Proudly wearing their team jackets, linemen browsed the aisles at the 2009 International Lineman's Rodeo Expo looking for labor-saving technology. Close to 100 companies showcased their products, and nearly each manufacturer promised to help linemen improve their productivity and safety in the field.

While the expo had a successful turnout, many linemen may not have been able to attend because of storm-restoration work, the slowing economy or a military deployment. For that reason, I thought I'd offer a few of the trends I noticed while walking the aisles and meeting the vendors at the trade show.

Product Trends

Personal protective equipment

Several of the vendors sold personal protective equipment such as flame-retardant clothing, gloves and boots. As more linemen are working on energized lines, this equipment has become more important in their everyday work.

As I talked to one of the vendors, I learned that fewer linemen are relying on the old standby of leather gloves. Instead, they're wearing hand protection made of more lightweight and flexible materials, and because the gloves are so comfortable, they're wearing them more often.

In addition, garment manufacturers like Westex, NASCO, Dri Fire, Tyndale, Walls, Workrite, Riverside and Carhartt are making flame-retardant clothing more comfortable, fashionable and professional. In fact, at first glance, it was difficult to even tell that some of the garments were flame-retardant because they looked and felt like normal clothing.

Wildlife protection

Animals contacting wires leads to about 12% of the controllable power outages, according to the Edison Electric Institute. Some companies are offering equipment that allows linemen to protect wildlife and curb outages at the same time. For example, the Therm-A-Guard enables linemen to detect hot spots on wildlife-guarded electrical equipment.

Versatile tools

When linemen scale poles, they're looking for tools that can accomplish more than one task. Some companies offered hand tools that could perform more than one function, thereby leading to a lighter tool belt and a more efficient lineman. On the show floor, one lineman said he particularly liked the Ratcheting Lineman's Wrench from Klein Tools that helped him to get more work done with less equipment.

Virtual training

With the downturn in the economy, it's often difficult for field crews to travel out of town for training. For that reason, some companies are offering training online to help field crews to stay on the cutting edge without leaving their service territory. One company, called 3D Internet, is even offering industry-specific training simulations for field professionals on substations and transformer banks.

Fall protection

While 100% fall protection is not yet mandatory in the United States, some industry experts believe that it is not far away. For that reason, more companies like Buckingham Manufacturing, Miller Fall Protection, J.E. Lortie and Pelsue are offering restraint systems to help keep linemen safe when they're climbing poles and other structures.

Pole-setting equipment

Many linemen come across swampy areas or protected land, which makes it difficult for them to set poles. Some companies offered products to help linemen such as the Poly-Set kits from Utility Structural Systems and Polecrete from BMK Corp.

Disaster recovery

As this is hurricane season, the Disaster Relief Expo could not have come at a better time. Across the street from the convention center, there was an entire tent city with sleeping, eating, office, laundry and restroom trailers from different companies such as Emergency Disaster Services, Catering Cajun and Recovery Logistics.

Linemen inventions

Sometimes a lineman's idea on how to improve productivity can turn into a hot selling product. That was a case for many of the products, which were often first thought of by a lineman and then manufactured, sold and distributed by other companies. For example, Sherman & Reilly often works with linemen to produce tools for the installation of overhead conductors and underground cables. Another exhibitor called Utility Solutions, also works with linemen on product development. During the show, linemen waited in line to see the demonstration of the Jack Jumper, which allows linemen to bypass an overhead cutout without the use of jumper cables.

Looking Ahead

As I look forward to 2010, I hope to feature articles on many of these trends over the upcoming months. In addition to meeting many of the vendors, I also had the opportunity to visit with dozens of linemen on both the trade show floor and also at the rodeo. If there are topics you'd like to see featured in the Electric Utility Operations section, e-mail me at afischbach@tdworld.com. I look forward to hearing from you.