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High-quality and efficient corded and cordless power tools make the work of electricians easier and enable them to accomplish more in less time. Indeed, it is difficult to envision undertaking any electrical or datacomm construction project without power tools and equipment.
Drills, hammer drills and various types of saws top the list of power tools most used by electricians, and on many jobs, power crimpers, cable cutters and hole punchers are replacing manual versions of those tools.
Current products have little in common with the first corded electric tools that appeared on job sites many years ago. Power tools have evolved at a steady pace, and buyers today can choose from a wide selection of products that are significantly better than those sold even a year or two ago.
“Tools today are more powerful, more compact, lighter in weight, easier to use, and they are more durable,” said Thomas Smith, group manager of product management at the Milwaukee Electric Tool Corp. “Manufacturers are designing battery-powered tools with the increased power and run time that buyers want, so the trend toward preferring cordless is one that will continue.”
The latest tools are made of materials that help reduce weight.
Said Smith: “We use more alternative materials today—magnesium instead of aluminum or steel reduce tool weight. Housings and handles made of glass-filled nylon materials are light in weight and very durable and impregnating them with fiberglass throughout provides toughness. New technologies allow us to provide more power without the penalty of added weight.”
Smaller, lighter tools also contribute to improved ergonomics, but there are other important features that make tools easier, and less tiring to use.
“Tool balance, rubber grips, adjustable and interchangeable handles, isolation of vibration—particularly in hammers—all help make tools more user friendly and enable personnel who operate them be more productive,” continued Smith.
Top-selling Milwaukee tools for the electrical market include Magnum corded drills and Sawzall reciprocating saws. The newest saw is a corded Hatchet 18V reciprocating saw with pivoting handle that allows access to hard-to-reach areas. Heavy-duty Magnum drills are built for industrial and construction applications and have 8A motors, trigger-speed control and reversing, and a brush cartridge system that permits brush changes in less then a minute.
For Hilti, hammer drills are a major focus to the electrical market. Depending on the model, the same drill may be used to drill holes through walls to run conduit and then set anchors. New features bring important benefits.
“Our new TE 56-ATC has active torque control and two gears with three speeds,” said Dennis Hoops, director of drilling and diamond tools for Hilti North America. “The lower gear produces more torque for large core bits. In this tool as well as larger models, active torque control monitors rotation of the tool and automatically disengages the drive system if it senses that the housing is beginning to rotate too quickly, making it difficult to handle.”
Hoops said that, for applications where concrete dust produced by drilling or sawing is a concern, an integrated snap-on dust-collection module with reusable filter is available for some smaller models. Larger tools can utilize a clip-on dust removal system that can be used in conjunction with external vacuums to collected dust in a storage container.
“Another drill feature customers like is interchangeable chucks,” continued Hoops. “Worn chucks can be replaced on the job, or you can instantly switch chucks for working in concrete, steel or wood.”
Bosch Power Tools separates its product line into residential and commercial segments.
“Electricians who do residential jobs use cordless and corded drills for working in wood,” said Jeff Wilkison, Bosch business segment manager. “For commercial applications, our most popular tools are rotary hammers in both corded and cordless models.”
Because of the need to effectively drill through concrete, Wilkison said Bosch developed SDS hammers. These tools, he explained, operate with a piston, rather than the two gears that provide hammering force with conventional hammer drills.
“The SDS technology generates more impact, driving power to the end of the bit and into the concrete for faster drilling,” Wilkison said. “Bosch developed SDS technology for more effective drilling through concrete and has made it available to other manufacturers.”
Porter-Cable Corp. supplies the electrical industry with cordless and corded drills, reciprocating saws and metal cutting saws.
“Recent product improvements include cordless tools with higher torque settings and batteries that provide longer running time,” said Mike Hibbison, director of marketing for the Pentair tool group. “Our single-sleeve metal gear housing chuck is much easier to tighten than two-sleeve chucks, and an audible signal indicates when the chuck is tight. Tools are smaller, but with improved power efficiencies that often make it unnecessary to step up to a larger tool.”
Convenience isn’t limited to drills and saws
“Battery-powered crimpers make connections faster with less fatigue,” said Angela Toppazzini, advertising coordinator, FCI-Burndy Products. “Our new models have more power, are more portable, and allow more crimps per battery charge. In addition, they are more ergonomically friendly and easier to use.
Jim Eisele, Greenlee Textron product manager, said that demand is increasing for Greenlee Gator Pro battery-powered crimping tools.
“A primary benefit of battery-powered tools is fast cycle times—5 second to 20 second for most operations,” he pointed out. “These tools also are relatively compact, easy to get into tight panel boxes, and they reduce fatigue from repetitive operations. And users like their consistency.”
Power cable cutters save time and offer ergonomic benefits, especially when working with large cables, said Bruce Hartranft, business unit manager for Ideal Industries Inc. They are used mostly by electrical crews and contractors doing utility work. Most are cordless, because work usually is in areas without power.
“For cable of 400 MCM and up, you definitely want to use a power cutter,” Hartranft observed. “Cutting larger cables with manual tools simply is too difficult, and it can be dangerous. Manual cutters were known by many as ‘rib busters,’ because a worker braced the handle against his chest to apply force to make a cut. Power tools make cuts instantly, saving a lot of physical effort and fatigue.”
Hartranft notes that power cutters are not new, but are becoming more widely accepted. Improvements in cordless technology has helped spur the growth in demand for power cutters. “There are more players in the field today and more models available,” he added.
The productivity and convenience of electrical power isn’t limited to hand tools. Power conduit benders, cable pullers and cutting tools significantly speed production by replacing muscle power with electrical power. Power pipe benders greatly speed production on large electrical projects.
“Electric benders accommodate EMT, IMC, rigid and aluminum conduit in various sizes and are for high-production work, making each bend in seconds,” said Chera Ellis, Greenlee Textron product manager. “Greenlee Tugger models can accommodate several sizes and types of conduit without changing or adding shoes. Top-end models use computer technology to program and execute precision bends and make repeated bends at the same angles.”
Hydraulic benders are used for rigid conduit or pipe in sizes too large for electric benders. PVC benders use heat to soften pipe for bending.
“Electrical contractors need benders that are efficient, require minimal setup time, and add value,” said Ellis. “Therefore, manufacturers constantly strive to develop benders that make the procedure less complicated.”
Residences, commercial buildings and industrial facilities can’t function without wires and cables for electricity and communications services.
For residential and light commercial work, wire can be pulled manually, but power pulling tools are required for larger projects with long runs and multiple cables.
Power pullers are available today with pulling capacities ranging from 1,000 to 8,000 pounds. Built-in meters monitor pulling force.
One of the most significant advances found in today’s pullers is a change from chain drives to planetary and worm-drive systems that allow equipment to generate high pulling forces in smaller packages, said Brian Ray, director of new product development for the Maxis Corp.
Some small- and medium-size models use power drills to drive the capstan. There are many anchoring options, and right-angle sheaves allow operators to position themselves to avoid injury in case the pulling rope should break during an installation. Cable pullers are available in several sizes, offering a range of pulling capabilities.
“Until recently,” said Ray, “the trend was toward bigger and bigger, as manufacturers designed more powerful pullers to achieve greater productivity. Now, the move is toward smaller models.”
“Big pullers are needed for long runs,” he continued. “But for every big run to a distribution center, there may be a dozen runs to sub panels, and these can be made with small pullers. Even runs for large equipment and air conditioning often can be made with compact pullers. They are less expensive to purchase, can be set up quickly, are easy to operate, and save time and money. Every time a contractor does not have to set up a big puller, he saves money.” EC
GRIFFIN, a construction and tools writer from Oklahoma City, can be reached at 405.748.5256 or [email protected].