It can be a unique and altogether challenging enterprise for HVAC manufacturers to consistently develop new, exciting, and functionally relevant additions to their hand tool product lines. The current trends in this segment of the industry call for smarter, smaller, and more multi-funtional tools, and manufacturers are delivering.
Still, many technicians have utilized certain products for decades, and manufacturers are tasked with giving techs quantifiable reasons to upgrade to their newest offerings.
“End users have just come to accept what is in the market as the norm,” said Bobby Shaw, vice president, product management, hand tools, Milwaukee Electric Tool Corp. “There is resistance to new things just because they aren’t used to change. The important thing is that they are typically all ears when we bring them products that don’t fail and provide five to 10 times the lifespan of the previous products they were using.”
INTEGRATION AND FUNCTIONALITY
Industrywide, interconnectivity is quickly becoming indespenable. Customers have a tangible interest in added control and options in new products, which is extending to hand tools.
“There is an increasing demand for tools to have interconnectivity with mobile devices,” said Eric Huber, senior new product development manager, Ridgid. “Hand tools are not usually a contractor’s first priority for interconnectivity. The first priority is always to fix the problem or see what is happening. Customers may place interconnectivity down the list in regards to hand tools, but it’s still important as part of an efficient workflow.”
Huber also pointed out the varying approaches that can be taken when actually adding connectivity to devices, and the importance of not adding features just for the sake of following a trend.
“Some companies are approaching this as each tool just needs to be connected,” he said. “Others approach companion apps and software as value-added complements to a tool’s functionality. Our laser distance meter, the Ridgid LM400, connects to a smartphone or tablet and allows a user to sketch a floorplan, populate it with real-time measurements, and instantly share it with a colleague or customer via email or messaging. This is where interconnectivity shines — in applications that need to be documented and shared efficiently.”
Multifunctional capabilities have also been gaining steam in the marketplace, and Daniel J. Irvin, director, hand tools & accessories, Southwire Co. LLC, said combining the functions of multiple tools into one simply makes sense.
“We think this is an underexplored area that could yield dividends as labor demographics change,” he said. “We recently released a few interchangeable screwdrivers — a 9-in-1 ratcheting screwdriver and a 12-in-1 interchangeable bit screwdriver — and multipurpose 8-inch side-cutter pliers. Much of the work our tools are performing requires leverage to achieve the necessary cutting force levels. We believe there is an opportunity to combine the functionality of multiple tools into one tool.”
Shaw highlighted that, at the end of the day, versatility is of the utmost importance.
“Our 6-in-1 combo plier is an example of how versatility can be so effective,” he said. “Users were using three or four products for applications that our one product can do. Users are always looking to decrease costs. Functionality is king.”
“When we first launched our 6-in-1 combination pliers, they were a new-to-world design that completely eliminated the need for users to carry multiple tools in their belts. This tool delivered immense productivity to our users,” continued Shaw. “After listening to these users, we’ve now fully redesigned this tool to make it even more efficient than the original. We expanded its wire-stripping capacity, included an all-metal swing lock, designed a longer curved cutting blade, and improved the handle’s ergonomics.”
Huber believes customers are less excited about products continually getting smaller, and there are still mixed opinions on multifunctional capabilities.
“Hand tools are already small,” he said. “We don’t tend to make Swiss Army knives that do jobs poorly. We prefer products that are purpose-built and excel at their tasks. There is a trend to consolidate and make multifunctional tools, but many professionals want one tool that does a job extremely well.
Huber highlighted how Ridgid inspection test and measurement lines serve a specific purpose while also innovating through interconnectivity.
“The next step for these devices is to integrate with our way of work,” he said. “That happens through seamless connection of diagnostic tools with mobile devices to provide a way to document, store, and share information from an inspection. Professionals already use mobile devices in their daily workflow, and connecting their tools with their devices allow them to be more efficient.”
CATER TO CONTRACTORS
One thing all manufacturers will agree on is the importance of including contractors in the development process.
“Ridgid does extensive field testing of all our products,” said Huber. “Before we launch a product, we get feedback from hundreds of users, including contractors. We even have regional launches around the globe. We expect a lot from our tools. Field tests, focus groups, and one-on-one interactions with actual end users are all important.”
Milwaukee Tool, which launched its hand tool line from scratch five years ago, has made contractor input an essential piece of its hand tool puzzle.
“We have to think differently and understand what users are doing on a daily basis,” said Shaw. “There is a need for relevant products that keep users productive, and we talk to users on a daily basis and go on job sites to see how products are being used. This helps us understand how some of them might be modified in the future. Having quality products is great, but tools must be relevant and continue to innovate.”
Irvin said Southwire is continually evaluating the way consumers use hand tools and how they can be adapted to improve performance, ergonomics, and functionality.
“In addition to our direct and agent sales professionals, Southwire employs a dedicated team of specialists focused solely on interacting with contractors,” said Irvin. “Our field-tool specialist team visits two or three contractor sites every day with a constant goal of improving job site performance. They then bring what they discover back to the development team.”
The most frequent things Southwire’s team hears from contractors in regards to what they want and need out of hand tools: quality, performance, comfort, and a warranty.
Publication date: 5/30/2016