To see the latest tools and technology, droves of linemen traveled to Kansas City for the 29th Annual Lineman's Expo in Overland Park, Kansas. The event hailed its second-largest vendor participation, and for the first time in five years, they opened up a fifth aisle for exhibitors.
By taking time off away from the field to attend the trade show, the linemen were often searching for tools and technology that would help them to improve productivity and enhance safety. Many companies launched new products at the show, and these devices may soon land in the hands of utility workers nationwide.
Here are a few of the new products and technology trends that caught the eye of linemen at the 2012 event.
Flame-retardant (FR) clothing. As in past years, FR vendors dominated the show floor with the latest fabrics and styles of outwear and garments for linemen. Riverside Clothing featured a camouflage FR shirt, while a new vendor, Lac-Mac Ltd., showcased its FR rain gear. Its windproof and water-resistant coat is now used by field crews at PG&E, and the vendor worked with the utility to design outerwear to meet its specs.
Another new exhibitor, Coming Hot Clothing, exhibited its new sporty FR clothing made from modacrylic fabrics. The garments, which were designed in partnership with a Seattle lineman, are designed to offer more style and function for linemen than traditional FR shirts.
Ergonomic hand tools. To reduce the chance of sprains and strains, many utilities are investing in specially designed hand tools with comfort grips. Powered by hydraulics or batteries, these tools allow linemen to work anywhere and everywhere.
For example, Huskie launched its SL-CB cable bender, which allows linemen to bring cable into a padmount transformer or into a vault. Lowell changed its grip on its Triple Square Ratchet Line Wrench so it's more comfortable in linemen's hands.
Linemen also could check out the new Oregon 40V PowerNow cordless chain saw, which has only been out on the market for a few months. This saw is said to be four times quieter than a gas saw and have a long runtime and constant no-fade power.
Greenlee Utility displayed its hydraulic battery-powered, high-pressure pump and a 15-ton low-pressure, hydraulic-powered cutting and crimping tool. This tool works much faster than the company's battery-powered version and features a removable head.
MADI featured the Brush Blade, also known as the “Lineman's Knife,” which features an integrated wire brush for cleaning conductors as well as a stainless-steel black oxide-coated blade.
Wildlife protection. Squirrels, raccoons and other critters can inflict costly and unnecessary outages. Tyco Electronics said many utilities have had good luck with its Bus Insulator Squirrel Guard and Bushing Connection Protection Cover, an insulating cover that prevents animal-caused outages on breaker and transformer bushings.
Midsun Group, a new exhibitor at the show, showed its silicon coatings for pole-top transformers, reclosers, capacitors and overhead lines. The company also can coat energized insulators with its special coating to prevent salt contamination issues, arcing or flashing.
Fall protection. The vendors offering fall protection devices like Buckingham Manufacturing, Bashlin, Miller and Jelco drew a crowd on the show floor. One reason for this is because all over the country, electric utilities are moving to 100% fall protection, especially in the investor-owned companies, said Jay Lea of Jelco.
“American utilities will not have to use full fall protection until OSHA requires it, but most of the companies see the writing on the wall,” said Lea, whose company showcased its fall protection devices including 4D ring belts with a quick release buckle. “They feel like it's better to be proactive than drag their feet and be the last one to use it.”
Innovative equipment. Linemen also checked out Irby's Cushman Cart, a 1600 XD four-wheel-drive, all-terrain diesel vehicle. This cart can handle remote terrain and back lots, can be set up for distribution and transmission work, and allows users to power hydraulic tools right from the cart.
Another item that caught attention was the Lineman's Limo, a lightweight, single-person vehicle that can be used for installations or inspections. The hydraulic four-wheel-drive system from Lineman 1 Manufacturing can move up or down steeper inclines in the conductor, and the transfer system allows the operator to move through structures and pass over insulators or spacers without leaving the Limo.
Training programs. As veteran linemen begin to retire and new apprentices join the industry, it is paramount for utilities to invest in educating their field workforce. Therefore, many of these companies are turning to 3D Internet for virtual training on everything from control centers to live line simulators, hot sticking and pole top rescue.
The Harris Institute of Technical Training also introduced a new book called Distribution Transformer Connections Training Manual and Field Reference Guide. The guide, which was hot off the press, is retailing for $115, a $30 discount, until the end of the year.
Sun and bug protection. Coretex Products Inc. had a wide range of products designed to keep linemen safe when working out in the field. For example, the vendor had Sun X sunscreen, Ivy X poison oak and ivy precontact skin solution, and Bug X insect repellent, which is water-based, DEET-free and can be sprayed on FR clothing. Some utilities are investing in an outdoor skin kit, which includes individually packaged essentials.
By browsing the products on the show floor, linemen had the opportunity to gather information on new products. In the future, as crews adopt this new technology, they are sure to improve productivity and enhance safety in the field.
Editor's notes: Electric Utility Operations has a new landing page on the Transmission & Distribution World website. Check it out at www.tdworld.com/electric-utility-operations. EUO also has a page on Facebook, where you'll find photos from this year's expo and rodeo, and please follow EUO on Twitter at EUO editor.
We'd like to congratulate the 2012 winner of the drawing for a $25 gift card at this year's expo: Frank Baron, lineman for the Lansing Board of Water and Light in Lansing, Michigan. Thank you to all the entrants for participating in this year's drawing.
For all those who want to contribute to funds to help linemen, consider buying the song, “I Make It Right” by Dale Watson on iTunes. Sherman + Reilly commissioned Watson to write and produce the song, and the company hopes to get 1 million hits and raise $750,000 for three linemen's funds.