Published In June 2001
Historically, a crimp connector that ties two electric lines together is typically secured by a manually operated crimper—with or without hydraulic assist. However, for a variety of reasons, battery-powered crimping tools are increasingly popular among electrical contractors. Though expensive to purchase—in the range of two to three times the price of a similarly functioned hand-hydraulic model and perhaps five to six times the price of a manual unit—they are often well worth the investment in terms of time and effort saved. The higher cost is partly justified because battery-operated crimpers incorporate a hydraulic pump, which is, in itself, expensive. Another factor, relative volume compared to other battery-powered tools, is low.) But battery-powered crimpers are fast, easy to take to the job, and especially handy on work sites where electric power is not readily available at the location where the worker will perform the crimps. Featuring minimal setup time, they are typically simple and easy to operate—just pull the trigger—and are more or less foolproof. They even signal when the crimp is complete. Because the compression cycle in a battery-powered crimper is preset and therefore controlled by the tool, rather than the tool operator, the crimps are reliably uniform, time after time after time. Speed On almost any job, a tool that does its task fast is welcome. Battery tools are faster than any of the hydraulic or manual tool alternatives. You might use as a benchmark, for comparison purposes, a complete crimp in 20 seconds or less. While you may manually equal or beat that time initially, few of us have the muscle tone or energy to keep that up. To increase crimping speed, some manufacturers have made tools with two speeds on the hydraulic pump. The dual-speed pump would use a fast speed when the ram is running up to contact the connector, and then shift to a slower speed to finish the crimp. At the slower speed, the tool has more power to generate the force to complete the crimp. Weight The larger the tonnage capacity of the crimper, the heavier the tool. A larger tool will crimp anything a smaller tool will crimp, but generally at a slower rate. The only time to use a larger tool is when you need to crimp larger connectors. If you almost always need a crimper at a specific capacity, consider buying that size and renting the larger size for the occasional larger crimps. Balance Balance is as important as the weight of the tool. Before selecting a tool, pick it up and get a feel for the balance. A tool that is not well balanced feels heavy in the hand and awkward during use. The shape of the tool, reflecting where the components are located relative to where the user holds the tool, also affects the ability to get into tight locations. Tapered heads generally fit into tighter places than boxy heads. Effort Use of battery-powered crimpers reduces the force the tool operator needs to exert and “can result in less chance of repetitive motion-type injuries and less chance of fatigue than manual crimpers,” said Greenlee Textron Product Manager Jim Eisele. “The power is in the tool, rather than in the operator’s shoulders, wrists, and arms,” explained Larry Kotars, regional sales manager for Huskie Tools. Some tools have automatic retraction after a crimp is complete, while others use a special button that is depressed to release the jaws after a crimp is complete. While the jaws let go either way, “the automatic retraction could double as a signal that the crimp is complete,” pointed out Eisele. Batteries Battery-powered crimpers run on either NiCad (nickel cadmium) batteries or NiMH (nickel metal hydride) batteries. While some manufacturers offer tools that use generic batteries, others sell tools that work only on proprietary batteries. One company pointed out that these batteries cannot be expropriated for any other tools on or off the job and thus are likely to be in place when the tool is needed. Generic batteries, on the other hand, are significantly less expensive than proprietary ones and they are easy to replace at local hardware stores. Battery life is dependent upon amp/ hours (which is a measure of the total energy): the more amp/hours the battery has, the longer the run time on a single charge. NiMH batteries are more expensive but can carry a higher amp-hour rating. The number of crimps from a battery tool varies among manufacturers and sizes of the model, the tonnage capacity, the size of the cable being crimped, and the type of connector. As the size of the cable goes up, the number of crimps goes down. Batteries can usually take a charge about 1,000 times before losing charging ability. Depending upon the charger, recharging can take anywhere from 15 minutes to an hour. However, cold temperature adversely affects battery life hydraulic performance. In cold conditions, when batteries don’t put out as much power and the oil in hydraulic systems thickens (creating resistance), keep the tool warm when not in use, perhaps in a warm van or other heated space. At the least, the batteries can stay in a warm pocket until needed. While most tools come with two batteries and a charger that will charge a battery in an hour or less, it is, in practice, rare that somebody will need to do more crimps per hour than the two batteries could support. The Greenlee CCX, a die-type multi-function (cut/crimp/punch) tool, accepts interchangeable crimping dies, adaptors, or cutting blades. Available as a six-ton unit, the crimper, which uses a NiMH battery, features a pistol-grip style and a flip-open head that uses a quick-release design, for easy changeovers. Rather than having to change the head on the tool, the operator presses a release button and slides in and out the desired crimping die adapter, cutting blade, or knockout punch adapter (which can punch holes up to 2-inch conduit size in 10-gauge mild steel). UL-classified and CSA-certified for up to 600 MCM for copper color-coded connectors, the tool can accept virtually any brand of crimping die. The tool can crimp 140 times on 4/0 cable per charge. In addition to a range of cutting and crimping tools, Greenlee has recently introduced the ESG85GL battery-powered cutting tool designed to cut large diameter underground cable and communications cable. It features a 360-degree rotating flip-open head with a cutting capacity of 3.3-inch diameter cable. The Anderson Versa-Crimp VC6-500-BP is a dieless snub-nose battery-powered hydraulic compression tool featuring continuous-action dieless nibs. Differing from the typical die-type “fixed distance” system, the tool is “range-taking” (ranging from No. 8 stranded or solid to 500 MCM aluminum or copper), operating on a fixed-pressure principle. The snub-nose contour of the tool, which has a pistol thrust of 12,660 pounds (about six tons), is well suited for crimping in tight spaces. The front-opening design allows direct access of the tool to the connector. The Huskie REC-458 battery-powered compression tool, with an optional cutting head, sports a rapid advance feature, incorporating a high-speed hydraulic pump that quickens the cycle time. The unit, which works with “W” or “O” type dies, uses an electronic counter that allows technicians to read the number of compression cycles made. A factory-preset bypass cartridge ensures a six-ton compression. Quick-release pins allow an operator to change between compression and cutter heads in about a minute without losing springs or pins. The Huskie REC-3610 ROBO-CRIMP battery-powered 15-ton compression tool crimps lugs up to 1250 MCM aluminum and 1500 MCM copper. The tool base is contoured for stability and has finger grooves for a better grip. This tool is the only one made in the industry that compresses 15 tons with a battery, said Kotars. The Burndy BATOOL BAT35, 14V, 12-ton battery-actuated tool, offering one-handed crimping and featuring an ergonomic tool design and grip area, accepts all “U”-type dies. It has a full 360-degree infinitely rotatable head. The tool, which operates on a NiMH battery and uses off-the-shelf connectors, has a connector range of copper and aluminum No. 8 strand-750 MCM. An LED battery status indicator allows users to determine the status of the battery before starting the job. Audible “pop-off” and green LED indicates properly completed crimps. Several manufacturers make connectors that work with other companies’ battery-powered tools. For example, Penn-Union, which sells a full line of UL-listed connectors, recently added a series of connectors—copper compression lugs—intended specifically for the telecommunications market, which accommodates the special bolt patterns used in those applications. The Type BBLU-2TC two-hole long-barrel lugs (for No. 8 stranded through 1000 MCM), certified to work with crimpers from Huskie (which they also sell) and Anderson, feature long-length barrels that permit extra crimps for additional assurance on heavy-duty loads, and a closed transition that protects cable ends from environmental hazard, said John Chart, senior engineer at Penn Union. ILSCO ILCB-12 battery-powered crimper accommodates a conductor range of No. 8-750 MCM for lugs and No. 8-400 MCM for splices. The 12-ton compressor features a C-head that rotates 340 degrees for improved access in tight spaces. The unit accommodates all “U”-type dies and, notes the company, has a wide handle opening with finger grooves for better operation when wearing gloves, and a base contoured with finger grips for stability. A built-in bypass cartridge assures a complete crimp each time. The FELDMANS provide Web content for companies and write for magazines, trade associations, building product manufacturers, and other companies on a broad range of topics. They can be reached at email@example.com or (914) 238-6272.