Trim project labor and increase productivity using custom-made tools and prejob planning.

Electrical contractors spend an incredible amount on project labor, especially when you total all hourly taxes and expenses. How would you like to trim 10% from that total? Boosting job-site productivity through better tool management could do it. In fact, a 10% reduction may be too low an estimate for most contractors.

To understand how to enhance productivity, let's go back to the basic components: quality tools, materials, and instruction. If these are well provided, along with prejob planning, you're on your way to greater productivity.

Rising labor and material costs and tight operating budgets make it imperative to learn about tools, rigs, and procedures that can help you increase productivity. The following ideas can help shave dollars from your operating costs:

  • Customize your own tools. One successful Midwest contractor follows this rule. If the firm needs a tool that can't be found, it constructs its own. A threading/bending station on wheels is one such example. The station includes gang boxes to store bending shoes and dies.

    The firm built 16 of these workstations in the last few years, and the utilization rate for the equipment is about 95%. The workstations prove to be so productive the contractor encourages field use by charging an affordable rent.

    In addition, the contractor refined its tool management system so the major cost is repair/parts; not the purchase of new tools. The company is constantly looking for ways to maximize its tool investment and increase utilization; preventing equipment from sitting idle in the warehouse. Another innovative idea involved setting up the company's tool inventory as a separate business entity and renting tools and equipment to other contractors in the area.

  • Vans and trailers have long been used for material and tool storage as well as field offices. So what's new? Job-site office trailers can receive useful custom "add-ons," such as easy-to-read schedule boards or technical library bookshelves. Do not expose desktop computers and laser printers to airborne dust and dirt entering through the doorway. And unless you want to keep replacing them, protect computer keyboards from this pollution by using a plastic keyboard cover or a special "hardened" keyboard.

  • Work wagons, such as wheeled platforms with a cutting tool and threader, speed conduit installations. These units have room to measure and lay out wireway channels.

  • Tool storage trailers can also have important supporting roles in enhancing job-site productivity. Plywood bins, sized for large hand and power tools, can save time during checkout and prevent unnecessary wear and/or damage.

  • Outfit a flatbed truck, used to set poles and overhead conductors, with a hydraulically powered telescope boom that will reach a working height of 55 ft. The personnel platform is usually 3 ft by 5 ft with safety rails. Main platform and outrigger controls are located near the truck cab.

  • Outfit a flatbed (stake) truck with a high-lift bed to make deliveries directly to the second floor of a building (especially in a crowded city street). The truck can pick up a load of conduit or lighting fixtures at a manufacturer or distributor warehouse, travel over the highway to the job site, and lift the entire truck bed to a 20-ft elevation. Hydraulic outriggers stabilize the load.

  • Use a mobile machine shop, conveniently located on the job site. You can equip the unit with a gasoline-engine-driven generator rated 3200W, 230/120V, serving multiple receptacles for portable power tools. The platform can have a threading machine and a high-speed cutting wheel for trimming conduit.

  • Don't crawl in. Bring it out! Use an easy rollout cargo drawer in different types of vehicles. You can get items faster and reduce injuries when loading or unloading tools and equipment. When extended, the cargo drawer holds up to 3000 lb evenly distributed.

  • You can use skid-mounted load panels (typically rated 100A) supported on a metal framing channel with a number of convenient receptacle outlets for temporary power on construction sites. Contractors build their own, outfitting them with the most desired features.

  • Employ a chopsaw, a tool that is gaining wide acceptance by all of the construction trades. It's a time saver because it makes a perfect perpendicular cut. After cutting a 3/8-in. or half-inch. threaded rod, the nut will start on the threads without having to debur, trim, or file the threads. One note of caution: The tool throws sparks, so you should wear eye, face, and hearing protection. Only use the chopsaw in a safe work area; one free of all flammables, including rope, rags, and paper.

  • On one outdoor project involving new underground transformer construction, the contractor modified a self-powered lightweight cable-pulling rig from an existing but unused trencher; for pulling power cables. A standard tool for outdoor underground cable placement, the newer horizontal directional drills (HDD) increase productivity, provide more accurate bores, and are easier to use.

    Some of the new models have automatic stake down systems (to keep drilling and pullback forces from moving the drill), and they can carry enough drill pipes for most installations. Some models feature remote control devices for driving and steering. Many models operate with a tethered hand-control box: Radio controlled models add important versatility.

    You can accurately guide the drill by using a radio transmitter, or beacon, located directly behind the drill bit. Held by a crew member walking directly above the bore head, a tracker/receiver receives the beacon's signal. The beacon sends up data on the position and depth of the bore head and information for steering changes.

  • Usually, cable reels are set on a motor-driven payout device that can push the cable onto the cable tray. At the same time, a cable puller with a 10,000-lb tension and pulling grip, applied over the cable tied in with the pulling eyes, helps speed the installation. Sometimes, custom-made or field-modified sets of rollers, strategically located at offsets and bends to ease the cable pulling operation, can be a key factor in completing the work under budget and on schedule.

  • The latest advances in bending conduit and EMT include benders that can quickly handle one-shot offsets, one-shot round saddles, one-shot flat saddles, and one-shot 90 degree bends. The newest models are battery-powered, making them ideal for use at parking lots or highway sites.

  • A motorized semicon insulation shield remover can correct cuts made by someone who used a razor blade. This tool will not cut too deeply into the cable and allow electrical stresses to begin to breakdown the insulation and cause a corona discharge.