In Austin, Texas, monk parakeets nest in power transformers on poles high above street level. The nests become so large they can cause fires and power outages. Workers from the local electrical utility, Austin Energy, use long, insulated poles to carefully remove the nests, making every effort to relocate the parakeets. These unique insulated poles make it possible to safely remove the nests.
Tools are essential to accomplish big projects, small tasks, delicate procedures and even compassionate acts for parakeets. As the electrical industry changes, the tools contractors reach for will change, too.
“The tried-and-true tools will always be in demand,” said Greg Palese, vice president of marketing, Klein Tools, Lincolnshire, Ill. “Just about every electrician’s bag is stocked with tools like multimeters, voltage testers, side-cutting and diagonal pliers, wire strippers and drivers every day.”
However, even these basic or traditional tools are evolving.
“Today’s pros are looking more for tools that can perform multiple tasks, however, saving them trips back to the van or down off the ladder—because time is money,” Palese said. “That’s why the industry has seen more multifunctional tools, like wire strippers that can also serve as side cutters, voltage detectors with flashlights, and screwdrivers and nut drivers that can handle multiple sizes and applications.”
A material world
According to Klein Tools’ research, the environment for electrical workers is changing. The company’s annual State of the Industry survey found 56 percent of electricians have seen an increase in high-tech installations work, and 72 percent indicate they are seeing more smart offices in commercial buildings compared to five years ago.
These landscapes present contractors with a variety of materials that their tools will have to handle. Commercial spaces, for example, use innovative materials that require versatile tools; drills must be able to penetrate different materials without being a burden to the worker.
“For standard applications in wood, metal, brick or block, many trade professionals are opting to use impact drivers instead of a standard drill driver,” said Chris Moskaites, product manager for Bosch Power Tools, Mt. Prospect, Ill. “This allows users to drill and drive with the same tool, eliminating the need to carry around two tools. For an all-in-one solution, many contractors opt for the multimaterial drill bits since they have proven to be a versatile solution for drilling in brick, block, tile, fiber cement, wood, plastic and metal. They come with a hex shank, which allows for usage in commonly available drill drivers, hammer drills and impact drivers. This option provides the most versatility.”
When frequently drilling in concrete, users often switch to a hammer drill bit or to an SDS-plus (interface) bit depending on the hardness of the concrete and the power tools available. However, things are different for metal applications.
“The step drill bit is a handy solution because it allows for multiple hole sizes to be drilled with one bit,” he said. “The most common will drill a 7/8-inch hole and a 11/8-inch hole for usage with 1/2-inch and 3/4-inch conduit.”
The same applies for residential applications. Though materials aren’t as variable as commercial facilities, tool innovation makes the job easier and more efficient.
No discussion of tool usage is complete without mentioning safety.
“The [National Electrical Code] does a great job of keeping up with technologies and adapting to the increased power needs of American homes and businesses,” Palese said. “Technology will continue to drive changes to safety, and as power demands rise and the variety of devices grows, the industry and electricians will respond and adapt as they always have.”
A digital world loaded with sensors and wireless communications brings a whole new cache of safety concerns.
“With digital capabilities at their disposal, electrical contractors are increasingly looking to use new tools that not only help them gain efficiency, but improve safety,” said Philip B. Santoro, electrical contractor segment manager, Schneider Electric’s Square D, Nashville, Tenn. “One example is circuit breakers with built-in diagnostics, enabling electrical contractors to identify and reduce the occurrence and causes of trips faster than ever before. Another example is IP2X barriers that reduce the risk of electrical shock when someone is working near energized components.”
Santoro said this new world of technology means an increased need for up-to-date training and talent.
“The age of [the internet of things] has brought with it a need for more integrated systems and improved energy efficiency, which has disrupted the industry over the past decade,” he said. “While this disruption means businesses are in need of talent with specialized skills in the digital realm, it also creates opportunity to hire and train a workforce equipped to utilize new digital tools. Training programs today will take on even more importance to prepare the workforce for future needs.”