In the utility industry, fiberglass is now being used for everything from hot sticks to ladders to poles. Over time, however, these products can show signs of wear and tear. Eventually, they often wind up in a landfill or collecting dust in a utility's warehouse.

To extend the life of these tools, Huskie Tools recently opened a fiberglass restoration division. The company is now working with electric utilities from coast to coast, including companies in Michigan, Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, California and Florida.

Tool Testing

Huskie is now able to test and restore any tool or piece of equipment containing fiberglass. For example, utilities can send in their platforms, their trucks' fiberglass buckets or any tool with a fiberglass handle on it. The company has restored fiberglass products from such companies as Chance, Hastings, Jameson, Kearney, Safetyline and Salisbury.

Once utilities identify fiberglass products that need to be repaired, they often place them on a pallet, shrink wrap it and then ship it to Illinois for restoration. They also stock a trailer with the used equipment and then haul it to Huskie's warehouse.

The Huskie fiberglass restoration team then tags each product and performs both a dry and wet test on each product. For example, when testing a hot stick, a technician ensures that the foam inside the stick isn't breaking down. Otherwise, it could allow electricity to pass through it, and it would be considered unusable.

The technician also sprays water on the hot stick to check if the exterior coating has wear on it. Much like how raindrops bead up on a new car's paint finish, water also should form into small droplets on a hot stick with a proper coating. If the exterior has a significant amount of cracks and scratches, however, the water will “sheet over” the stick. This stick would then fail the wet test because electricity could easily go from one end to the other, therefore placing the lineman in danger.

Repair and Restoration

While some utilities regularly recoat their hot sticks with wax to extend the life of their fiberglass tools, it's often necessary to invest in a more thorough restoration, said Bob Welsch, manager of Huskie's fiberglass division. Many times, utilities may think that after rewaxing the tools, they'll last for two years, but that's not the case, he said.

“The wax is usually only good for five to six months tops, and then they'll need to rewax it to create the beads of water during the wet test,” said Welsch, who came up with the idea for restoring fiberglass tools from 30 years of experience restoring fiberglass antique race cars. “As soon as the wax breaks down on a stick, it's no good anymore because the finish has worn off.”

As a more permanent solution, Huskie can completely refinish a tool, such as a hot stick. If a tool passes the dry test but fails the wet test, then the company fills in the gouges and repairs the cracks. The technicians then sand and paint the tool, bring it back up to factory specifications and certify it to meet OSHA standards. Huskie's restoration team also can stamp the company's name on the fiberglass tool and paint it a custom color to prevent it from being mixed up with other tools on a job site.

It usually takes about four days to restore one hot stick from start to finish. Once refinished, the stick often is like new, Welsch said. The company then packs up the tools in a custom reusable box so the product isn't damaged upon return. Once a utility needs to send in more tools, then it can pack them up in the box and ship them back to Huskie for testing, repair and refinishing.

One of the key benefits of restoring the fiberglass products rather than investing in new tools is the cost savings. The company is often able to refinish a product like a hot stick for about half the cost of a new one. The higher the cost of the item, the more cost savings a utility can achieve. For example, some of the fiberglass arms, wire holders and ladders can cost thousands of dollars if a utility has to purchase them new.

By restoring these products, electric utilities are cutting costs, keeping fiberglass out of the landfill and extending the life of their tools. Most importantly, however, utilities are improving the safety of their linemen when they're using fiberglass tools and equipment to maintain their system.

Company mentioned:

Huskie Tools