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Power Tool Technology Continues to Improve
Improved power tool technology in a number of key areas — battery/cordless technology, sustainability efforts, safety and ergonomics, and dust mitigation, among others — is helping to make already highly-skilled workers better and more efficient than ever before.
Power tools continue to be manufactured with improved performance, safety and simplicity of use. The reason behind the trend is obvious: manufacturers across the country, almost without exception, are committed to innovation.
In early January, for example, Hilti Group introduced a new cordless battery platform which provides tools, technology, software and services to the commercial construction industry. The launch opens the door of technology that brings data to maintenance and engineering managers, allowing applications traditionally corded or gas-powered on a single platform.
Battery technology has “come a long way over the years, and made leaps and bounds with the introduction of lithium-ion battery cells which were a huge step up from the previous industry standard Ni-Cad battery cells,” says Elise Driscoll of Techtronic Industries, which includes the RYOBI and RIDGID brands. “Lithium-ion batteries deliver fade-free power, allowing users to get the most out of their tool during use.”
A Host of Improvements
In a variety of areas, manufacturers are making strides to improve their power tools and the ways in which they are used. For example:
Sustainability: Manufacturers across the country continue to strengthen their sustainability efforts.
“We help collect our batteries from our customers at end of life, and make sure they are then recycled properly to avoid sending them to landfills,” says Robert Chetelat, senior cordless product manager for Hilti.
Safety: To make power tools easier and more comfortable to use, manufacturers have introduced models with ergonomic enhancements. These can include user-friendly controls, easier accessory changes, comfort grips, lighter weights and compact designs.
Safety and ergonomic ease continue to be front-and-center concerns, as evidenced by advances such as on-board dust reduction (DR) systems for concrete drills and active torque control (ATC). DR systems collect concrete dust containing silica for personal safety, while ATC stops the rotation of a drill when the bit binds, for example on rebar in concrete. Stopping the rotation of the tools may prevent injury.
Other safety features include those that instantly shut down tools such as grinders, even if the operator has not stopped the power, if they move quickly out of position in any direction.
“These grinders also come with SensTech,” says Chetelat. “Many users like to use grinders with constant on switches, however for safety they are required to use a ‘deadman’ switch. SensTech provides the best of both worlds. The operator starts the tool with the lock on switch, and as long as they have their hand on the tool it will stay running. If they pull their hand away, the tool senses this and shuts the motor off.”
Tools that are lighter or smaller with improved grips also improve both safety and performance.
“Our tools and batteries go through a rigorous design process to ensure that they are always overdelivering on the needs of our end-users,” Driscoll says. “Safety and ergonomics go hand in hand. We are critically focused on ensuring that each tool is designed to deliver on both accounts.”
From the weight and balance in hand to how our battery and tool management systems operate, the experience of the user is paramount when making design decisions, Driscoll says.
Brushless power tools in general are higher-performing tools. Removing the brushes from the motor results in less friction. Thus, users can lose less energy in friction and heat, and more energy goes into creating higher torque. Brushless motors also have less wearable parts leading to longer durability.
The relationship between brushless tools and advanced lithium-ion technology is “revolutionizing the power tool industry and redefining power and performance,” Driscoll says. “With the ability to access uncapped potential in brushless tools that you could not achieve with standard battery packs, these smarter battery packs deliver peak performance to take on the toughest jobs.”
Brushless tools and batteries with advanced lithium-ion battery technology mean more power and longer runtime, allowing facility managers to get their job done faster and more efficiently. These tools will save time on the job, so users can get more done at the end of the day, Driscoll says.
“Brushless motor technology means a more durable tool that will have a longer life,” she says. “The improvements to batteries as well as the tools mean that tools perform better, are more durable and have less service downtime, ensuring that crews are always ready for the job.”
Dust mitigation: This is another area of increasing strength. Chetelat says most tools such as drywall tools and circular and jig saws now have a dust solution.
Cost-benefit: Performance improvements are great, but only if they are affordable. Maintenance and engineering managers can balance the benefits and additional cost via manufacturer programs that help them avoid the big hit of a large purchase by spreading the costs out over time. Some tools can be leased by departments to help improve cash flow and free up capital for other needs.
The future: Competition to be the first to bring the next generation of higher-performance cordless power tools and technology to the market will always drive the industry forward.
Driscoll sees little if any slowdown in innovation in the years to come. As batteries continue to advance and brushless motor technology is optimized for more compact designs, she predicts the industry will see more power in a more compact and ergonomic design.
“We are dedicated to their end users, and are constantly improving their core lines while expanding into categories with that have been identified as a user need,” Driscoll says.
In the months and years ahead, Chetelat predicts that bringing larger tools from corded or gas powered to a cordless solution will continue.
“Getting data to the decision makers without change management at the user level will bring new insights; asset location and utilization are just the beginning,” he says. “Being able to bring all of this on one platform makes it simpler in the plant or facility.”
Howard Riell is a freelance writer based in Hendersonville, Nevada.