Crimping is an effective and efficient method of making electrical and voice/data/video (VDV) connections. Properly used with correctly matched connector and wire, a crimped connection will meet applicable industry standards. Some technicians use the same crimper for electrical and VDV applications, ensuring the proper connectors are used, while others prefer different tools for each application.
Manual crimpers fit in the category of basic hand tools for electricians. Battery-powered crimpers are gaining in popularity for their ease of use and increased productivity. There also are multipurpose tools with crimping capability.
Ryan Berg, director of product management and termination, Greenlee, Rockford, Ill., described a crimp as a splice or connection that delivers electrons from one medium to another. (Greenlee’s comments apply only to electrical work, not VDV.)
“Considerations for selecting a crimping tools includes the type of conductor being used (i.e., wire gauge or cable size) and the type of connector that is being crimped,” he said. “Proper connector selection is extremely important. Selecting the correct connector ensures the user isn’t putting the line at risk for failure. The crimper must have the capacity range for the application, and the crimped connection should not inhibit the flow of any type of energy. That’s why we believe an important advance has been our crimp technology, which has a unique pressure sensor that monitors pressure 32 times every second to ensure proper force is applied. It alerts the operator with a loud alarm and a visual indicator when a crimp is below specifications.”
Several factors influence selecting the right crimper, including the gauge of the conductor, the class of wire to be connected, and how frequently dies need to be changed (if frequently, a dieless crimper may be best).
Will the work be in prefab where it isn’t necessary to change dies? How frequently will the crimper be used? If it will be used frequently for multiple crimps, an ergonomically designed battery tool should be considered.
“While a manual hand tool may be less expensive, it will likely cause operator fatigue,” Berg said. “Repeating the same action multiple times leads to strained or tired muscles, and muscles that aren’t performing optimally may begin to increase risk of tears or strains. If an operator continues to work, musculoskeletal disorders [MSDs] such as carpal tunnel or tendinitis can develop. The ultimate result will be loss of time due to injury, medical bills, workers compensation claims and reduced productivity on the job site.”
Battery-assisted crimpers allow the operator to efficiently perform crimps, lessening the likelihood of muscle fatigue and MSD. Battery-assisted crimpers should be ergonomically designed considering the weight of the tool. Does the tool have an inline design or pistol grip to help the user reach the crimp? Is the trigger in the optimal position? How comfortable does it feel in the hand?
“If the crimper is comfortable for the user to operate, the user can perform crimps repetitively,” Berg said. “We want battery crimpers to be smaller, lighter and more intelligent so that the crimp is completed to intended specifications.”
Berg observed that ergonomics is becoming a larger focus on tools in general and specifically crimping tools.
“In 2018, we launched a new manual crimper that has locking extendable handles for increase maneuverability and leverage,” he said. “In addition, [we] improved the handle and grip design to effectively transmit arm force to the tool, making it easier and more comfortable to use.”
Dave Heck, director of engineering and product management, Burndy, Manchester, N.H., said manual crimp tools have changed very little in recent years. Most changes are product refinements to improve ease of operation. Battery crimper improvements have been focused on improved battery technology, smart technologies and ergonomics. Whether a tool is manual or battery-powered, it is essential to select the correct connector.
“Use of the wrong connector can lead to poor electrical performance, loss of service, property damage and/or loss of life,” Heck said. “Selecting the proper connector starts with knowing and understanding the application requirements and the associated conductor.”
Heck said several key factors influence which crimper to use for different applications. First, there is budget. Battery-powered tools are more expensive than manual tools, so it is necessary to consider cost.
Next is number of crimps. If a worker is only making a few crimps a day, a manual tool may be fine, but if he or she is making many crimps—and everyone defines “many” differently—a battery tool may be the best option. Ergonomics are another factor.
Finally, there is application. If the worker is using small wire and small terminals/splices, a manual hand tool might be fine to use since it does not take much effort to make a crimp. If the application calls for larger wire size and connectors, the only option could be a battery-powered tool to generate the force needed to make a good connection.
“Productivity and versatility are other important reasons,” Heck said. “The newer battery tools are versatile and can take the place of several manual tools. A main factor is the number of crimps being made. The more crimps made on a regular basis, the more justified a battery tool is because of time savings. Battery tools also are more ergonomic, reducing the chance of lost time due to user injuries.”
The next generation of tools have integrated communications and analytics built into them. As companies move to internet-of-things ecosystems, the ability to collect, communicate and analyze data in real time and over a period of time will be extremely valuable, Heck said.
Karen Alpan, product manager, Klein Tools, Chicago, said for both safety and longevity of service, using the correct connectors and tools is the key to completing successful terminations. Depending on user preference and familiarity, multipurpose tools can be as effective as crimp-only tools because they can enable the same functionality.
“User preference and familiarity often play a large role when choosing which crimpers to purchase,” she said. “Beyond that, important factors to consider include choice to terminate more than one connector type with a single tool, the frequency of terminations needed, and all-day comfort when making multiple connections.”
In general, the crimper a tradesperson uses in day-to-day work is determined by the connectors that are terminated, which differs between electrical and low-voltage job sites. However, some tools have a variety of crimp die sets, which have the capability to terminate different connector types.
“Rapid advancements in technology, such as the introduction and expansion of power over ethernet have expanded datacom capabilities, making new tools and job-site solutions necessary in order to do the job right,” Alpan said. “Over the past few years, pass-through technology has become much more prevalent, as opposed to standard crimpers, in the low-voltage industry. Pass-through technology helps increase efficiency, saving time and wasted materials.”
Brendan Haas, product manager, Panduit, Tinley Park, Ill., said the quality of a finished job depends the quality of each individual component.
“With electrical and VDV connections, determining the correct connector by the type of connection, wire size, insulating material, and relevant standards is crucial to ensuring the quality of the connection,” he said. “If there is any incompatibility with these variables, the connection is bound to fail.
“The most important factors to consider when deciding on a crimp tool are UL listing/testing with the product to be installed, making a consistent and efficient install, and safety design considerations. These will make sure that resulting work is reliable and on budget,” Haas said.
Demand for battery-powered tools has grown in recent years.
“Installers seem to be drawn toward the increased productivity these tools can provide,” he said. “This being said, there are pros and cons to each type of platform—whether that be manual, battery-powered, or automated.”
Cost must be considered, as with any investment.
“The total cost of a connection can be separated into a material component and a labor component,” Haas said. “Realizing savings of this labor component will determine if the cost of a tool is justified and can be paid back through the savings. There are other variables that play a part in the decision and may make the analysis too difficult to calculate. In these cases, the rule of thumb would be to purchase a battery-powered tool if making over 2,500 connections per month.”
In recent years, hand tools have evolved to incorporate two-in-one or three-in-one functionality to compete with more convenient systems, Haas said. Battery-powered tools, already having the upper hand on convenience, have seen improvements in software, and these new “smart tools” are able to track crimp performance, maintenance and other metrics to add a level of reliability and safety to the platform. However, a tool’s effectiveness ultimately depends on whether the operator is using it properly and the tool is in good working condition.
“Multipurpose tools are not inherently less reliable, but they usually are used more often, and so are more prone to wearing out or breaking,” Haas said. “In either case, a controlled cycle mechanism to the crimp is the most reliable feature of a tool for making an effective crimp.”