Installers are looking for faster, lighter weight, more compact, and easier-to-use tools. Today’s hydraulic, pneumatic, and battery-powered tools deliver just that.
Introducing the new 20-in-one super mega multipurpose versatool: It cuts, crimps, calibrates, bends, drills, sizes, saws, patches, penetrates, punches, fills, screws, and polishes—all in one compact unit. Although this sounds a bit farfetched, it’s not beyond possibility—especially when you consider how far tool technology has come so fast. Looking back just 10 years ago, there were no one-hand ratchet cutters, battery-powered cable cutters, or multifunction tools. Traditional tools got the job done right. But as the need for smaller and lighter tools with greater speed, accuracy, and integrated features increased among electrical professionals, a new generation of super tools was born. Today, the possibilities are endless. Manufacturers continue to introduce full-featured multipurpose tool solutions that save users time, money, and headache. Cable termination tools are no exception.
Along with highly capable installers, the secret to an efficient installation and successful construction project is a tool trailer filled with the right tools. The advantages of proper tool selection are obvious and result in labor savings and increased profits. However, you must balance features with cost.
In general, the more a tool reduces operator effort, the more expensive it becomes. But sometimes it’s better to spend a little more up front to get a tool that will save you a lot more down the line. Let’s talk about today’s tool technologies and how they can help you become a more successful installer.
Typical cable termination tools. You need two types of large hand tools for most 600V cable installations: cable cutters and crimping tools. Both cutting cable and crimping connectors require significant force. The larger the cable, the more force you need. A variety of different methods power these tools—each providing the high force required for the job. The usual types include manual, remote hydraulic, and hand-hydraulic tools.
Two relatively recent innovations in cutting and crimping tools are helping users to achieve these goals faster and easier: battery-powered tools and combination tools that perform more than one function.
Battery-powered tools are growing in popularity for cable installation and termination operations. Electrical contractors, plant maintenance electricians, and electrical and telecommunications utilities personnel or workers use battery-powered knockout punch drivers, cable cutters, and crimping tools. The main benefit of battery-powered tools is their fast cycle times (5 sec to 20 sec for most operations). Users also like the tool’s consistency. Particularly in crimping operations, many appreciate the fact that the tool controls the cycle, not the operator. These tools are also relatively compact (easy to get into tight panel boxes), and they reduce fatigue from repetitive operations.
Until now, these tools have pretty much been single-purpose—a cable cutter for copper and aluminum that cuts only copper and aluminum, or a crimping tool that only makes crimps. Now, manufacturers are developing tools capable of performing multiple functions. This makes such a tool more productive and helps justify its higher cost.
Tools that combine multifunction capability with battery power are state-of-the-art today. They combine high operator productivity with high tool productivity. As installers become aware of this, you’ll see more and more of a demand on all types of jobsites.
Let’s take a look at the various types of cable cutting and crimping tools available in the market today.
Cable cutters. Still the old standbys, manual cutters are the least expensive choice. For smaller cables (2/0 AWG and smaller), they work well and are fairly compact. For larger cable sizes, however, the handles get longer and the required operator effort gets higher. Users also become tired when making repetitive cuts.
One-hand ratchet cutters have become very popular in the last few years. Their popularity is due to their compact size and relatively large cutting capacity (up to 750kcmil). The big disadvantage is you wear out your hand and forearm after making only a few consecutive cuts.
Two-hand ratchet cutters are available in a variety of different styles. On the plus side, these units save wear and tear on your hands. On the flip side, they’re too large to fit in a tool pouch. Many of these cutters can even cut steel cables and rods, such as ACSR, guy wire, and rebar.
Battery-powered cable cutters are increasing in popularity, primarily because they are fast and easy to use. They’re especially nice when you need to make many cuts in a short time period. Different styles are available for cutting a variety of materials. Some customers are concerned with battery life, but most units provide 50 to 100 cuts per charge. The big disadvantage here is high price.
Crimping tools. If you need to make only a few crimps on smaller cable sizes (4/0 AWG and smaller), manual tools are probably your best bet. Several styles and types are available, depending on what you’re crimping and if you prefer interchangeable dies, rotating non-interchangeable dies, and indentor tools. You can adjust the latter to the proper connection choice.
For larger cable sizes, you need hydraulic tools for the force needed to get a 6-ton, 12-ton or even 15-ton crimp. A remote hydraulic pump can power these hydraulic tools. There are also hand-powered units and those using a battery-powered motor. All are available in a variety of interchangeable die- and dieless-types.
Remote hydraulic. Although requiring an external hydraulic pump, this type of crimping tool is still very popular. It’s relatively lightweight and compact, but many find hooking up the hose and pump to be a bother. On the other hand, those who already have hydraulic pumps to power other tools (such as conduit benders) like being able to use the same pump for crimping.
Hand hydraulic. This type of tool requires manual operation of a hydraulic pump that’s attached to the crimping head. In the last few years, manufacturers have made several advancements to make these tools more operator-friendly. These include:
• Making the tools lighter and smaller;
• Using two-speed pumps to reduce the total number of strokes needed to complete a crimp; and
• Adding a feature that automatically retracts the ram when the crimp is complete.
As with cable cutters, battery-powered tools have taken a lot of the work out of crimping, but they are more expensive than other tools. Battery-powered tools come in 6-ton, 12-ton and 15-ton interchangeable die type and in a variety of dieless styles.
Multifunction tools. Now being introduced on the market are tools that can perform both cut and crimp functions. In some cases, these tools even come with additional functions such as a knockout punch adapter. One recently developed tool enables installers to punch holes, cut a wide variety of materials, and crimp electrical connectors using several different die types—all with just one head.
Economics. Manual tools obviously continue to be the least expensive type for cutting and crimping, but they can’t generate enough force needed on larger cable sizes. For repetitive situations, they can be tiring and even lead to repetitive motion injuries.
Hydraulic tools (either remote powered or hand operated) are two to three times more expensive than their manual counterparts. But, you can use them on larger cables. The downside is they require a lot of paraphernalia to support their operation.
Battery-powered tools are five to six times the price of manual tools, but you can use them on a wide range of cable sizes. They are more productive than other types of tools, and they put the least amount of stress on the operator.
The advent of battery-powered multifunction tools makes them much more attractive to installers. They’re capable of increasing productivity by easily switching among a variety of functions. They also reduce the number of tools needed on a jobsite. These tools increase productivity by providing the fast speed of battery tools to several different operations. While they tend to cost slightly more than single-function tools, they’re less expensive than two or more separate tools.
Bottom-line benefits. You aren’t going to succeed in today’s fast-paced construction environment just by working faster. After all, how fast can you really work? Using the older tools, it’s easy to reach the point where the physical demands of cutting, crimping, and punching—not to mention the climbing, lifting, and carrying so often involved—limit the effort your body can withstand.
With their increased power and multifunctions, the newer tools allow you to work more efficiently and accurately. This means you get more work done in the same time at lower cost. Just as importantly, you reduce the strain on rotator cuffs, carpal tunnels, and biceps tendons—strain that comes from the effort required to grip and manipulate tools with sufficient force to do the job. Using tools that reduce this effort means less fatigue and injury and higher productivity.
To be successful in those jobs, evaluate your present tool inventory against the kind of work you are doing, and see where you can improve that inventory to save time and money.
Eisele is a product manager for Greenlee Textron, Rockford, Ill.