Published In October 2001
Electronically enhanced tools allow a task to be performed in a new, presumably better way and improve tool operation and durability. In some cases, the technology is transparent—the tool works in a notably innovative manner; in other cases, you can’t see the difference, but the tool performs more efficiently. Microprocessor use is a key development in the “electronically enhanced” arena. Their price has decreased over the years, and manufacturers have developed the technology to use microprocessors cost-effectively in the controls of an increasing array of power tools and battery chargers. The processors are “potted” (encapsulated in epoxy), so they are environmentally sealed and protected from shock and vibration. Microprocessors can provide feedback control in some types of power tools. In a reciprocating saw, feedback is associated with maintaining a constant speed. An electronically enhanced recip saw featuring dial-in speed could maintain constant speed optimized for the work material and tool application, regardless of the resistance during use. Electronic feedback limits the no-load speed of the tool and maintains that speed throughout the work, up to the limit of the motor, for greater overall control. Electronic circuitry is also useful for achieving a soft start in tools that would otherwise give a rotational jolt, such as sander/ grinders and routers. The microprocessor ramps up the power so there is a smooth transition from “off” to “on.” Likewise, the circuitry provides a smooth transition between reversals in motor direction in some power tools, which could be welcome, for example, when working with a drill stand and taps. The microprocessor slowly ramps down the power, reverses it with a relay, and resumes the speed slowly, avoiding possible cogging or jogging of the motor or snapping of a bit or a tap that often occurs upon abrupt direction reversal at full speed. Milwaukee Electric Tool Corporation Electromagnetic drill press line, including model 4208-1, features line lockout, motor/magnet interlock, feedback speed control, computer-controlled reverse, and soft start. Its portability allows the user to bring the tool to the job site, where the tool’s base can be magnetically secured to the drilling surface. Once properly secured, the magnetic drill press offers equal precision of a stationary drill press, noted Dave Duecker, product manager for metal working at Milwaukee Electric Tool Corporation. Milwaukee Electric Tool Corporation 4½-inch Super Magnum sander/grinder model 6154-20 has electronic feedback for maintaining speed under various load conditions. According to Decker, it has electronic overload protection that automatically limits current to protect the motor; a soft start, which increases gear and bearing life; and dial speed control (4,000 to 11,000 rpm) for selecting optimum speed for various accessories like a grinding wheel or a pad. Metabo Corporation puts out a variable-speed ½-inch hammer drill, the SBE808 shuts off automatically if the bit strikes an electrically live or grounded material when used in areas of concealed cables or pipes. This contact technology senses conductivity by transmitting a constant current of .16 milli-amps through the bit so that whenever the bit comes into contact with anything conductive, the circuit is completed, and the tool shuts down immediately. As a further safety precaution, an illuminated light-emitting diode (LED) warns, visually, of the completed circuit. The drill also sports an electronic gentle-start feature. The DeWALT Industrial Tool Co. DW249 Heavy-Duty ½-inch VSR Drill (zero to 600 rpm) has anti-lock control, suitable for high-torque situations. It monitors current to the motor and shuts the tool down if it detects sudden dramatic change in torque that leads to lock-up situations, preventing binding. The tool goes into a pulsating mode for about half a second in order to break the burr creating the lockup. If it does not break through, the motor shuts off, keeping the drill from suddenly rotating. The tool also features triple gear reduction that provides increased torque, reduced gear stress, and motor durability. Batteries Electronic microprocessors in battery chargers enable more complex battery monitoring. Using electronic technology while the battery is charging, it is possible to monitor several battery parameters simultaneously and in the background, including temperature and voltage changes. The charge can be stopped if a problem is detected or when the battery is properly charged. Electronically enhanced alignment tools Using electronic circuitry, laser alignment tools can establish the reference points of plumb; plumb and level; or plumb, level, and square indoors and out, under virtually any lighting conditions. This is often done more easily and quickly than with traditional alignment tools. One worker can also do the task alone, saving further on labor. Stanley Tools IntelliPoint Plus 77-009 is a laser level that shoots a dot beam or a crosshairs beam across space onto the working surface. The unit, which mounts on an accessory tripod and has a push button “on/off” switch to save battery power, features three leveling vials: a fixed vial on the top; a bulls-eye vial mounted towards the front, which keeps track of plumb while spinning the tripod to move the line around the room; and a 360-degree rotating vial, which is handy to ensure accurate installation of items on a pitch. To use the rotating dial, the tool operator dials the pitch on the gauge and places the level on the item that will be pitched. The operator adjusts the item to the pitch, shoots the dot, marks the spot on the surface, and installs the item to that dot. If the installation requires measurement from two points, the operator sets the two points on the surface and then strikes a string. The PLS l Pacific Laser Systems PLS3 is a handheld self-leveling laser that finds plumb and level reference points simultaneously. The unit finds the center of gravity automatically, almost immediately, without need for worker attention to knobs or bubble vials. (If the laser sits beyond a six-degree range, it will not work, precluding inaccurate reference points.) A free-floating mechanism inside the tool keeps the beam stable and unaffected by vibration, said Michael Tramontin, director of marketing, Pacific Laser Systems. If using a point of reference on the floor, the tool could reduce layout time when installing recessed canned lights into a vaulted or other tall, nonflat ceiling. The DeWALT Industrial Tool Co. Heavy-Duty DW073 manually leveled cordless rotary laser with various accessory package options is accurate to +/- ¼-inch at 100-foot radius with a visible diameter of 200 feet. It runs off any standard DeWALT cordless battery from 9.6V to 18V. A 3-in-1 mounting system and assists quick setup on the floor, on the wall using the built-in clamp, or on a tripod, while a quick-release lever allows the laser head to pivot instantly for horizontal or vertical applications. The built-in wall clamp simplifies setting suspended ceiling fixtures. A built-in bump sensor stops the laser and flashes the diodes, alerting the user if the tool is accidentally jostled and loses its set position. The laser rotates (at zero to 600 rpm) 360 degrees, projecting a beacon-like beam in a full circle. Any surface illuminated by the beam can serve as a reference point for hanging fixtures or running conduit or cable tray. The Stanley Works IntelliBeacon is a motorized, self-leveling rotary laser, well suited to layout applications, that provides a straight, level ring of light around a room (a full 360 degrees) for leveling and alignment. The unit can be set in a horizontal or vertical position without mounts. An integrated bump sensor alerts users if the item is jostled out of position or otherwise moved. The Stanley Works IntelliTape Digital Tape Rule, 77-008 provides both an LED readout on the screen built into the face of the case and traditional hash marked measurements on the tape. The unit can store sequential measurements in its memory for a running tally. The rule supports electronic measure of either the rule alone or the rule plus width of the case. A handy mid-point button feature calculates and displays the mid-point dimension of any measurement. The Stanley Works IntelliMeasure Laser Estimator, 77-007 emits a cone of sonar, with the ultrasonic signal bouncing off the object being measured, and provides a readout of the distance. The unit, suitable for taking conduit and wire measurements in existing structures, can add sequential lengths and give a total within five percent accuracy. Electronics can also help field workers identify location of reinforcing materials prior to drilling. The HILTI FS10 Ferroscan System features one-person operation of an electronic scanner (RS10) and monitor (RV10) for scanning large concrete surfaces in order to identify and locate steel reinforcing rods without exploratory drilling, with hammer drills or core drills, that might inadvertently hit rebars. Up to 42 separate scans, each covering up to 98 feet in a continuous swath, may be saved in the system’s ‘memory’ for analysis on a PC with the supplied Windows software. HILTI PD 25 Laser Range Meter with accuracy of +/- 1/8-inch over the operating range of 300+ feet, depending on light conditions, supports swift one-person operable measurements (including averaging measurements, and tracking for maximum and minimum distances) without physical contact. A Pythagoras function enables users to achieve height or length dimensions of inaccessible structures. The tool includes both a spike and a bubble level for corner and horizontal measurements. Sporting a memory option capable of storing up to 1,000 measurements transferable to a PC for analysis, the meter features a tagging system that allows assignment of individual project numbers and identification codes to measurements. This could be handy if the unit is used at multiple job sites during a work day. THE FELDMANS provide Web content for companies and write for magazines, trade associations, building product manufacturers, and other companies on a broad range of topics. They can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (914) 238-6272.