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From Axes To Wrenches

Thu, 09/08/2011 - 11:52am
Rachel Leisemann Immel

The oldest known tools date back to two million years ago, to the earliest period of human development. Hand tools represent humans’ first steps in using things in the world to get what we want. These tools may have started as sticks and rocks, but have evolved into tools of efficiency, and are safer and stronger than ever before.

Today, product research and development is at the core of top hand tool manufacturing. Users want a tool that is safe, ergonomic, strong, and efficient. And manufacturers are listening.

“Everything we do in the way of product development is customer-driven and has research as a foundation,” says Corey Talbot, Vice President of Marketing and Product Development for Hyde Tools. “We get feedback on the product sketch, the foam models, the prototype—everything, all the way to the beta runs, where a few hundred or a thousand are distributed to make sure everything is 100 percent.”

Hyde Tools consistently strives to improve their products based on user complaints and suggestions. Just recently, Talbot said they updated their full offering of putty knives and scrapers based on some very specific preferences expressed during focus groups and one-on-one encounters.

One thing they learned was that professionals wanted different handles based on the tool’s use, not a one-size-fits-all grip. Flexible tools for prolonged applications needed more overmold for cushioning. Scrapers needed less, so the overmold didn’t catch the material being scraped. The pros also wanted a smaller handle with less molding so the handles slip easily into their back pockets.

Shock Test
But manufacturers also need to think about safety, and are incorporating safety features into handles as well. Insulated tools need to meet a variety of standards, and are tested at 10,000 volts AC to be certified at 1,000 volts AC.

With over 400 insulated products, Wiha Tools is no stranger to the rigorous testing that these tools require. Kelly Ledin says that each tool is tested individually at 10,000 Volts, visually inspected, tested for puncture penetration and low temperature impact resistance, and insulation is tested for stable adhesion in high temperatures, +70 degrees C. All insulating materials used at Wiha are also flame retardant.

Though safety is its first priority, an insulated tool needs to also be comfortable and easy to use. Cushioned grips, slip guards, and tool size and weight all come into play when a manufacturer is designing the next problem-solver. Electrocutions are a leading cause of occupational fatalities, and its up to the manufacturer to test their tools for safety. Not only could the worker be exposed to a shock transmitted through a poorly or non-insulated tool, but equipment could sustain serious damage as well.

Teaching An Old Dog New Tricks
Christopher Edwards, chief product and procurement officer with General Tools & Instruments, says the real challenge in designing specialty tools is creating innovative, and useful, professional tools.

“Hand tools are very old and designing in new technologies as they become available is one of the fun challenges of development,” Edwards says.

Working with these “old tools,” General Tools tries to improve on existing designs. They recently won an award at the National Hardware Show for their digital sliding T-bevel, a “very old” angle measuring and transfer tool with a new twist — a digital protractor built into the old design. They also recently utilized LEDs in their lighted mechanical pick-up tool, also an award winning tool.

Edwards says more new technology utilization is to come. “We will be using some new technology in several different types of products that I cannot reveal at this time. Some of it will be revolutionary in the precision measurement field.”

Developed with emerging technologies and efficiency as a top priority, the simple hand tool is an extension of the worker. With no shortage of tasks to complete, new and improved tools will continue coming through the pipeline, and will continue to be tailored to user-suggested specifications.

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