Going Mobile: Apps and Technology Drive the Latest Tool Trends

By Jeff Griffin | Nov 15, 2016




Software Applications, particularly mobile apps, have changed construction project planning and management for electrical and structured wiring systems.

In mid-2016, Statista, based in Hamburg, Germany, reported there were 2.2 million apps for Android users and 2 million available from the iTunes Store with more apps becoming available every day. Paid mobile app downloads in 2016 are predicted to reach $13.49 billion.

For electrical markets, there are multiple apps for tools and equipment, accessing and sharing information, managing assets, and programming and monitoring integrated building systems from anywhere using a smartphone.

For example, Honeywell’s next-generation AlarmNet 360 management platform works on computers, tablets and smartphones to enable remote security programming. Cloud-hosted access means there is no software to load or maintain. 

“AlarmNet 360 is focused on efficiency and simplicity, giving our customers the behind-the-scenes tools needed to manage and grow their business,” said Alice DeBiasio, general manager, cloud services, at Honeywell Security and Fire, Morris Plains, N.J. “The user-friendly design, intuitive navigation and from-anywhere configuration capabilities make this first release highly beneficial.”

Many apps are free and are developed and provided by tool- and system-component manufacturers. The following is a sampling of apps applicable to the electrical market.

The Milwaukee Tool One-Key app offers a digital platform for tools and equipment with a variety of functions to increase company and user productivity, including the ability to track tools in real time, customize torque and speed settings in M18 Fuel One-Key-compatible products, and sync performance data from M18 Force Logic crimping tools to generate reports documenting successful electrical terminations. 

“This technology can fundamentally change the way users interact with their tools and help solve user problems and frustrations the industry has never before been able to address,” said Steve Matson, senior product manager, Milwaukee Tool.

One-Key is free and available on Milwaukee’s website. It is available for iOS and Android devices (for more, read App of the Month on page 83).

“The Simplified Tool and Equipment Management function allows users to create a central place to manage all of their tools and equipment across their network of jobs and operators,” Matson said. “It makes it possible for companies to keep detailed records of each tool, so they can easily build a budget, track receipts and manage their annual spending on equipment. As a cloud-based solution, managers can easily access and share information in real-time throughout all levels of their organization.”

Tool-reporting capabilities can wirelessly synchronize with the web-based program and upload data and history to create custom reports that track the success and timing of electrical terminations and document service and repairs.

One-Key-compatible M18 Fuel drill/drivers sync wirelessly to the app’s tool control function, so users can customize tools with chosen torque and speed settings for a specific application. The app also offers a large variety of presets.

[SB]“The most recent addition to the One-Key platform is Integrated Tool Tracking,” Matson said. “This feature allows users to identify where and when compatible tools were last seen. Tool records and locations are updated when any device with the app comes within 100 feet of a One-Key-compatible tool, allowing the user to pinpoint missing tools quicker. There is no other technology in the industry like this.”

Tool security is coming next.

“Comprehensive security features will allow users to lock and unlock and limit access to tools and completely customize security settings,” Matson said. “If stolen, a locked tool will be rendered useless. Also coming is the first One-Key-compatible saw.”

DeWalt, based in Baltimore, offers the Tool Connect app, which gives users the ability to track and manage tools and batteries and customize tool functionality. For example, when working in low-light areas without power, DeWalt’s battery-powered DCL070 area lights can be controlled by the app.

“The app gives the user the ability to connect all the lights together and be able to turn them all on and off,” said Sharmela Budhu, product manager, DeWalt. “Lights also can be dimmed or scheduled to go on and off at specified times, all controlled with smart devices. The app also allows the keypads on lights to be disabled to prevent use of lights when not needed.”

The app monitors charge level and sends low-battery alerts, and it can monitor tool locations.

Tool Connect is available in the iTunes Store and Google Play. DeWalt also offers the Mobile Pro app, a full-featured calculator and reference tool designed for construction professionals. It comes with a construction and scientific calculator plus calculator templates for area, length and volume.

The Flir Tools mobile app can be used with thermal imaging cameras. It is available on Android and iOS devices as well as PCs.

“Camera users can import, edit and analyze images and stream live video from compatible E-Series and T-Series infrared cameras. Users can monitor from a distance and show others what the camera is seeing as it happens. It can wirelessly import images, adjust temperature span and contrast levels, change color palettes, and add temperature-measurement tools,” said Jason Gagnon, technical support manager, Flir, Wilsonville, Ore.

John Neely, product manager, Fluke Corp., Everett, Wash., said the Fluke Connect system of software and wireless tools helps increase productivity, lower costs and maximize uptime. 

“This can directly benefit electricians in two important ways,” he said. “One is by storing measurements directly to the cloud on Fluke Cloud Storage, which eliminates the need to manually record test results, and two, creating reports that can be emailed directly to customers.”

The Fluke Connect smartphone app can combine measurement data from multiple Fluke Connect test tools to create and share reports from the job site using email. 

Neeley said the wireless app enables ECs to put measurement tools in locations that would be potentially dangerous. For instance, the technician can disconnect power to motors following standard safety procedures, then connect current measurement tools to the power lines. The motor can then be re-energized, with only the test tools exposed to electrical hazards or moving machinery. Test results can be read, recorded and stored on the cloud while the technician is a safe distance away.

In terms of accuracy, manual recording and data transcription is replaced by wireless transmission and storage. It makes the technician’s job faster and increases accuracy because it eliminates transcription errors.

Also, with data stored in the cloud, users can review results for particular equipment and identify potentially damaging trends before failure occurs, so the facility manager can schedule maintenance at a favorable time.

Finally, the technician is no longer required to stay with a piece of test equipment, waiting for intermittent faults to occur. Instead, wireless tools can record relevant events while the electrician is performing other tasks. 

Neeley said Fluke Connect is continually expanding the number of test and measurement tools that communicate with the system, as well as types of measurements that can be collected through the Fluke Connect app. Currently, more than 40 Fluke test and measurement tools have Fluke Connect capability. Introduction of new measurement approaches are coming.

With the Bluetooth Meter MApp by Southwire Tools, Carrollton, Ga., electricians can safely obtain many of the electrical test measurements at a distance away from danger zones.

“The app is accessed by a smartphone, and the user can attach images, notes and GPS location and email the results to anyone who needs to see them,” said John Payne, director of hand tool products, Southwire Tools. “The app is compatible with more than one meter and can take readings and support for multiple meters, making it one of the most convenient meter apps available for electricians.”

Greenlee Communications, Rockford, Ill., has an Android app that enables remote control of the DataScout multiservice network analyzer. A Bluetooth interface and app option enables the device to be remote controlled up to 100 feet away using any Android tablet or mobile device equipped with Bluetooth. The DataScout can also be locally controlled using the built-in, ruggedized LCD touchscreen and remotely controlled using a web browser.

“Service providers and utilities are integrating mobile devices into their workflows and seeking test equipment leveraging these devices,” said Ken Fridley, product manager for the Greenlee Communications branded products. “The DataScout mobile application enables technicians to work independently of their test equipment yet still retain touchscreen command and control when working at the device. 

“Technicians traditionally expect to have a touchscreen display embedded in their test devices but also enjoy freedom of movement provided by mobile device control. By integrating Bluetooth technology into the DataScout 10G, technicians now have the best of all worlds. Our Bluetooth and LAN remote-
management options enable both on-site and remote technicians to perform testing virtually anywhere Bluetooth or network connections are available. This also enhances safety by allowing techs to step out of noisy or cramped work locations,” Fridley said.

Technology is pervasive today. The more electrical contractors employ—and enjoy—it, the more smoothly they can run their projects and businesses.

About The Author

GRIFFIN, a construction journalist from Oklahoma City, can be reached at [email protected].





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