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New Metal Construction Tools

Improving efficiency, safety and usability

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Statistic after statistic illustrates the labor shortage crippling today’s construction industry. There were 273,000 job openings for construction workers in July, the highest since recordkeeping started in 2008 by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Yet, companies have been unable to fill the jobs, particularly those for skilled laborers. The second quarter’s Commercial Construction Index from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and USG Corp. found 87 percent of companies are concerned they are not finding qualified candidates. The same percentage is also worried about rising labor costs, according to the survey.

To combat the issue, general contractors are now turning to new types of metal construction tools designed to improve efficiency, safety and be operated by people with less experience. For metal-to-concrete applications, such as drywall track and ceiling grids, workers have historically used gas or powder-actuated, high-pressure nailers. But powder-actuated tools require frequent reloading, creating time-consuming, OSHA-mandated cleanup. Operators also must be licensed, limiting the members of a crew who can even use the tools.

Tool manufacturers have now introduced pneumatic concrete and steel pinners, such as Cincinnati-based SENCO’s SCP40XP, that operate up to 10 times faster and do not have any licensing requirements. Because the tools replace gas cartridges and powder shells with a simple standard air pressure system, the pneumatic concrete and steel pinners cost less over time. The pneumatic tools’ speed lets workers finish their jobs faster, and the lack of licensing requirements allows general contractors to choose from a far larger pool of potential operators.

For metal-to-metal applications, the industry’s labor shortage has started a shift to off-site, pre-manufacturing of wall panels, steel trusses and other components. This allows more to be completed in a centralized location, reducing the number of people needed on job sites. This change has also created a need for more efficient tools, such as auto-feed screwdrivers like SENCO’s DuraSpin line, to handle the repetitive work. New auto-feed systems like DuraSpin feature much better fastener placement in tight places and increased speeds. Also, no loose screws mean crews perform higher quality work, finish quicker and no longer need to clean up piles of dropped fasteners.

While pre-manufacturing eliminates a great deal of work on job sites, some of the most complex operations remain. Steel framing requires workers to drive screws into areas that are often difficult to access. In the case of metal decking, the crew must bend over for hours at a time to precisely drive so many connections. The combination of SENCO’s new corner-fit technology and their attachment kits allow operators to precisely place screws from standing positions.

The corner-fit system offers access to recessed channels up to 1.8-inch deep and uses a channel fit nosepiece designed for easy feeding of screws in these environments. Typical applications include steel decking, hat channel, wall panel construction, resilient channel, metal truss assembly and window installation. The auto-feed system drives screws 1/2 inch to 1 inch long. The channel fit nosepiece ensures proper spacing between the fasteners to comply with strict commercial codes. The tool’s clear line of sight also makes it possible to precisely drive into pre-punched holes.

Because of their design, auto-feed screwdrivers result in virtually no dropped screws. Crews switching to the systems use fewer fasteners and have shorter clean-up times, particularly in applications such as drywall where dropped screws typically litter entire areas as well as on multistory job sites where heights create added dangers for dropped fasteners. General contractors have also pointed to the safety benefits of the tools being cordless, as that eliminates the need to hang power cords from ceilings.

The pneumatic pinner and corner-fit technology are the latest examples of how tool manufacturers have long provided new ways for crews to work more efficiently. As the construction industry evolves and faces issues like labor shortages, consider how these products help solve these problems by eliminating licensing requirements that narrow your pool of workers and making job sites safer and less prone to injury.

Mike Desmond is director of screw systems and automation, SENCO, Cincinnati. For more information, visit or call (800) 543-4596.