Can you open a can with a hammer? Sure. But it would probably be easier with a can opener. Special jobs take special tools; using the right tool for your job saves effort and increases productivity. In the business world, specifically in manufacturing or equipment service and repair, saving effort and increasing productivity means lowering costs and raising revenues. For building or maintaining products, equipment, or vehicles which rely on heavy threaded fasteners—like cars, cranes, trains, turbines, ships, and airplanes—pulse drivers are often the best tool for the job.
Best Jobs for Pulse Tools
What kinds of jobs are pulse tools best suited for? To answer that, let’s look at what a pulse tool is, how it works, and how it compares to similar tools. Pulse tools are pneumatic, or air-driven, wrenches—they use compressed air to turn bolts. They get their name from the way they deliver force. Instead of applying continuous pressure to the head of the bolt, they deliver a series of short, sharp knocks. When the right amount of force has been applied, a hydraulic clutch mechanism inside the tool disengages, preventing the tool’s operator from over-tightening the bolt.
This hydraulic clutch mechanism is what separates pulse tools from impact drivers. While impact drivers also deliver torque to bolt heads in a series of sharp knocks, they lack a way to shut themselves off when the right amount of torque has been delivered. This can lead to damaged bolt heads or assemblies, which can, in turn, lead to product failure, potentially dangerous situations, and liability. Like your mother always said, if you can’t tighten a bolt to the proper torque value, don’t tighten it at all.
Knowing all that, we can ask: what are pulse tools good for? Quite a few things. The air pressure that drives pulse tools is powerful, allowing these tools to deliver serious amounts of torque. Pulse tools are stronger than electric tools and faster than hand tools. This makes them ideal for projects with many large, heavy bolts that need to be loosened or tightened. Applications include production lines or cell manufacturing, as well as moderate to heavy-duty repair. Pulse tools are as effective for changing tires on sedans as they are for attaching a helicopter’s landing gear.
Pulse Tools Protect Workers from Ergonomic Injuries
In addition, the “pulsing” delivery mechanism of these tools protects the workers using them from injury. This has to do with inertia. If an operator is using an air tool which delivers a high amount of torque at a continuous rate—say 300 pound-feet—when the tool is working, then the operator is pushing against that force in order to keep the tool in place. When the tool reaches torque and suddenly stops, then the operator’s wrists, elbows, and shoulders, with nothing to push against, must absorb all that force. Absorbing that impact over and over, month after month, year after year, will lead to musculoskeletal injuries.
Pulse tools don’t exert the same force upon their operators. By delivering torque in pulses rather than continuously, they avoid building up inertia that will transfer to their operators. Also, their internal hydraulic clutch mitigates the impact of the tool’s driver against the head of the bolt. This renders them particularly useful for cell manufacturing and repair applications where each fastener requires a separate, discrete motion to loosen or tighten. In these applications, where the tool must travel to the bolt, rather than vice versa, using ergonomic solutions such as tool arms to absorb inertial force is less practical than in-line manufacturing, where each bolt can be tightened using only a limited range of motion.
Of course, the need to attach pulse tools to an air compressor limits their ability to travel. Stationary air compressors allow pulse tools to be easily used in production facilities or repair shops. In order to bring them into the field, however, companies must also invest in air compressors which can travel from job site to job site. If this is infeasible, hand tools may be preferred.
While the applications for pulse tools are many, they are ideally suited for moderate to heavy cell manufacturing or in-shop service and repair. Their strength and ergonomic qualities render them effective for high-torque applications where tool arms aren’t practical. However, their need for an attached air compressor limits their effectiveness for mobile operations. If you’re working with moderate to heavy threaded fasteners in cell manufacturing or in-house service, then pulse tools are likely the right tools for you.