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Maintenance and engineering managers who thought cordless power tools could not get lighter, more powerful and more durable might be surprised by the category's latest product offerings. Front-line technicians who use the tools daily also might be surprised, but are just as likely to be pleased. From battery technology and safety to durability and flexibility, the newest 12-, 18-, and now 28-volt power tools seek to meet the growing demands of technicians in institutional and commercial facilities.
"We've tried to design tools that are more feature-rich, that help users do the job better and that, in many cases, are smaller, easier to handle, and more specific to the job," says Craig Sumner with RIDGID.
Battery technology has made perhaps the biggest strides of any power tool technology. Rechargeable lithium ion batteries are continuing to replace nickel cadmium technology, which for decades had driven cordless power tools but labored, due to such limitations as weight and performance life.
Lithium ion advances are related both to the batteries themselves — they are more durable, lighter, and provide greater speed and torque — as well as to the electronics incorporated into more of today's tools that monitor and report on the battery's condition to the operator.
"You can have the best lithium battery on the market, but you need the electronics system to maximize the battery," says Steve Richman, president of Milwaukee Electric Tool Corp., referring to lithium ion batteries as smart technology. Battery makers established a smart-battery system in 1995 to promote an industry standard for rechargeable-battery technology. The system features a battery that maintains and reports its own status, thus providing users with accurate information.
Richman says among the chief benefits of this technology for users and managers is greater productivity because it enables technicians to see the charge status of the battery. With this information, the operator can decide whether to bring a spare battery to the job site to avoid interrupting the work in progress by having to retrieve the spare battery if the current one dies.
Some lithium ion batteries offers longer run times, as well as better performance across a wider range of temperatures — from minus-4 degrees up to 120 degrees, Richman says.
Not surprisingly, manufacturers' offerings also continue several popular trends that have played out for a decade or more: New tools are lighter weight and smaller and offer users enhanced ergonomics and safety. One safety advance involves lock-off triggers so users cannot accidentally activate the tool.
"They've got to find a switch or trigger to turn on the tool," says Scott Saunders with CS Unitec.
Manufacturers also have developed tools that aim to meet users' demands for one product that can meet many maintenance and repair needs. Such system tools, Sumner says, "give technicians the ability to do a lot of different things with one tool."
The goal, in all cases, is to make workers as productive as possible.
"Productivity increases if a maintenance professional can go through a facility with one tool that can do many things, as opposed to many tools," Richman says.
Demand for Productivity Drives New Generation of Power Tools