Auto Service World
Feature   October 1, 2008   by Tom Venetis, Editor

Hand tools getting more powerful, comfortable and fit into tighter spaces

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With car work spaces become smaller and greater pressure on technicians to work on cars quickly and efficiently in order to meet flat rates, hand tools are become key in meeting those goals. Technicians rely on having the right tool on-hand so as to get their jobs done. As well, hand tools have to meet new requirements for ergonomics and comfort, and air tools have to be both powerful and quiet.

No, it’s not your imagination. Spaces have become tighter.

Claude Poirer, with sales and marketing at the Montreal-based Pneutrend Canada Ltd. says today’s vehicles pose a numerous set of challenges for technicians, the greatest being the ever-tightening engine compartments. Where once a technician could easily see where everything was in an engine, and access each part or component without too much work, today a technician struggles to reach each of those components.

Because of this reality, Pneutrend has begun to market a Mini Line of tools for the aftermarket, covering everything from impact wrenches to drills and grinders. For example, the Mini Line 3/8-inch Impact Wrench is made to get into tighter spaces, with a length of 149 mm and weighing only 1.3 kg with its composite housing.

“Technicians really like this kind of tool because it reduces the number of times one bangs one’s hands and fingers when working in tight spaces,” Poirer says.

Ernie Lauber, vice-president of marketing with Matco Tool in Stow, Ohio says access to tight spaces is critical in order for technicians to meet their flat rates and to keep business moving.

“It is no secret that the spaces in cars are getting tighter,” Lauber adds. “If you can’t get a tool into that space, you will often have to take things apart to reach the part or component you need. And that takes time. So if you have a job that is rated to take some two hours, but because you can’t get easily to the part and the extra work needed to get to it makes the job take three hours, that will affect your flat rate and you will start to loose money over time.”

To make it easier and faster to get into those tight spaces, Matco has a variety of mini tools, such as it 1/4- inch mini composite impact wrench. It is made for fastening in hard-to-reach areas, such as dash work, and is made with a composite housing to reduce weight and improve comfort. It also comes with a variable-speed throttle to improved control.

Nils Steika, business intelligence manager with Rock Hills, S. C.-based Chicago Pneumatic Tool Co. says even with tools getting smaller, technicians also want to make the tool has the power to get the job done.

It is a tough balance; reducing size often means a reduction in power. However, manufacturers are finding that balance. Chicago Pneumatic’s CP7740 impact wrench weighs in at 2.7 lbs and is a compact 6.3-inches and comes with 500 ft-lbs of torque.

“People today want the most power in the smallest package,” says Steika. “This is obviously driven by that need to get into those confined spaces in many of today’s vehicles. The CP7440 is made to get into those tight spaces where a full-sized impact wrench would not fit.”

Pneutrend’s Mini Line 3/8-inch impact wrench strikes a similar balance as the wrench offers 350 ft-lb of torque and a free speed of 12,000 rpm within its compact size.

Ergonomics and Comfort

One of the trends, as already mentioned, is the move by manufacturers to making their tool lighter using a variety of composite materials. Along with the use of composites, many manufacturers are also moving to using a variety of materials that help improve the overall ergonomics of their tools. Since tools, either air tools or traditional hand tools such as screwdrivers and wrenches, have to be wielded for long periods of time, it is imperative that they be comfortable and to help reduce the strains on a technician’s body. Just as there is such as thing as ‘tennis elbow,’ damage caused by repetitive strains on a player’s joints, technicians also suffer from similar strains and damage from prolonged repetitive uses of tools.

Mac Tools’ 12-piece S/D foam set of screwdrivers are made with Tri-lobal handles that help reduce fatigue and discomfort, while helping in increasing torque. The handles feature a thermal plastic elastomer that improves grip as well.

Ray Lavender, marketing keting and communications manager with Mississauga, Ont.- based Snap-on Tools of Canada says ergonomics and comfort are now something more companies are asking, and his company often receives inquires about vibration and how such vibration can cause damage to a person’s body over prolonged use. In fact, today there are now com-complex formulas used for measuring the amount of vibration produced and how that affects a person, and what can then be done to reduce the vibration and its effects.

To help in reducing vibration and protect a person using the tool, Snapon’s MG725 1/2-inch impact wrench comes with a specially designed rubber handle and trigger to reduce fatigue, and an additional rubber on the trigger to further reduce vibration.

“The less vibration the tool puts on one’s body the better,” says Lavender. The MG725 also has a rubber insert on the top for where you grip the tool for added vibration protection and to improve grip and handling, and the body is also made with one piece instead of the traditional two piece design which also keeps vibration down.”

Ergonomics also played a roll in the design of Snap-on’s Instinct set of screw drivers. The company asked technicians to show the company how they used various tools in their work, having them use various prototypes to see how the final product could be improved. The Instinct set of screwdrivers feature a wide tri-lobe design in the centre of the handle and comes with both a soft-grip or plastic handle allowing the technician to deicide which screwdriver is best, either the soft-grip for certain kinds of work or the hard plastic if the environment will likely involve chemicals that could damage the softer rubber. SSGM


Mac Tools

Matco Tools

Pneutrend Canada Ltd.

Snap-on Tools of Canada

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