Advances in Technology Make Crimping Safer and More Efficient

ABB Installation Products Inc., formerly known as Thomas & Betts, introduced its first solderless connector in 1934. This led to continuous development in connector and tool design that has made T&B the leader in experience for today’s critical connecting and terminating conditions.

The proper installation of terminals, splices and connectors is very important to the efficient performance of an electrical system. The properly installed connector will allow good conductivity through the termination; a poor termination results in a high resistance connection. A poor connector installation may also cause damage or failure of an entire system. Certain basic requirements must be met to make a good termination:

  1. The proper size and type terminal must be selected to match the wire/cable being terminated.
  2. The proper type terminal (e.g., non-insulated vs. insulated) for the conditions specified must be selected.
  3. The wire/cable must be properly stripped and prepared.
  4. The terminal must be properly installed. ABB recommends installing tools that have Shure-Stake® compression control mechanisms to assist in making proper installations.
  5. The terminal must pass a secureness and tensile test to demonstrate its mechanical strength. Designated ABB terminations are designed to meet applicable UL, CSA and military requirements.
  6. The termination should remain stable during current cycling tests.
  7. The conductivity of a terminal joint should be equal to or greater than that of an equal length of conductor, so that it can safely and properly carry the maximum current load likely to be imposed.

For example, Thomas & Betts, which ABB acquired in 2012 and integrated as its Installation Products business line last year, introduced several new tools in the last decade that applied technological advancements to crimping. Among these tools was a 6-ton battery-powered crimping tool that was released in 2007 and enabled one-handed operation with lighter weight and ergonomic design. In addition, the jaws were designed to rotate to facilitate crimping in tighter, more confined spaces.

Technological Advances for Crimping Tools

In 2010, Thomas & Betts introduced the Color-Keyed® HEX-FLEX™ crimping die series, which combined the best attributes from indent-style and hex-style crimping. The HEX-FLEX™ die system combines the pullout resistance of indent-style crimping with the embossing of the die code onto the connector that hex-style crimping offers to facilitate inspection. Its higher pullout values also enables it to reduce the number of crimps required for most connectors.

In 2016, after Thomas & Betts became part of ABB Group, it introduced the Sta-Kon® BAT22-6NV2 electromechanical micro-crimping tool, which features one-leveler operation to control all tooling functions. An electronic control with a lock function monitors the complete closing of the dies. The BAT22-6NV2 tool also offers automatic retraction when the crimp is complete, with manual retraction when needed. Its drive technology enables it to crimp with much less effort from the operator.

These innovations were developed to ensure safety and efficient production. Errors in crimping include failure to match the correct connector to the wire, poor crimp quality and improper crimp equipment.[1] While the BAT22-6NV2 tool applies electronic technology to control and monitor die crimping, this technology is also being incorporated to minimize the chances of error in die-less crimping.

Applying Technology to Die-less Crimping

ABB Group offers an example of this with last year’s release of the Smart® Tool+ die-less crimper, which can scan Color-Keyed® Smart lug characteristics, verify crimp quality and store data that can be uploaded into the cloud for storage and retrieval. It uses the Microsoft Azure cloud computing service. The Smart Tool+ crimper offers a variety of functions that apply current electronic technology to assist with not only crimping itself, but with recording crimp information for quality control and standards compliance.

The Smart Tool+ crimper, which is used with Color-Keyed Smart lugs from 3/0 AWG to 750 kcmil for copper and 1/0 AWG to 600 kcmil for aluminum, connects with an indent-style crimp that is precisely calibrated to the lug and wire through pressure sensing and preset indentation levels. The configurations are more predictable than those produced with most die-less crimpers. Connections are UL Listed to UL 486 A/B. A UL-compliant connection is achieved with a single crimp on long- and short-barrel lugs and splices (aluminum lugs terminating copper conductors require two crimps), unlike older systems that may require multiple crimps to achieve the same result.

The electronic technology includes storage of digital data about the crimp’s pressure and indentation level, as well as lug size and if the crimp was a success or failure. Additional information may be entered manually, including the bolt-tightening torque at final connection and a digital photograph of the connection, with the information stored in association with a particular crimp data record.

Using Technology for Efficiency and Safety

This array of data collection of crucial electrical connections is particularly useful for electrical systems in hospitals, data centers and military installations where these connections are increasingly specified for quality assurance and quality control. The recording of pressure and indentation-level data also enables the crimp to be verified and inspected.

In addition to sites that require specified quality assurance and quality control data, the retention of crimping data is useful in determining the cause of electrical failure, thermal runaway and fire that can lead to costly recalls. Examples include a recall of heating and cooling units that caught fire because of inadequate crimping force from using the wrong machinery.[2] In another case, dishwashers were recalled because of an overheating power cord, which also was due to improper crimping.[3] Use of electronic technology can facilitate the detection of these crimping errors while alerting installers to correct errors before the product is released to the market.

RFID, Sensor, Cloud and Bluetooth Technology

Radio-frequency identification (RFID) technology enables digital data encoded in radio waves to be recorded via a scanner. When used with Color-Keyed RFID lugs, the Smart Tool+ crimper can retrieve the same information via a scan that is available when using standard Color-Keyed lugs, with the additional capture of the lug’s serial number.

The Smart Tool+ crimper also can be set up to register where groups of crimps are located. This enables each crimp in each enclosure on a floor, for example, to be automatically reported with accuracy along with its location. This function proves to be quicker, more efficient and more thorough than recording data manually.

Sensor technology enables the Smart Tool+ crimper to provide an automatic quality check for the correct compression of a properly fitted crimp. The sensor’s signal will indicate a proper crimp by illuminating a green light. Data about the crimp quality and other associated information also are recorded in the tool’s data storage. If the crimp compression is not correct, the sensor’s signal will illuminate a red light and record the failed crimp in the database.

Bluetooth connectivity is also a feature of the Smart Tool+ crimper, enabling data to be downloaded to any Bluetooth-enabled computing device. The data also can be uploaded from the Bluetooth-enabled device to the cloud for secure storage.

Mobile Device Application

The Smart Tool+ crimper uses a custom, cross-platform mobile application (compatible with iOS 11.0 or later and Android 6.0 or later). Data are easily retrieved from any mobile device by logging into the account. Available from the Apple App Store and Google Play free of charge, the mobile application provides full control to the designated person or people and can track user output and generate reports. It uses Bluetooth technology to connect with the Smart Tool+ crimper.

The application also authenticates users based on roles defined on the server side and sets up the job for an installer from an available list, which can be configured on the server side. To expedite the start of an installer’s job, the application can allow offline work without authentication. Using the cloud, the application also enables installers to upload crimp data sets and inspectors to download them, append the data if needed and upload inspected crimp data sets.

Other functions include data transfer from the Smart Tool+ crimper based on the number of crimps, most recent crimps and crimps from that day, as well as delete crimp data from the list. The units of measure also can be switched between metric and imperial measurements.  

Conclusion

Applying current technology, such as digital data storage, including cloud storage, as well as RFID technology, sensors, Bluetooth connectivity and mobile device applications, fosters greater installation efficiency and user safety. The Smart Tool+ crimper is an example of integrating these technologies to ease crimping, ensure the integrity of the connection, improve efficiency and ensure safety, while reducing costs.

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George Robertson is product marketing manager for conductivity and grounding at ABB Installation Products, based in Memphis, Tennessee. He holds a Bachelor of Applied Science in mechanical engineering from the University of Memphis and is a member of IEEE.