For many linemen, using the same-old tools year after year just won't cut it. With today's tight economy, electric utilities now expect their field crews to do more work with fewer resources. Those companies that are tapping into the latest technology trends, however, can help to improve the productivity and safety of their field workforce.

The 2010 Lineman's Expo featured new products from vendors of personal protective equipment, training programs, hand tools, fall protection, utility-grade equipment and much more. Over the course of two days, droves of linemen explored the new technology and tools on the show floor. I had the opportunity to meet many of these linemen and visit with vendors about their latest product innovations.

I plan to cover many of these products in more depth over the next year. Here is my annual snapshot, however, of some of the top product trends in the utility industry based on my experience at the expo.

Personal Protective Equipment. Vendors of flame-retardant (FR) clothing dominated the 2010 show with more than a dozen booths displaying their latest innovations.

For example, DriFire displayed its lightweight FR denim, a rain- and wind-resistant three-in-one jacket and garments that were odor-resistant and had moisture wicking. Workrite also had a line of high-visibility sweatshirts, hoodies and vests to help linemen comply with new regulations. Tyndale's focus at the show was on its modacrylic cotton garments, which are naturally fire resistant.

While most of the FR vendors exhibited at last year's expo, a few companies were new to the show floor. Polartec, which has long been known for its outerwear, now has garments especially designed for linemen. Another new vendor, Neilsen Clothing, also displayed its line of high-visibility and FR workwear.

Hand Tools. Another trend that I noticed at this year's expo was versatility when it came to hand tools. In today's economy, when linemen are expected to do more work in less time and with fewer tools, these companies hit the mark. For example, Ripley had an adjustable-end stripper that lists for only $138, but replaces a set of tools that would cost $400. This often comes in handy when linemen on service trucks don't know a specific size of wire until they get to the job.

Storage Solutions. Of course, along with the tools, many vendors also offered storage options. One of the new vendors, mobileDUZ, had an interesting storage option for field crews. Since OSHA now regulates that everything within a commercial cab must be secured, the company developed Cargo Decks, a Truck Office and a Console Office. Some of these storage solutions can hold not only site plans and tools, but also electronic equipment such as computers, printers and scanners.

Fall Protection. A few of the booths that garnered some of the most attention were the manufacturers of fall-protection devices. Buckingham Manufacturing, which has been known for its Buck Squeeze, recently came out with a new body belt with lumbar support called the Buck Ergo Belt.

Training. With more baby boomers retiring and a wave of new apprentices coming on board, training is more important than ever before for utilities. Several exhibitors showcased their innovative approaches to training linemen.

For example, Coyne First Aid has a kit that utilities can use to train their linemen on CPR. The software even tracks how well they do CPR in terms of the compressions and breaths, and then keeps this information in a database.

The Harris Institute of Technical Training is offering dry-erase templates and wallet-sized reference guides for linemen, and Alexander Publications has released some new training manuals and publications. Meanwhile, 3D Internet is focused more on online training. New for 2010, 3D Internet now can help utilities ay out the infrastructure for an entire subdivision electronically.

Wildlife Protection. One product that really caught my eye was the Critter Guard from Air Craft Dynamics. This product prevents rodents from climbing up poles and chewing on the wires, causing unnecessary and costly outages. As determined squirrels step onto the product, the rollers spin, causing the animals to fall off of the pole or the line.

These are only a few of the many innovative and timesaving devices I spotted on the show floor. I also discovered many other interesting products like HD Electric's personal voltage detectors, Princeton Tec's hard hat lights, Greenlee's lithium-ion battery-powered crimper, Youngstown Gloves' new linemen's gloves and the Safety Shield from Hubbell. If you attended the expo and found some products that you are now using, please e-mail me at afischbach@tdworld.com with your stories of how they have improved your productivity and safety as well as photos of your crew using the product out in the field.


Editor's note: During the expo, I organized a drawing for a $25 Visa gift card. The winner is David Hernandez, crew foreman for Guadalupe Valley Electric Cooperative in Seguin, Texas.