Tools Becoming Safer and More Efficient
By Pamela Valenzuela
Just as Americans are reassessing their quality of life in today’s stressful environment, so too builders and contractors are analyzing how tools can increase their productivity while protecting their workers’ health and welfare.
Electric tools represented a major improvement years ago. Now the changes are subtler, with manufacturers rarely developing new tools, but refining and improving those that already exist.
Alicia Smales, director, Hilti Small Power Tools, says her company designs tools with four factors in mind:
- An improved power-to-weight ratio. More power is being put into smaller units.
- Worker comfort. Customers are demanding tools with less vibration. They want ergonomically designed tools that are more comfortable to use.
- Safety as a priority. Anytime a workers’ compensation claim can be avoided, it is better for both the worker and company.
- Expanded services. Hilti, for instance, has enhanced its warranty policies and system. On a full-service warranty, if a tool breaks in one to two years, Hilti pays for the repair entirely, as well as all shipping. After that time, the company puts a cap on all repairs.
Ergonomics and Efficiency
Dan Harrell, Zircon Corporation's director of marketing, agrees that ergonomics — a trend that started in the late 1990 — is of utmost importance. In 1998, Zircon hired its first industrial designer, and since then, the department has expanded. Another trend that Harrell attributes partially to the growing market for women is the development of tools that are easier to use and instructions that are easier to understand.
Zircon and other tool makers also are emphasizing the production of one tool that does the job of many. Harrell says his company’s LaserVision® Qube™ System is doing just that. Its self-leveling base and assorted laser-generating cubes make it easy to set level, plumb and square layout lines. Zircon’s LaserVision iLine™ automatically self-levels in all four directions — up, down, left and right, thereby generating both plumb and level lines. Another product uses CenterVision™ technology to pinpoint the wood or metal stud center, not just the edge, which takes the guesswork out of locating the best place to anchor into a stud. The company plans to roll out new products using CenterVision later this year.
“Our stud sensors also identify hot lines, so contractors can avoid getting hurt,” Harrell says. “All it takes is one time getting shocked, and the stud sensor that points out wiring becomes much more valuable.”
Stanley Tools also manufactures a stud finder and laser line level that finds hot lines in the wall. The Intellilaser™ Pro Laser Line Level/Stud Finder electronically zooms in to show the worker both edges of the studs as far in as three-quarters of an inch, on both vertical and horizontal surfaces.
Bosch’s Randall Coe, director of product development, says his company is very focused on the user. “While it is becoming harder and harder to know what the issues are with tools, we spend more time in their environment,” says Coe, referring to the company’s field testing.
Bosch’s new cord management system allows the user to utilize any standard 12-gauge cord, rather than having a permanent cord attached to the saw or drill, which is easy to cut or damage. This way, if the cord is cut, a new cord can be plugged in.
Gary Van Durisen, Stanley Tools’ corporate vice president of innovation and design, agrees that market research has become more important. About seven years ago, the company created “Discovery Teams” to test its prototypes in the field. “I can go out with 50 prototypes and have 150 responses in two to three days,” Van Durisen says. “Builders are great for refining products and ensuring they meet their needs.”
The Discovery Teams interact with end-users in a job site environment to acquire information about how the professionals would make the tools better. This information is taken back to the designers and engineers who develop the prototypes and test models. And, again, they are taken out to the job sites for additional testing and refinements. Once the tool meets the needs of the pro, the company finalizes the design and develops the product.
Stanley’s FatMax® line of tools were developed this way, starting with its FatMax 25-foot tape rule in 1999, and the line today has almost 100 SKUs.
Safety Controls Save Lives — And Money
While some people don’t think about safety when they purchase tools, they should. Unsafe tools, improper use of tools and certain environments cause accidents, injuries and downtime.
Bosch is very safety conscious when it comes to designing its products, says Randall Coe. “If you address user fatigue, you develop and refine new projects, and you improve safety.”
Hilti’s Smales agrees about the importance of safety. As two examples, she points to her company’s corded WSR 900-PE and cordless WSR 650-A Reciprocating Saws with interlock switches that minimize the risk of unintentional engagement, and the TE 56 and 56-ATC combihammers. The patented Active Torque Control (ATC) provides added operator protection because it constantly monitors the rotation of the tool and disengages the drive system if it senses the housing beginning to rotate too quickly, she notes. It also provides 40% more power than its predecessor.
Service After the Sale
With the desire to maximize every dollar, after-sale service is always a concern of home builders and contractors.
Through its Fleet Management Program, the first of its kind according to the company, Hilti offers construction companies the benefit of a new tool fleet plan which only one monthly charge. The program includes a comprehensive review of the current tool fleet, consultation and recommendations based on tool usage and history. All annual service, including regular maintenance, calibration and shipping, is covered, resulting in lower expenses. The program reduces downtime, increases reliability and creates a predictable monthly cash flow, without a large upfront capital investment.
Under the program, tools that need servicing can immediately be sent in for repair at no additional cost. This means no more estimates, purchase orders or internal delays, saving time and money. When a tool is sent in for repair, it receives priority treatment to ensure that it is repaired and returned to the contractor as soon as possible.
Women Empowering Women
Tomboy Tools is a tool and home improvement company for women, by women, that provides a unique range of private-labeled hand tools for home improvement projects, and just as importantly, training to learn how to be comfortable using the tools.
“Our mission is to empower women so they become confident and competent home owners,” says co-founder Sue Wilson, president and CEO. “We provide the highest quality tools and techniques to women through our In-Home Workshop direct-selling strategy.”
In selecting tools to be carried by the company, Wilson says they want tools that meet three requirements:
- High quality. Tools meant for serious home repair and remodeling jobs.
- Ergonomic. Tools sized right for women and right for the job. For instance, Tomboy Tools sells 8-oz. and 16-oz. hammers, so the appropriate size is used for the selected job.
- Work smarter. Design features that help get a home repair or remodeling job done quickly and efficiently. For instance, tape measures that have printed fractions increase accuracy, and save time and money.
A great set of tools without the know-how to use them is not very helpful. Tomboy Tools’ In-Home Workshops let women try out tools, learn home repair skills and get new ideas in a relaxed, and fun, setting. A workshop trainer comes to the home and runs a few demonstrations of common home repair problems. Attendees can purchase tools and tool kits at that time, or they can simply learn from the demonstrations.
“Our In-Home Workshops reinforce our tell-show-do-feedback approach to home improvement projects,” says Wilson. “We tell you how it’s done, show you how to do it, give you a chance to try it yourself and then provide feedback so you can recreate the project in your own home.”
Currently, more than 100 trainers are presenting workshops around the country.
Before You Buy
Before you buy tools:
- Demo anything you can get your hands on.
- Don’t focus just on the tools, but also look at the consumables — such as drill bits, saw blades, anchors, etc.
- Look at the characteristics of the tools. When buying power tools, don’t buy for power alone; the power output is more important than the input.
- Buy a brand name; these are the companies that test their products and stand behind them.
- Request ergonomically designed tools. Try them out to see how different they feel.
Pamela Valenzuela is a marketing communications and management consultant based in Alexandria, Va.