Terminating a connection correctly requires training and experience, concentration, patience, the right connector for the application, the proper wire preparation and the right connection tools.
It is critical to make terminations correctly to avoid a system outage, other problems and the resulting issues outages cause.
Today’s tools, many with battery/hydraulic operation, have evolved to make the termination process easier, faster and safer.
Brendan Haas, project manager at Panduit, Tinley Park, Ill., observed that faster and easier means more than it used to.
“We’ve hit a cap on some of the capabilities of the simpler connection tools as far as productivity goes,” he said. “So, we’ve moved into a world where faster and easier means more efficient and more connections. There are a lot of features that are going into tools now, like monitoring softwares, RFID, Bluetooth and even GPS, that are integrating them into our other ‘smart’ networks.”
Haas said No. 2 AWG wires and larger usually require pneumatically or hydraulically assisted tools, either in a battery- or pump- powered platform, to ensure enough force is applied to the connection to meet industry standards and the application’s electrical and mechanical requirements. Smaller wires are typically installed with manually operated tools, but they can also have more efficient or convenient options.
“The selection of battery-operated tools has increased in both breadth of function and the number of manufacturers that supply them,” Haas said. “Smart technology has added a new layer to a lot of the tool offerings, and I think we have only scratched the surface.”
However, while hitting a button is easier to actuate a faster cutting blade or crimping jaw, it can put the operator at some serious risk if the right precautions are not taken.
The basic type of connector is ring- and spade (fork)-style terminals, tab- and pin-style disconnects, splices and, recently more popular in North America, ferrules.
Depending on the voltage and current requirements, dynamics and the application’s environmental conditions, a variety of different connector styles and sizes can be used.
“For more secure connections, a ring-style terminal is usually mounted to a stud or mechanical power contact. For quicker installations, a fork can fulfill the same role and can sometimes have added features such as flanged fingers or snap-on style ribs. When mating tabs, a male and female disconnect can be used in high-maintenance applications,” Haas said.
“Splices can join sections of wires to replace a damaged end, fix a length error or simply combine prefabricated components more easily. Lastly, in power distribution and control applications, push-in style terminal blocks are becoming increasingly more popular,” he said. “In these types of applications, a ferrule is always a good idea to add to the end of a stranded wire to contain the wire and ensure good contact. Varying types of insulations and terminal plating can be used based on chemical, moisture and heat exposure, which can be researched online or with the help of the manufacturer.”
Panduit offers a broad selection of connector tools.
Daniel Snyder, professional tool specialist at Rockford, Ill.-based Greenlee, said basic tools needed to prepare most wire and complete terminations are strippers to strip back insulation material, a lug or a splice to crimp onto the wire, and a tool to crimp the lug or splice onto the bare wire.
“Recent tool enhancements include the implementation of battery/hydraulic tools; the ability to wirelessly connect to a tool and monitor the performance of that tool in real-time; and the automatic retraction of the tool’s actions without additional user input. Battery models include tools to cut and crimp most sizes of soft and hard metal wires and to crimp most sizes of lugs and splices,” Snyder said.
“Battery tool offerings have increased, including the introduction of dieless crimping tools and tools that make quicker crimping of multiple cable sizes without having to change out dies, lugs or connectors. Additionally, ergonomically designing tools for easier handling and to prevent fatigue have been beneficial to enhancing job-site efficiency,” he said.
Using the appropriately specified tool and connector must always be considered for varying sizes of cable, Snyder said. Training must include identifying the appropriate tools and connectors for each job, and it is important to be aware of the manufacturer’s specifications for each tool and connector.
Battery-powered tools are becoming increasingly widespread across the industry. Greenlee’s Gator terminal crimping tool includes a pressure sensor that monitors the force of each crimp with intelligent crimping.
Dan Pearson, senior product manager at Klein Tools, Lincolnshire, Ill., said there are many types and styles of electrical connectors, each designed to make proper connections, which is critical for any application.
“Smaller and more common sizes of cable allow the use of most common tools and connectors,” Pearson said. “Larger and heavier-duty cable can necessitate the use of larger, heavy-duty tools to complete a job properly. Poor connections are most commonly the result of an improperly terminated connection or a connection that may loosen over time. The best ways to avoid such issues are ensuring the use of proper tools for the job and all work is up to code.”
Pearson said the most basic tools needed are a pair of pliers that can help pull, position and cut wire, a pair of wire strippers to strip insulation off wire ends for making the electrical connection, and a set of Phillips and slotted screwdrivers used to fasten the wire ends to their connection points.
“Continuous innovation and product development from the industry strive to make jobs not only easier but safer as well,” Pearson said.
Catie Samaras, market segment manager-wire termination at Sycamore, Ill.-based Ideal Industries said the size and type of cable affects the selection of tools and connectors used in the application. Each product is designed to fit specific applications.
“The basic tools to prepare wire and complete terminations are a wire stripper and a connector to splice the wire,” Samaras said. “The wire stripper is used to strip the insulation off the wire, and the connector is used to make the splice the wire connection. Some of the most basic type of connectors electricians will use on a regular basis are twist-on connectors and push-in connectors. The importance of proper wire preparation ensures a quality electrical connection.
“Issues often faced include loose screw terminal connections at switches and outlets (turn off power and examine screws, tightening as needed), joining wires together with electrical tape (use a twist-on or push-in wire connector), incorrect strip length on wire, either too much or too little exposed wire (turn off power, clip excess wire if too much is exposed or strip insulation if too little is exposed), just to name a few,” she said.
Ideal Industries offers a spin-twist tool that can be used as an attachment with electric corded or cordless drill drivers to make connections with twist-on connectors, which apply the twist to make the connectors with speed while reducing finger fatigue during the connection process.
“We also offer a torque screwdriver that applies the correct torque value to set screw-type connectors,” Samaras said.
Troy Marks, group product manager at Milwaukee Tool, Brookfield, Wis., said battery-powered, cordless cable cutters and strippers simplify preparing cable for connections.
“These tools can fit in tight spaces and cordless cutters cut effortlessly through cable, leaving a clean, installation-ready cut,” he said. “Cordless strippers with no exposed blades are safer than stripping with a knife and make accurate, more consistent strips.”
Crimpers round out the last phase of critical installation tools, he said.
“Our crimpers feature a fully enclosed, high-speed hydraulic pump to deliver ultimate reliability in tough conditions,” Marks said. “The predictive force monitoring feature constantly measures force output to deliver consistent speed that won’t bog down on larger connectors while delivering accurate pressure on every crimp.”
Marks said electricians are still using conventional hand tools to cut and strip wire, often requiring great force.
“There is a heightened awareness about the long-term effects of high strain and repetitive use applications found on job sites today,” he said. “We are fully integrating quantifiable and verifiable ergonomic data directly into new product development processes so that quantifiable ergonomic data drives the design of our electrical installation tools. Turning historical hand tool usage into a cordless tool has tremendous health and safety benefits for the industry.”
Electrical contractors today are feeling increasing impact of the internet of things and other advancing technologies, Marks said. This has fueled a need for improved reliability, accountability and verifiability of cable installations.
“Milwaukee has strategically invested in the development of electronics within power tools and reporting features available in compression tools,” he said. “Independent pressure sensors constantly monitor output force and when full pressure is reached, the tool instantly activates a green LED to give the user full confidence that the tool operated correctly. All Force Logic crimping tools also log the date, time and pressure reached for every crimp that’s made. The data is stored on the tool and can be synced wirelessly utilizing the One-Key app and uploaded to the cloud.”
“The data can be input into a customized report that powerfully and visually verifies that every crimp made by that tool or on that project reached the correct pressure. This gives the contractor accountability that every crimp meets standards,” Marks said.