New products are an electrical contractor’s playground. Because of their position on the front lines of construction activity, contractors are well-qualified to share their opinions on tools and technology.
Electrical contractors from across the nation discuss the key factors they look for in a new product; some of the new tools, components, software and systems on the market that are making their lives easier; and products they wish manufacturers would introduce.
Forward motion in fiber optics
The team at Long Island City, N.Y.-based Hugh O’Kane Electric Co. Inc., a leader in telecom network maintenance and capital expansion in the New York Metro region for over 30 years, first began working with high-density AFL Ultra HD MicroCore fiber optic cable (commonly known as “spider ribbon cable”) in 2016 and has been impressed ever since.
“This innovative new cable can have up to 1,728 strands of individual fibers in a single cable that has the same outer dimensions as a traditional 432-count fiber optic cable,” said Hugh R. O’Kane, president of the 76-year-old, third-generation family business. “Simply put, that’s four times the fiber capacity packed into the same size cable.”
Hugh O’Kane Electric began working with spider ribbon cable as its customer, ZenFi Networks, built the underlying network for the LinkNYC/Link 5G project, which supports free Wi-Fi and expanded 5G and broadband services throughout the five boroughs of New York City at a time when digital accessibility is more important than ever. (To learn more in this project, read “Creating Critical Connections” in the September 2022 issue of ELECTRICAL CONTRACTOR.)
“Based on the network architecture required to support the fiber-dense LinkNYC project, we worked closely with ZenFi to beta test how the spider ribbon cable solution could meet the fiber capacity required for this network,” O’Kane said. “Over the years, we’ve seen more of our customers utilizing spider ribbon cable, specifically in the 5G network builds which also require high-density fiber backbones supporting the many small cell/nodes required to make 5G systems work in the New York City environment.”
A team approach to new technology
“We’re always looking for any new products, methods or tools that reduce our labor costs,” said Dan Kingery, prefab department manager/tool support at Skyline Electric Co. in West Valley City, Utah. “In light of the periodic difficulty of finding manpower, we must adapt a process to make it more efficient so that a standard procedure that once required five workers can be safely accomplished with only two or three.”
“One new product I particularly like is the Triggers System by Southwire,” Kingery said. “These prove invaluable for long pulls without line of sight between pull points and where radios simply won’t work. The worker running the tugger and the one on the feeding end at the assister both have a foot pedal they can use to stop the pull if an issue arises while pulling the wire, and additional ‘triggers’ can also stop the pull.
“These have come in handy on pulls where we have 1,000–2,000 feet of distance to pull and radios can’t reach in between because of 4-foot-thick concrete walls or too much interference from steel structures. Being able to shut down the pull in a split second not only helps protect the workers, but also the wire and conduit/cable tray if issues arise for any reason,” he said. “We started using Atkore’s MC Glide as well since it pulls so much nicer through steel studs.”
Kingery also finds the Bulldog Big Daddy Bender helpful. “It makes wrestling large feeder wires much easier to manage in tight spaces, not to mention helping to feed large conductors through a stubborn conduit body,” he said. “When I first saw this product demonstrated, I wished that I’d had it all of those times I had to terminate in a motor control center or work conductors through a tight line box. I immediately ordered some for our field workers.”
When it comes to brands, “we’ve converted 90% of our tools over to Milwaukee,” Kingery said. “It makes battery logistics a breeze if all of our tools use the same battery type, and Milwaukee is constantly releasing new products, so there’s always an innovation around the corner.”
Among his favorites, “Milwaukee’s new compact pipe threader is awesome—super light and easy to use with safety features that make it easier on field workers. Their Packout system for storage is also really nice and we’ve outfitted our entire service fleet with them. The feedback from the field is extremely positive.”
As his team continues to transition to prefab packages on projects as opposed to total field installs, Kingery said that a growing number of manufacturers have been designing prefab materials to support that increasing need.
Among them, “nVent CADDY, Orbit, SP Products and Legrand are some of the manufacturers we’ve utilized a lot recently,” he said. “Whether it’s in-wall assemblies prebuilt for a quick install out in the field or large collection point supports, there are so many options now that support faster installs and allow you to get much more done with fewer workers.”
Apart from learning about new products through email promotions, “we’ll have our supplier sales reps show new innovations to our project management teams,” Kingery said, and also confirmed that such lunch-and-learn sessions have proven beneficial.
“From our senior managers scheduling demonstrations by our distributors to our procurement team always being on the lookout for new products and our project managers observing and refining work out in the field, our entire group helps us stay on the leading edge of new technologies.”
Supporting safety and productivity
According to Robert Foxen, executive director of the Missouri Valley JATC in Indianola, Iowa, “our most common sources of new product information are vendors, newsletters, social media and industry events. New products that enhance productivity or create a safer workplace are of greatest interest to our team,” he said. “Our training center allows us to try out new products in real-world scenarios and provide feedback to manufacturers.”
“From our experience, some of the newer products that have made an impact on the industry are battery-powered cable cutters and the battery-powered MD6 tool from Milwaukee,” Foxen said. “Thanks to these tools, jobs that used to require brute force now just involve the press of a button and the tool does the work with ease.”
“Another product we’re utilizing is the Registration and Learning System (RLS), which we access through software company ABC Virtual,” Foxen said. “RLS is an online app that you download to your cellphone to access microlessons for learning, compliance and information delivery to the workforce out on the right of way.
“The system tracks the progress of all employees as they complete the content and then issues a certificate of completion after they pass the exam within the course. Missouri Valley is now issuing ‘OSHA 10 Best Practices’ quarterly refreshers electronically for students to complete at their discretion. Overall, online learning is going to be a large supplemental means of training new generations of contractors in the future, and this software brings learning and compliance right to your fingertips,” he said.
As for the product he would most like to see introduced? A battery-powered mechanical hoist.
“Both an insulated version that can be utilized on energized conductors as well as a noninsulated version for cold construction,” Foxen said. “This device alone would save shoulder injuries that eventually lead to surgeries and worker compensation claims, which can be very expensive for both employers and employees.”
A remarkable advancement
“We’ve been using Remarcable as our purchasing and tool rental software for the last three years and it allows our people to use one software platform for placing material orders and tool requests,” said Martin McAdams, supply chain manager at Lighthouse Electric Co. Inc., Canonsburg, Pa. He added that transactions are done through electronic data interchange (EDI) with their distributors. Among the software’s strongest features are the abilities to reflect real-time/weekly material pricing updates, support general material orders from the field through connected devices and send a bill of materials out to multiple vendors, who all upload their pricing in the same format for quick evaluation by contractors.
“In addition, the system flags invoices that don’t match the weekly price updates to warn of price discrepancies,” McAdams said. “Since we own our data, we now no longer need to rely on distributors to provide us with point-of-sale reports, and Remarcable also keeps track of releases against ‘hold for warehouse’ orders and counts the release of material down to zero, which helps field personnel understand how much material remains on large bulk orders.”
On the tool side, “Remarcable helps us locate tools in our warehouse by the bin location the system provides, keeps track of our inventory by documenting all ‘ins’ and ‘outs’ of tools, easily transfers tools from one job to another, keeps track of tools sent out for repair and invoices jobs for monthly tool rentals from our tool shop,” he said.
All about efficiency
The team at Phoenix-based Cannon & Wendt Electric Co. Inc. has been similarly impressed with Remarcable, the material and asset management program linked in with its distributors.
“We’re interested in anything that makes us safer as well as helps to save time, movement and energy,” said Shane Snyder, president. Since signing up a year ago, “we’re now in the implementation phase and it’s been a game-changer for our field people when it comes to ordering material.
“Similar to shopping on Amazon, they simply pull up an app with pictures of the product they want, add it to their cart and choose the vendors they want it to go through; the program then tracks pricing and can help us prove pricing volatility/increases to customers.
“We can also find out right then if an item is back-ordered because all of the information shared is in real time, which is helpful because we used to place orders and only find out later if something was unavailable. In today’s competitive environment, we can’t wait a day to find out that kind of information. Remarcable saves us so much time and energy,” he said.
In the past 6–12 months, the solutions offered by the Trimble X7 3D laser scanner have also helped Cannon & Wendt stay on the leading edge of contracting.
“The platform allows us to go into a built situation, take scans, download them into Autodesk Revit modeling software, and either run clash detection on any modifications or build/add onto the plans,” Snyder said. “By laying the scan over our model, it helps us verify our model for the project or identify any variances.”
As for the new product he wishes would be introduced in today’s fast-paced, short-staffed industry environment? “A people-cloning machine,” Snyder said.