, or as a remote-steering unit to guide bore paths without operating the tracker directly above the bore head. The system also functions as a utility line locator.

Construction accounting software

With the release of version 5.3 of its Gold Collection for construction accounting software, Timberline Software has added free-form customer invoicing to Gold's billing application and change-order enhancements to job-cost and contracts applications. The software is an integrated project accounting system that provides easy, secure information.

Online UPS systems

Tripp-Lite presents Unison 6 kVA and 10 kVA online UPS systems. Superior power conditioning keeps output tightly regulated to +/- 3 percent while correcting both harmonic distortion and switching transients generated by utilities or the user's own facility. Connected equipment remains isolated from power problems at all times. Battery backup is provided with zero transfer time.