Manual Crimp Tools vs. Automatic Crimp Tools: Pros and Cons

Crimp tools are split mainly between two types: manually operated or automatic. Each of these has features that can be considered an advantage or disadvantage, but a better way to decide which is best is to match the needs of the crimp application to the characteristics of the tool.

The cost and the volume of production are the main factors that influence the choice between hand crimp tools and automated crimpers. In general, hand crimpers are less expensive (not always), but suited best for low numbers of crimps. Automated types are higher in price, but they are the only solution when large numbers of crimps are needed. Special purpose crimps may also require an automated type when hand crimping is not practical.

To get a quick view of the price range across all crimp tool types, start with our Crimpers, Applicators, Presses category: [click here ] (Product Index > Tools > Crimpers, Applicators, Presses). This list shows many crimp tool types, so to simplify the comparison, select ‘Rectangular Contacts’ from the For Use With/Related Product filter (+Apply All). Finally, use the up/down arrows in the ‘Price’ column in the table of results to see the price in ascending order.

At the time of this posting, the lowest-priced result was part number W-HT-1921 at $18.52 USD. This is a hand crimp tool with a wire cutter and stripper feature. [click here ]. The highest prices for bench presses were over $10,000 USD.

For many customers, the need to crimp contacts may involve only one connector for a repair job, or very few connectors for a small project. At this level, even a tool costing $20.00 may not be worth the purchase price since it may never be used, again. For repairs, consider the value of the device. Is the device essential? Is there a repair service that is cost effective?

For DIY projects or small, inexpensive device repairs, a low-priced tool combined with the purchase of connector housings, contacts, etc., may not be worth the money. In these situations, consider replacing both connectors (mating) with fully assembled products, or use a solder termination since basic solder tools are inexpensive and not apt to become obsolete over time. They are useful for many repairs or infrequent electronics projects. It’s also very possible to find someone that can solder a few contacts or has a solder tool to borrow. Terminal blocks (no soldering or crimping) are another option for small projects where crimp tool prices become an obstacle, and pre-crimped leads are available for many existing connector housings.

Solder Irons: [click here ]. Product Index > Soldering, Desoldering, Rework Products > Soldering Irons, Tweezers, Handles

Solder Stations: [click here ]. Product Index > Soldering, Desoldering, Rework Products > Soldering, Desoldering, Rework Stations

Terminal Blocks: [click here ]. Product Index > Connectors, Interconnects > Terminal Blocks – Wire to Board.

Pre-Crimped Leads: [click here ]. Product Index > Cable Assemblies > Jumper Wires, Pre-Crimped Leads

Hand crimp tools become necessary under certain circumstances, though. Some repairs require very specific parts, and substitutions could result in performance or quality issues. Some customers expect to make frequent crimp connections either for a business or as a consistent hobby. Both of these are generally low volume ventures. A collection of hand crimpers may allow for a wide variety of production options or repairs without tying up large investments. Repair services, prototyping companies, and small-scale manufacturers will most likely use hand crimp tools rather than large, automated types. Certain industries require a certified product, so anything other than the suggested tool (brand name and model number) is not an option.

Hand crimpers offer the least expensive solutions without losing many options for the variety of applicable contacts or the quality of the final product. There are many connectors that become common to certain industries and retail products, so customers can plan their hand crimper selections around those. To alleviate issues with repetitive crimping, some hand tools offer features such as soft grips, ergonomic shapes, and a ratchet design (stepped crimping). Part number 0640160201 from the previous photo is an example: [click here ].

Be sure to look at the specs for hand tools to see which contact sizes and pack options (loose piece or tape/reel) they are compatible with: [click here ].

Note: For customers purchasing a hand crimp tool for a business and wondering if it is worth the cost, remember that it would be a depreciable asset, so the cost can be recouped over time.

Automated crimp tools, often sold as ‘bench crimpers’ or ‘bench presses’ are sold almost exclusively for large-scale production runs, or in fewer cases, for specialized types of contacts that require specific crimp methods.

Along with significant increases in cost, automated crimpers using hydraulics or pneumatics, for example, require more space and supporting equipment (accessories). If the relevant contacts become obsolete, the investment in these devices may also be rendered useless. On a ‘per hour’ basis, though, automated systems become the only option for reliable, high-volume production. This type also avoids operator fatigue associated with repetitive hand crimping. In some cases, this is the only option for some contacts because no hand crimp tool was specifically made for the contact, or it is the only type that can process taped contacts (contacts on a carrier strip).

An example of a pneumatic feed bench press is Molex part number 0638082410 [click here ]. At the time of this posting, the price listed on our site was $5,544.00, so this is a clear example of where production volume and recouping costs becomes important.

Between these two types of crimp tools, there are other options such as power-assisted hand crimpers that bring together the best of both worlds. They allow for higher volumes and consistent crimp quality without the low speed and operator fatigue associated with hand crimpers, and without the tremendous cost of fully automated types.

These principles apply to other types of contacts as well—not just rectangular contacts. Ferrules, quick connects, and barrel types may also have hand tool options along with automated crimpers.

To get an idea of the variety of application tooling available within the industry and the benefits of each type, try looking at a main list from a few of the Digi-key suppliers.

Molex Application Tooling: [click here ].

TE Manual & Semi-Automatic Tooling Solutions: [click here ].

Astro Tool Corporation (Products) [click here ].

Search for those products and many more tooling solutions from the Digi-key home page: [click here ].