Smart Tool+ Brings Crimping Into the Digital Age
It seems so easy. You slip a seamless tube connector over the stripped end of a wire and crimp it. Like magic, an electrical connection is ready to go. No solder. No worries. Simple.
Or is it?
Crimping, done correctly and according to manufacturers’ specifications, is reliable and effective, but the process is not nearly as simple as it looks. Crimping electrical connections reliably on a mass scale actually requires a fairly sophisticated blend of mechanical engineering and electrical engineering in order to work well.
Think of it as cold welding. All of the wires in a braid or a multi-wire cable need to make solid contact with the wires next to them without deforming and, finally, must be pressed firmly enough into the connector barrel to leave no air gaps and to remain securely in place, in some cases in the face of strong pull forces. The failure to accomplish all of that — usually due to improper settings, operator error or both — can result in complete connector failure, or to increased electrical resistance and heating that can lead to eventual failure and a potential fire hazard.
Manufacturers have introduced many improvements in crimp technology since the 1930s when Thomas & Betts, now ABB Installation Products, introduced the first compressible lug to help speed the construction of the Empire State Building. Most innovations, such as Color-Keyed® lugs and hydraulic crimping tools, have centered around improving the human function of selecting proper connector sizes to match the wire gauge or the mechanical function of applying the proper pressure and torque.
In 2018, though, ABB Installation Products introduced a series of innovations that elevated crimping technology into a new age with a single tool: the Smart® Tool+.
Combining generations of in-house mechanical improvements with the cutting edge of cloud-based communications, ABB’s engineers colloborated to create a tool that is designed to solve multiple crimping needs at once: the need to confirm the proper-sized lug is being used on a given wire size; the need to produce the proper crimp dimension for the lug and wire combination, without needing to choose the proper die for the application; the need to visually inspect for quality, and the need to document the work with pen and paper.
A dieless, battery-powered hydraulic crimper capable of producing thousands of reliable, consistent crimps for multiple wire sizes with less reliance on the decision making of operators, Smart® Tool+ can scan lug characteristics automatically configure itself to deliver a solid crimp; provide crimp data confirming the quality of a finished crimp; then transfer that detailed data to a mobile app. The mobile app can then upload the data to a secure cloud environment for storage and retrieval.
The tool can be used reliably with standard Color-Keyed® lugs in the range of 3/0 AWG to 750 kcmil for copper wire and 1/0 AWG to 600 kcmil for aluminum wire, but utilizes its full capabilities when combined with ABB’s equally groundbreaking new RFID enabled Color-Keyed® lugs, which bring serialization and another level of accountability to electrical connections. The end result is time saved on the job along with a full array of automatic data collection on critical connections – data that is increasingly specified on QAQC jobs that require high levels of quality control, including hospitals, data centers, military installations and other power-critical projects.
The tool’s innovative features include:
- Superior dieless crimping. Smart® Tool+ produces an indent-style crimp that is precisely calibrated to the lug and wire through pressure sensing and preset indentation levels, resulting in solidly bonded connections with configurations that are more predictable than those produced by other dieless crimpers. The target lug size can be entered manually for standard Color-Keyed® lugs or entered automatically by scanning RFID enabled Color-Keyed® lugs.
Automatic quality check. The Smart® Tool’s sensors check for the correct compression of a properly fitted crimp. A green light illuminates to inform the user that a proper crimp has been formed, and the crimp quality along with the connection’s associated information is logged to the tool’s data storage. If the crimp compression is not correct, the tool signals failure with a red light and records the failed crimp in its internal database.
Data collection and analysis. When used with RFID lugs, the Smart® Tool+ registers a wealth of information on each crimp, including the lug size, its serial number, the crimp pressure and indentation level, and success or failure. Additional information, such as torque value for lugs bolted to bus bars and a photo of the connection, can be entered manually. Setup strategies can be used to register the location of groups of crimps so that each crimp in each enclosure on a floor, for example, can be accurately and automatically reported along with the location — a system that is faster, more complete and more efficient than hand-recording data.
Bluetooth connectivity. Smart® Tool+ data can be downloaded to a unique mobile app via Bluetooth, then uploaded to a secure cloud for permanent storage and retrieval.
- Analysis and reporting. Using reporting tools available on the secure Smart® Tool+ cloud based dashboard, data can be analyzed and seamlessly reported to job supervisors, quality control engineers or any other entity that requires full reporting on crucial electrical connections. Access to a user’s cloud based data dashboard can be granted to building owners, inspectors or building commissioners to simplify the process of sharing critical data.
Connections made with the Smart® Tool+ are UL Listed to UL 486 A/B. The tool achieves a UL listed connection with a single crimp on long and short barrel lugs and splices, when crimping copper lugs on copper cables and aluminum lugs on aluminum cables.
WHO WILL USE THE NEW TOOL?
With its cloud-based data storage, Bluetooth communication features and RFID-tagged lugs, the Smart® Tool+ system is an advance on today’s standard crimping technology. Early adopters are likely to be users who must complete sensitive work such as hospital construction, data centers and military installations. QAQC-guided work where quality control and data collection is crucial is a natural potential market, since the Smart® Tool+ system’s ability to perform automated quality checks and collect, upload and store required data on each crimp can save significant amounts of time and hassle on the job.
But the demand for such automatic quality control and monitoring in other industries may well expand to meet the capabilities of the tool, given the critical need for crimp quality and the potential expense of undetected quality failures.
Oil & gas installations, telecommunications companies, and those who do work for them could benefit from the tool’s data-gathering features, since even a single failure in far-flung equipment can force expensive repairs. And industries that function on tight margins, such as food & beverage processors, may find that the benefit of averting costly power failures is well worth the price of a tool with simplified operating characteristics and built-in monitoring and reporting.
In short, any business that is reliant on crimped electrical connections for the stability of its functions may be interested in the features the new tool offers.
As an industry blog from the Canadian firm WireProcess Specialties noted in 2017, “knowledge of the assembly process is critical. But it is not enough. Assuming wire assembly is a simple process that does not require constant monitoring can be a critical mistake."
Smart® Tool+, along with its RFID enabled lug technology, leads the way in harnessing the best of modern technology to improve the process of crimping connections and the ability to detect flaws, if and when they occur, in a timely manner. Taken as a whole, the Smart® Tool+ system is truly leading the industry to a better future.
Brian Burke is the director of global product management for connectivity and grounding at ABB Installation Products, based in Memphis, Tennessee. He holds a bachelor of science degree in industrial Distribution (Engineering Management) from Clarkson University and an MBA in marketing from Syracuse University.