Writers who report on trends in tools are always looking for innovative new products that have the potential to change the industry.

While revolutionary new tool products come along from time to time, most tool improvements are developed to address changing needs of dynamic industries, by adding new or enhanced features, and to take advantage of new technologies as they become available.

Last year, a major cordless tool breakthrough occurred when Milwaukee introduced its V28 line of lithium-ion battery-powered tools, launching a significant trend that continues to drive changes in the market.

“In 2006, the major power tool manufacturers will continue to launch and promote advances in lithium-ion battery technology to power cordless tools,” said Dennis Rees, national product manager for national distributor Graybar. “Last year, Milwaukee was the first to introduce its proprietary li-ion battery technology with 28-volt tools. Makita followed with its 18-volt lithium-ion battery technology, and DeWalt says a 36-volt version is coming ‘soon.’

“While the technology differs from company to company, the main advantages of lithium-ion batteries are clear—true run time with no decrease in performance and longer run times. Plus, the lithium-ion batteries aren’t as heavy as the older-technology nickel metal hydride batteries, providing a better-performing, lighter-weight tool.”

In June, Bosch introduced its first -lithium-ion tools—two lightweight 10.8-volt drivers and a 36-volt rotary hammer.

“Super lightweight and compact 10.8-volt tools—barely weighing two pounds and half the size of a 9.6-volt NiCad drill/driver—take advantage of lithium-ion’s exceptional power-to-weight ratio characteristics never before seen in ultra-compact drill/drivers,” said Jason Feldner, Bosch public relations manager.

Meanwhile, manual tools continue to improve with ergonomics a primary driving force. Hand tools are easier to use with manufacturers devoting great attention to tool weight and balance and cushioned grips that make repetitive tasks less tiring over a long day.

“‘Hot button’ factors influencing new product development in non-powered hand tools are safety, ergonomics and comfort,” said Scott Jonap, vice president of sales and marketing for Channellock.

Some manual tools—crimpers and cutters, for example—are available in both manual and power-assisted models. Insulated tools continue to be an important hand-tool category.

What do suppliers consider the most important trends in the past year?

Bosch, Jason Feldner: “The single most significant trend in cordless technology continues to be lithium-ion technology. And, while the industry is aware of the high-voltage tools launched in 2005, electricians should also take a look at the new tool possibilities at the lower end of the voltage spectrum, particularly 10.8 volts. These tools are perfect for attaching boxes, plates or finishing trim work. They fit in the palm of your hand and easily store in a tool pouch when not in use. With the ability to handle more than 80 percent of electricians’ routine tasks, users no longer need to carry around a larger overpowered tool for simple everyday work. The compact models and heavy-duty rotary hammer are the first of Bosch’s line of lithium-ion products with more coming by the end of the year.”

Channellock, Scott Jonap: “Today, we are manufacturing tools of greater quality than even five years ago. Technological advances, such as implementation of laser heat-treating technology and robotics, are just a few examples of the aggressive capital improvements that are allowing us to be more efficient, more precise and more consistent in manufacturing our tool products.

“Channellock introduced 12 new tools in the last 12 months. Of interest to electrical trades is the Code Blue line of eight pliers with new dual-composition grips composed of a hard rubber core surrounded by a soft rubber outer mold for greater comfort and a bold new look, including pliers-style code designations on the handles for easier identification in a tool belt. We also introduced the 960 lock nut pliers—an entirely new pliers for installing and removing lock nuts in electrical boxes.”

FCI Burndy, Bob Poirier, senior product manager: “In the past years, we have introduced a line of cutters, which includes two battery-actuated cutters, one self-contained hydraulic cutter, and two remote hydraulic cutters. We rely on feedback from customers and our sales force and advancement in technologies to develop new tools and upgrade our current tool offering to make them more user-friendly and economical. FCI Burndy always keeps in mind the importance of versatility, quality and durability when developing new products or upgrading our current offering.”

Gardner Bender, Dave Wiesemann, senior product development manager: “Most hand tools are traditional styles that have been around for years, but more and more of these tools are being improved with better hand grips and ergonomic handles. Continued advances in versatility will lead to the next phase of advancements. Electrical contractors most desire professional-grade hand tools that are durable and increase speed and safety and makes their work easier.

“Trends influencing Gardner Bender’s latest hand-tool innovations include features that increase speed on the job, safety and enhance productivity and profitability. Cutting and stripping blades have improved durability. Multifunctionality reduces the number of tools that workers need to carry around. Ergonomics play an increasingly critical role in tool selection because the average contractor’s age is nearing 50.

“Each of these trends played an important role in the development of Gardner Bender’s new Circuit Alert wire stripper, the first and only wire stripper with a built-in noncontact voltage tester, illustrates the latest user trends. This tool cuts bolts, cuts and strips wires and senses AC voltage.”

Hilti, Keith Kirk, mechanical and electrical trade manager: “In addition to quality tools, new programs provide valuable benefits to tool buyers. Tool Fleet Management is an innovative new program designed to help companies manage and service tool fleets. For a monthly fee, the buyer receives a new tool fleet and all service and repairs. The program provides the opportunity for less downtime, more reliability and an improved monthly cash flow. Tool theft is a growing problem, and Hilti’s Theft Protection system deters theft because only authorized users can electrically unlock the tool with an activation key.

“New Hilti tools include new 15.6-volt cordless drill drivers for hammer drilling, sawing holes and driving screws. The tools have higher torque than most 18-, 15.6- and 14.4-volt tools. D-handle design assists electricians making reciprocating saw cuts in difficult-to-access areas. A ‘smart’ power system senses load and keeps the tool running at optimum cutting speed.”

Ideal, Jon -Howell, product manager, hand tools: “In manual hand tools, there haven’t been any market-changing tools introduced in the last year, but the trends that started several years ago have certainly continued: ergonomics, versatility, and more precise tool functions targeted at specific end-user applications and are apparent in many of the new tools we have seen introduced recently. Ideal’s Twist-a-Nut Pro screwdriver is a prime example, one of the first and only true electrician’s screwdrivers. The ergonomic shape to the handle matches the contour of the palm and comfortably fits in the hand. An integrated wire connector wrench in the back of the handle simplifies installing twist-on wire connectors, reducing finger fatigue and getting the job done more quickly. Wire looping holes in the handle make a perfect loop every time.

Makita, Bradley Wheeler, cordless product manager: “Makita introduced over 55 new power tools in 2005 and more new tools in 2006. The LXT 18-volt lithium-ion slide battery design enables tools to have a slimmer, more ergonomic hand grip base for a more natural fit with the user’s hand for less fatigue and more productivity. The overall sizes of the power tools are becoming more and more compact, thus producing more power—LXT tools have 18-volt power with 12-volt tool weight.

“Other examples are 15-amp reciprocating saws with anti-vibratory technology; [a] portable band saw that is five pounds lighter; and 19/16-inch rotary hammer with anti-vibration.”

Milwaukee, John Sara, senior product manager, cordless tools: “Although -lithium-ion technology is no longer brand new to the power tool industry, the advancements that manufacturers are making in this category will continue to push the cordless market forward for some time to come. Noteworthy developments include new li-ion batteries that are retrofittable to NiCad tools, allowing users to upgrade to li-ion power without investing in new tools, and the continued advancement of ‘smart’ battery technology where battery packs are able to hold and display important diagnostic information.

“Some of the best tools introduced over the last 12 months weren’t completely new; instead, they represented a leap forward in certain product categories. It’s amazing that high-drain tools such as band saws and rotary hammer drills are now available cordless, for example. Performance standards are rising quickly across the board.

“In a new product category, Milwaukee has introduced Trade Titan industrial work carts, a new line of heavy-duty work carts. With dedicated storage areas and trade-specific accessories, the construction trades can store, organize and transport all of the tools, supplies and materials that they need to do their job every day.”

Panduit, Bob Klavitor, business development manager: “Ergonomics is a significant issue with hand tools. Tools are becoming available with less handle efforts, reducing carpal tunnel syndrome. Reliability continues to be important for improved productivity.

“Sales of battery-powered hydraulic crimp tools continue to rise. These tools save installation time over their manual hydraulic counterparts. The price of these battery-operated tools has become significantly more affordable over the past several years. As electrician labor rates increase, contractors are finding the justification for these tools to be easier than ever before.

“We see continued improvement in ergonomics and productivity. Tools are lighter-weight and have a better balance. This enables a faster installation, improving productivity. Tools have also become much more affordable.” EC

GRIFFIN, a construction and tools writer from Oklahoma City, can be reached at 405.748.5256 or up-front@cox.net.