The Essentials

The tools used by utility workers are at the heart of our business.

May 1st, 2008
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The tools used by utility workers are at the heart of our business.

When you get down to it, it’s not only the poles and lines that stretch across the country that are the everyday soul of our utilities. It’s the technicians who spend almost every day in the field, serving our customers: the technicians and their tools. For all the majesty and size of utility projects and companies, the places where you see the tools that crimp and strip and trim are where you’ll see the most action. That’s where our customers see us most. It could be in an alley, by that new community building on Lincoln Street, up one of those poles, or close to your own house. The tools used by utilities are often small but they are not toys. Many of them fit in one hand comfortably, but they are most serious components in our utility machine. We should know how to use them and understand how they can help us.

A bad practice that seems to be vanishing at last is that of a manager, supervisor or foreman handing a new tool to an employee and telling him or her to “Just get on with it. I hear it’s good.” Manufacturers continually design and produce tools and instruments with better materials of construction and improved performances, provided we use them correctly! Check out some of the tools that appear in Utility Products. You’ll see how many of them offer innovative helpfulness, if you use them the right way. Some that come to mind are the IR high temperature thermometer from Extech Instruments, the lineman’s puller from LUG-ALL (with its breakable stress link) that’s used in the construction and maintenance of energized lines, the lineman’s hoists from Little Mule, and staple guns and other installation products from Budco.


BrandFX’s 520 lb. Lightweight Service Body on a Chevrolet Colorado
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Companies like Huskie Tools invest time, money and effort into providing what their customers need and enjoy using. They have done years of research on different configurations for tools and innovative materials, all the time concentrating on efficiency and safety for the linemen using precision hydraulic compression and cutting products. Such tools deserve proper use. Such tools deserve that their users are trained in the right applications and techniques. If you look back a few decades, you’ll find that the tools used then were as good as any that were made then but there are a surprising number of companies whose technicians still use those types of tools, when better, safer ones are available and affordable. Perhaps the safety aspect of utility field work is the most important driver. The situation, when it was mentioned to me, reminded me of family cars. When did your vehicle last need one of those tune-ups that could cost a small fortune at regular intervals? Today’s vehicles seem to last much longer and we now take that for granted. Today’s tools are much better, too. We should be using them, shouldn’t we?

Have you investigated the merits of the tools offered by the Ripley group of companies, most of them used in the preparation of wire and cable when you need to connect, splice or terminate? What about battery-powered tools? The Patriot In-Line from FCI Burndy, for crimping, comes to mind; it claims to do as many as four times the number of crimps before recharging. Or perhaps your workers would prefer Stanley’s battery crimping tool? It offers features that may be the answer to some field problems. Here’s a quote from AFL Telecommunications concerning fiber optics: “Dust, dirt, oils and other contaminates can cause hours of grief for network service technicians,” observes Don Allard for the company. “The good news is that proper cleaning tools and techniques allow trained technicians to effectively remove contaminates and get networks back in service.” (Did you notice that the successful technicians will be trained to be that way?)

Caring for Tools

A neighbor of mine works for a local utility. The tools in his truck are always in good order. He knows where to find the exact one he wants. Another neighbor, a contractor, has a big pickup (most expensive) but both the inside and outside are a mess. When he finishes a job, he tosses tools into the bed. The two neighbors are extremes of tool care and it’s obvious whose tools are in the best condition and who knows exactly where to find the tool he needs.


Extech’s IR high temperature thermometer line
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Manufacturers like Brand FX offer vehicles that have excellent arrangements for tools and equipment. You’ll find similar attention to the practical, keep-the-tools-handy needs of field workers from companies like IMT and Auto Crane in their service trucks. Boom truck makers like Terex Utilities, Altec, Armlift, TIME, Asher and Duralift provide trucks with excellent storage capabilities. These manufacturers know the importance of tool care.

The storage and care of tools are obviously important from several aspects. How much time could be wasted if you don’t know where the tool you want is kept? What are the safety and performance merits of tools that are rusting or damaged? In recent years one of the great steps forward in hand tools is that the user has been able to use less force to make them work well. The popularity of battery-powered tools is proof of this. When you think of how much effort (and possible injury) was required to make, say, a typical connector compression with the old 12-ton manually operated tool, and then you compare that to today’s solution for the same problem, you can see why there were so many injuries known as RSI – repetitive stress injuries. Not only do today’s best compression tools reduce the number of strokes required to complete a task, they also reduce drastically the likelihood of injury to their users. Think of the benefits of such tools when multiple connections are needed. What used to happen was that the linemen often had to reach and stretch beyond the ideal working position, and they frequently had to pump a tool with both hands and have help to control the connector and the cable. The very physical exertion and unusual stretching could cause injuries that were costly to the lineman’s health and to the utility’s productivity. While we praise the value of new tools available, we must reiterate the need to use them as recommended and designed.

The Right Tool

My uncle Dan was not a tool person. Basically, he had one: a hammer. To him the hammer was for banging in nails and it was also the “universal screwdriver” used to hammer in screws. When asked why he didn’t use a screwdriver he would swing his mighty arm and show us how the hammer drove the screw in. “Just as good, isn’t it?” he would ask with a laugh. But, of course, it wasn’t. His projects fell apart; his garden fence was always falling down. I have seen utility workers do similar foolish things when they used the wrong tool for the job. The result might look good enough, at first, but it seldom lasts or performs as it should. When the foreman or other supervisor hands out a tool, he should be sure that the user knows exactly what it is for. You want to prepare a length of cable? I looked at one manufacturer’s advice and array of tools for that work. The manufacturer offers the right tool for penciling URD and transmission cables; for end stripping 600 V cables and URD cables; for mid-span stripping; for insulation removal, jacket stripping and chamfering insulation on URD cables. The tools are all slightly different and perfectly right.


Ripley’s CT2-AS Series Compression Assembly Tools
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In another catalog I found tools which prompt linemen to say “I wish I had one of those!”, not because they are simply new but because they address a particular problem that the lineman meets regularly, like the one with an integral visual wear indicator that allows the user to verify quickly the tool condition for a proper crimping operation. Or knockout sets with just the features the linemen always asked for. Or remote power-operated tools, with five-year limited warranties? Look at the battery-actuated hydraulic crimping tools! I had the opportunity to do some homework on the details of all the tools offered and it occurred to me that those who order tools should do the same. That homework would include not only looking at the features of the tools offered, but consulting with the potential users of those tools to discover which features would be the most useful in their daily work routine.

With tools, as with most machine and equipment, the ones we need are available, and often affordable. When looking at the price of new tools, we need to estimate the cost of not having them, the time they will save and – this is not something that will occur to most of us immediately – the importance of keeping our skilled personnel, who prefer to work with good tools rather than unresearched substitutes.

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