Threading Tool Allows for Better Customer Service

Portable pipe-threading device keeps this outfit's technicians primed for maximum efficiency
Threading Tool Allows for Better Customer Service
Dave Jones, Inc. technician Delano Croft stands near one of the company’s Sidekick II portable pipe-threading machines equipped on all of the company’s service vans. (Photo courtesy of Dave Jones Inc.)

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About five years ago, Dave Jones Inc., a plumbing company in Madison, Wisconsin, bought its first Sidekick pipe-threading machine, manufactured by Wheeler-Rex. These days the company owns nearly three-dozen of the devices.

“All our guys who do gas piping have a Sidekick threader on their service van,” says Alan Strong, a master plumber who’s currently the quality assurance manager at Dave Jones, which primarily does service work and installations throughout southern Wisconsin. “It’s a very compact, efficient and well-designed little machine.”

Now called the Sidekick II, the unit’s size — it weighs 58 pounds and measures roughly 1 foot square (15 by 11 by 12 inches) — offers a key productivity advantage. To understand why, consider that years ago, technicians relied on a larger pipe-threading machine stored in the company’s shop because it was too big to fit into service vehicles.

But the Sidekick easily fits inside the company’s service vans, eliminating the need to make time-wasting trips back to the shop when technicians unexpectedly need to thread pipe. A good example is replacing water heaters, which is usually a pretty cut-and-dried job, until a technician runs into an older heat-pump water heater or has to convert a heater from electric power to natural gas. And if technicians don’t have to make that extra round trip, customer satisfaction increases because technicians can complete jobs faster, Strong says.

“Customers think you’re there to replace a water heater, so the last thing they want is you running back to the shop to thread a pipe,” he explains. “It used to be tough to have a plumbing van set up correctly and still have enough room to fit a giant threader in there. But now that we have the option to add a basic pipe threader to our service vans, it lets us provide better customer service.”

The Sidekick threads pipe from 1/4 to 1 inch in diameter. It features a 400-watt electric motor that generates free speed of 55 rpm, an automatic die-head lubrication system, front and rear chucks, a foot-operated switch, a one-blade reamer (deburring tool) and automatic safety shutoff. Squeezing all those features into one unit represents some innovative engineering, he says.

“Switching the die heads to accommodate different-size pipes is super simple,” Strong points out. “With some threaders out there, you have to use hand tools or untighten and tighten wing nuts to adjust from one size of pipe to another. With the Sidekick, you use just one finger to flick it to the pipe setting you want.”

Two other features also increase efficiency: The automatic-release (shutoff) function, which automatically disengages the dies when threading is complete instead of having to do it manually, and a built-in deburring blade, which removes the small inside-diameter lip that’s created when technicians cut pipe to length. The reamer deburrs the pipe before threading begins, he notes.

“The auto-release function eliminates any guesswork and improves consistency,” Strong says. “In addition, you don’t have to stand there and watch it the whole time it’s threading. With other machines, you might get distracted by a phone call, for instance, and end up putting twice as much thread on a pipe than you really need.” The built-in deburring tool works faster than manual deburring, he adds.

During the course of a large gas-piping job that involves a decent amount of pipe, the built-in reamer and auto-release function probably saves technicians an hour or so of installation time, compared to manual releases and manual deburring, Strong estimates. “Like they always say, time is money,” he says.

One of Strong’s favorite features is also its simplest attribute: the unit’s handle. With the aid of lock buttons, it easily swings out of the way when threading pipe, then snaps back into place for easy transport. The feature may be decidedly low-tech, but it’s another example of the Sidekick’s clever design, Strong says.

“The ability to do on-site pipe threading in general is a value both to us and our customers, and the Sidekick makes it easy to do,” Strong concludes. “I have nothing but good things to say about its operation.”



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