June 6–8, Milwaukee Tool hosted its 10th annual New Products Symposium, an event for construction media to view and get hands-on time with all new products the company is launching this year. Milwaukee Tool professes a focus on the core trades of mechanical, electrical and plumbing, so ELECTRICAL CONTRACTOR was there to learn what the company is up to and glean an idea of what kinds of tool trends can be expected.

For the 10th year of this event, the company showed off hundreds of new products that primarily pushed its current offerings forward, but there also were some surprises and innovations that opened the company to new markets.

Before getting to the new products, however, the event began with a tour of Empire Level's manufacturing facility in Mukwonago, Wis.

Empire Level factory tour

In 2014, Milwaukee Tool acquired Empire Level, a precision measuring tool company that opened in 1919. Empire is well known in the industry for inventing the torpedo and magnetic levels as well as adjustable and polycast vials. Today, the company manufactures levels, angle tools, measuring tapes and blown-film caution tapes.

Since Milwaukee purchased Empire, the company's business has tripled.

In large part, that success is due to great investment from Milwaukee Tool. According to Steve Lallensack, Director of Operations for Empire, Milwaukee invested approximately $16 million in new technology for the factory as well as a complete restructuring and renovation of the manufacturing processes and facilities.

It's important to note, however, according to Lallensack, the company has never laid an employee off, even while incorporating 16 robots into the manufacturing process. Empire has 210 hourly employees and 65 engineering and administration staff. Furthermore, Empire maintains a strong commitment to domestic materials, sourcing all aluminum and steel from the United States.

Walking through the plant, the 450-ton presses shake the floor. Standing next to the 1,000-ton press, however, the ground is still. According to Lallensack, that's because the machine is so powerful that Empire had to anchor it into the ground beneath the building's foundation, which is where the vibrations are sent.

With such a focus on precision, Empire maintains a quality control lab, a quality control room and various quality check points on the plant floor.

The company is equally concerned about waste. The aluminum that is cut from each tool is recycled and sent through a smelter to be reused. None of the metal is wasted.

Empire's manufacturing facility spans two 75,000-square-foot buildings, one dedicated to metal and the other dedicated to plastics. In the latter building, Lallensack demonstrated the processes that Empire uses to manufacture and attach each tool's plastic piece, and he also showed the vial-filling process. A large portion of the plastics plant is devoted to the blown-film extrusion process for making caution tapes.

The tour concluded in the newly renovated cafeteria, which is outfitted with TVs and computers so employees can relax through entertainment or catch up on happenings of the outside world.

Milwaukee Tool global headquarters tour

After Empire, we toured Milwaukee Tool's global headquarters, which includes a high-rise under construction. The tour included a history of the company, a walk through its design space, a view of its prototyping facility, and a look at its rapid innovation center. With the latter two spaces, Milwaukee Tool can build prototypes in small quantities using machining and 3-D printing without having to go to a vendor or stop its manufacturing facility's production.

For more on Milwaukee Tool's manufacturing, read about our tour of the company's Greenwood, Miss. plant.

New Products Symposium

The program began with the Ergonomics, Plumbing and Power Utility rotation where we saw some new lineman accessories and learned about how Milwaukee Tool studies ergonomics to make safer tools.

"Without your readers even knowing, we have disrupted an injury-prone industry," said Raffi Elchemmas, Senior Manager of Ergonomics.

Milwaukee Tool uses wireless electromyogram (EMG) to measure ergonomics on the job instead of in a sterile lab environment. This means they don't have to simulate real-world conditions because they test in the real world.

Elchemmas said ergonomics focuses on the cost of injuries versus the cost of tools. The pitch for the discipline is that ergonomic tools means reduced injuries, which lowers a contractor's costs and increases that contractor's ability to be effective in bidding.

According to Elchemmas, ergonomics can help prevent up to one-third of all injuries resulting in strains, sprains and repetitive motions.

Of interest to your intrepid Electrical Contractor editors, Milwaukee Tool unveiled new lineman's accessories, including an optimized auger for utility poles, a 3-in-1 square bolt utility socket with all sizes on one side, and new cutters for drilling into steel.

From there, our tour moved to the Concrete Solutions, Carbide Teeth Accessories, and Empire Level rotation. The main object of the concrete solutions was dust extraction and meeting OSHA's new silica rules. They showed vacuum attachments as well as drill bits with extraction holes built into the tip to send dust through the shaft into a vacuum extractor.

As for carbide teeth, last year, Milwaukee Tool's big announcement was the implementation of carbide tipping to its Ax Sawzall blade. This year, the company brought carbide tipping to the rest of its cutting accessories, including its Torch, Hole Dozer and BigHawg blades. To demonstrate, product managers Brad Urban and Ryan Rudzinski pit the Torch blade against the company's current solution for cutting through cast iron, the diamond blade, and the Torch with carbide teeth beat it. The Torch blade also beat an actual acetylene torch. Sparks were flying.

In the Hand Tools, Storage and Gear rotation, Milwaukee showed that it is getting into low voltage with a new Ethernet crimper, punchdown tool, data snips, wire stripper, 4-in-1 pick and a storage pouch for the whole line. The big news in this rotation, though, was the new Packout modular storage system, which features interconnectivity between pieces, even the soft storage pieces. Each piece has feet on the bottom that snap into the piece beneath it.

From there, our tour took us to the M12 and M18 cordless power tool rotation. Here, the theme is refinement with lighter, more compact, more powerful versions of some of the company's past tools. The new heat gun and crown stapler were most applicable to electrical work.

Finally, in the One Key and Lighting rotation, Milwaukee demonstrated great adoption and new features coming to the One Key platform, such as geofencing, job-site metrics and alerts and notification. As for lighting products, Milwaukee Tool unveiled new personal lighting products, such as a USB rechargeable hard hat head lamp, a penlight with an FDA-approved bitable rubber end, and a pocket flood light that can clip on or magnetically mount. Milwaukee is also launching a larger version of its Radius site light, which came out last year, and new this year is the Radius overhead lighting, the only corded product we saw.

Most of the tools Milwaukee announced will launch in September and October, so if you're coming to the NECA Show, it will probably be on display at their booth.

To learn more about these and other new products, stay tuned to ELECTRICAL CONTRACTOR's product coverage.