Most hand tools used by electricians have evolved to improve function, ergonomics and durability. Over time, a simple tool can adjust to special applications. Consider how many types of pliers are available today.
According to tool manufacturers, electricians and other professionals want multipurpose tools, and the current lineup of hand tools reflects that.
One of the biggest differences between tools today and those used 40 years ago is functionality, said David Klein, associate director of product management and development at Klein Tools, Lincolnshire, Ill.
“Not many tradespeople like to carry around a different tool for each task,” he said. “It gets heavy and burdensome to lug around a massive tool bag for each job. Nowadays, most tradespeople opt for multifunctional tools. A pair of pliers that cuts, strips, crimps and shears bolts. A screwdriver that has multiple tips and has an adjustable-length shaft. If the job isn’t too complex, those may be the only tools they need, and they’ll just put them in their pockets.”
How do manufacturers know what tools and functions users need in a changing workplace?
“Most of our product improvement and new product ideas come from the field,” Klein said. “We are constantly in contact with electricians, linemen and others to determine exactly what their needs are, where they struggle and how we can better service them. We regularly host focus groups, go onto job sites and survey our customers and potential customers. Klein Tools prides itself on knowing our customers’ needs, especially in the electrical field. We have been doing so for 160 years now, and, as times change, it is our job to adapt to ensure that electricians can rely on us to help them get their jobs done.”
Engineers develop an idea and vet it to ensure it is something that will offer value.
“There usually will be several de- sign concepts that we send out for field-testing before the design is finalized,” Klein said. “Once finalized, we determine what it will take to make it, whether it is an entirely new machine or modifications to an existing one. When we developed the Klein Kurve heavy-duty wire stripper, it required the purchase of a multimillion-dollar piece of equipment that runs daily in our new manufacturing facility in Mansfield, Texas. Another example is our line of Phillips-tip screwdrivers, which are machined on new equipment that allows the tips to fit perfectly into screws, reducing cam out.
“We send samples of new tools into the field for validation as well as test them in our ISO-accredited lab. Finally, with the blessing of our lab and customer validation, we launch the product to the public,” he said.
Tool needs are identified by listening to professionals and testing the marketplace. New tool ideations and products are tested before manufacture ever begins, said Jon DeArment, president and chief operating officer, Channellock, Meadville, Pa.
“With an on-site lab and metallurgist on staff to test tools, and listening to professional tool users, we put our tools through rigorous testing daily,” he said. “When product changes are needed, Channellock ensures the change will make the job easier for the end-user and add more value to the product. The most significant advances in tools may not always be visible but are part of the structural integrity of the tool. To make our tools a better value for professionals, we have added state-of-the-art equipment in our manufacturing process to make better, longer-lasting products for the professional tool user.”
DeArment cites the XLT joint technology as an example, which requires considerably less force to make cuts than traditional high-leverage designs. This equates to tool longevity, reliability and ease of cutting for the tool’s user.
“This feature positions the rivet closer to the cutting edge, so considerably less force is required to cut than other tool designs,” DeArment said. “Its laser, heat-treated cutting edges are precision-machined, and a knife-and-anvil design is used to ensure cutting-edge alignment.”
Dale Speggen, product manager, Greenlee, Rockford, Ill., said there is no better way to design tools than using feedback from the people whose jobs and livelihoods depend on them.
“Greenlee has professional tool specialists strategically located throughout North America who focus on building relationships with commercial, industrial and residential contractors and their employees,” he said. “They develop valuable conduits between end-users and our product management team. Their feedback helps our team to better understand the day-to-day challenges they encounter, allowing us to provide the solutions they need. The goal is to learn what they like, what they don’t like, and what benefits they would like but currently don’t have.”
Speggen believes one of the greatest improvements to manual hand tools has been the incorporation of safety and ergonomics in the design. Companies also are employing metallurgists to identify the best materials and ensure that products will withstand job-site demands.
“While companies are investing in longer-lasting tools, they should also invest in ergonomic tools,” Speggen said. “Given the aging demographic of the workforce, ergonomics is now a major consideration during the design and testing process of tools for Greenlee. Our company was the first in the industry to hire a dedicated ergonomist and build an ergonomics lab. Greenlee’s ErgoLab uses advanced technology to test muscle fatigue and handle force as well as determine optimal handle grip and location while a tool is being used. Ergonomic tools help keep employees safer, and safer tools mean less sick time taken by an employee. And, because the tool is easier to use, a worker’s productivity increases.
“Our team works with our ergonomist to design and/or modify a tool so that it won’t cause injury or stress to the user. We also perform competitor testing to understand how well the competition has designed something. It is hard to impact change and improvement without knowing where the baseline is for today’s tools,” he said.
One result of this process is the company’s new G2080 cable stripper, which has a fully concealed blade that protects the workers while they are cutting cable jacket. The tool is ergonomically designed to comfortably fit users’ hands, allowing them to effortlessly rotate the blade with the tool’s intuitive bidirectional blade technology. The new K05-SYNCRO crimper has a built-in die-changing system that allows users to spin a wheel and rotate the die being used, eliminating loose parts.
Tayler Brinson, hand tool product manager, Southwire Tools, Carrollton, Ga., said his company maintains direct contact in the field with ECs who use tools every day, and leverages these relationships to gain an understanding of what tools are needed in the workplace.
“Any new product development or product improvement must be vetted thoroughly by the workers who use them each day,” Brinson said. “Engineering a great looking tool is important, but it is essential to ensure it is functionally sound and will be accepted by the trade.”
There has been a shift in focus and market acceptance to multifunctional tools, including multifunction pliers, and multibit drivers that allow ECs to do more with less, lightening the load of tools needed to be carried on job sites.
“Our S5N1 multitool plier has become one of our most popular tools,” Brinson said. “Contractors love the utility and value of a tool that can accomplish many things from wire stripping to crimping wire ferrules/connectors.”
Understanding what tools are needed in the marketplace begins on the job site, said Tim Albrecht, senior vice president and general manager of hand tools, Milwaukee Tool, Brookfield, Wis.
Interacting with users daily helps the company to understand their needs and enables the development of the best possible tool solution.
“Milwaukee spends a lot of time with professional users to learn about their frustrations and ideas,” Albrecht said. “This not only inspires real innovation, but drives us to develop solutions professionals truly want and need to perform their job productively.”
Albrecht said apprentices today are seeking hand tools that have multiple functions in one tool.
“The ability to replace several traditional tools with one multifunction tool not only saves money but takes weight out of the tool pouch,” he said. “There also is the benefit of becoming more productive by eliminating the need to search for several tools to accomplish one application.
“One of the biggest advances in hand tools for electricians is the ways that tool manufacturers are now integrating features into products that previously were being modified by the user. This typically makes the tool safer to operate and more reliable over its life span because the feature was specified and tested by the manufacturer,” Albrecht said.
Milwaukee Tool’s latest forged combination wire pliers combine a wire stripper, needle nose plier and reamer into one tool. The forged design adds the durability that users expect.
“When it comes to integrating features that were observed as job-site modifications, the HollowCore Nut Drivers are a great example,” Albrecht said. “These nut drivers allow our users to thread a nut with no limitations on depth due to the hollow-handle design.”