Electrical contractors spend an incredible amount on project labor, especially when all hourly taxes and expenses are totaled. How would you like to trim 10% from that total? Boosting job-site productivity through better tool management could actually do it for you. In fact, the 10% 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, you're on the way to greater productivity. Prejob planning is another factor in boosting productivity. You must make sure that your installers have all of the tools they need. One West Coast contractor provides field installers starting smaller projects with at least 90% of the tools, materials, and information they need to complete the work without interruption. For the larger and more complicated jobs, naturally, the technique is different.

Rising labor and material costs and tight operating budgets make it imperative to learn about the tools, rigs and procedures that can help increase productivity. Among the ideas given here, there is bound to be at least one that can shave dollars from your operating costs:

*Customize your own tools where necessary. This rule is followed regularly by one successful Midwest contractor. If the firm needs a particular tool that can't be found anywhere, it will engineer and construct its own. A recent example was a threading/bending station on wheels. The station includes gang boxes where bending shoes and dies can be stored.

The firm has built 16 of these workstations in the last few years and the utilization rate for the equipment is about 95%. The workstations have proved to be so productive that the contractor encourages field use by charging a low rent.

In addition, the contractor has refined its tool management system to the point that 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 to increase utilization-that is prevent equipment from sitting idle in the warehouse. One recent idea was to set up the company's tool inventory as a separate business entity and have it rent tools and equipment to other contractors in the area.

*Vans and trailers have long been used for material and tool storage and as field offices. What's new is that job-site office trailers can receive useful custom "add-ons," such as easy-to-read schedule boards or technical library bookshelves. The now-obligatory desktop computers and laser printers should be located where they are not exposed to airborne dust and dirt entering through the doorway. And unless you want to keep replacing them, computer keyboards should be protected from the same airborne dust and dirt by using a plastic keyboard cover or by using a special "hardened" keyboard.

*Tool storage trailers also can 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 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. Such a boom truck can be used to set poles and overhead conductors for a temporary electric service.

*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, which can be located at any convenient spot on the job site. The unit can be equipped with a gasoline-engine-driven generator rated 3200 W, 230 V/120 V, serving multiple receptacles for portable power tools. The platform can have a high-speed cutting wheel for trimming conduit and channel stock and a threading machine. Conduit dies for threading various conduit sizes and other tools can be stored in a drawer under the trailer body.

*Don't crawl in. Bring it out! An easy rollout cargo drawer can be used in a number of different types of vehicles: pickup trucks with a canopy, and large vans. The contractor can get at items faster and reduce injuries when loading or unloading tools and equipment. When extended, the cargo drawer will hold up to 3000 lb evenly distributed.

*Skid-mounted load panels (typically rated 100 A) supported on metal framing channel with a number of convenient receptacle outlets are widely used for temporary power on construction sites. Contractors build their own, outfitting them with the most desired features.

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

*Employ a chopsaw, a tool that is gaining wide acceptance by all of the construction trades. It is a time saver compared to a portable bandsaw because it makes a perfect perpendicular cut. After cutting a 3/8-inch 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 in all directions, so the user should wear eye, face, and hearing protection. Also, the chopsaw should be used only in a safe work area-that is, one free of all flammables, including rope, rags and paper.

*Line construction and underground work can benefit from custom designed tools. Different types of rack and cable reel holders are some examples. On one outdoor project involving new underground transformer construction, a self-powered lightweight cable-pulling rig was modified from an existing but unused trencher-for pulling power cables. A standard tool for outdoor underground cable placement, the horizontal directional drilling unit is an example of a motorized tool that has improved dramatically over the past few years. The newer horizontal directional drills (HDD) have increased productivity, provide more accurate bores, and are easier to use.

Some of the new models have automatic stake down systems (to keep the drill from being moved by the drilling and pullback forces), and they can carry enough drill pipes for most installations. Additionally, some models have remote control devices for driving and steering. Many models are operated with a tethered hand-control box; radio controlled models add important versatility.

The drill unit can be accurately guided by using a radio transmitter, or beacon, located directly behind the drill bit. The beacon's signal is received by a tracker/receiver held by a crew member walking directly above the bore head. During operation, the beacon sends up data on the position and depth of the bore head and information for steering changes.

*With fast-track design/build projects, many types of large power cable and Type MC cable are being installed at commercial and industrial sites. An electrical contractor's experience is the essential ingredient for success in pulling MC cable from a reel onto cable trays and other support platforms. Usually, the cable reel is set on a motor-driven payout device that can literally push the cable onto the cable tray. At the same time, a cable puller with a 10,000-lb tension and a 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.

*Electrical contractors always look for the best and fastest way to bend conduit and EMT. The latest advances include benders that can quickly handle one-shot offsets, one-shot round saddles, one-shot flat saddles and one-shot 90-deg bends. The newest models are battery-powered, making them ideal for use at parking lots or highway sites.

*Contractors also look for electricians who are willing to take on more skills and new techniques. One of the areas of concern is working safely on medium-voltage circuits. An electrician working in a crowded manhole and planning to cut into a cable for a splice or a T tap may be referencing old construction drawings. If someone neglected to update information on the drawings, or if the cable is mislabeled and even if normal safety precautions are taken, the electrician may cut into an energized cable. Using a new insulated high-pressure hydraulic hose and cutter allows an electrician to cut cables from a remote location to reduce, if not eliminate, the risk of injury.

*Contractors specializing in medium-voltage work may find themselves redoing work previously done by individuals not certified and without the proper tools and equipment. A motorized semicon insulation shield remover can correct cuts made by someone else who used a razor blade. And 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.