Typically, tools evolve slowly, with improvements and new features added over time. Of course, occasionally there are breakthrough developments that dramatically change a tool or tool category.
The introduction of the lithium-ion battery to handheld power tools in 2005 was one such breakthrough event, and it changed the capabilities of cordless tools for the trades and allowed several manufacturers to claim their lithium-ion-powered tools can match or exceed productivity of comparable corded tools.
Christopher Gregory, product marketing manager and trade expert at Bosch, Farmington Hills, Mich., said transition from nickel-cadmium (NiCad) to lithium-ion resulted in batteries that are lighter and more compact. As a result, cordless tools using lithium-ion batteries are also lighter and more compact, providing an improved user experience. The bottom line today is that cordless tools provide greater efficiency and portability while reducing user stress associated with larger and heavier options.
“The market is seeing a transition from specialized electrician’s hand tools to powered options,” Gregory said. “For example, battery-powered tools for specific needs such as threading, crimping, stripping, cutting, etc., are quickly becoming available from various power tool brands. In the past, many of these tasks were either carried out by hand or through large, corded options. The transition to cordless has made many of these tasks more accessible on job sites while reducing stress and fatigue on the user.”
Powering hand tools with brushless electric motors is another recent development.
“Brushless motors extend a tool’s lifetime while providing improved power management and efficiency,” Gregory said. “Maintenance is greatly reduced. For example, users are no longer required to replace carbon brushes. Overall, brushless motors have less downtime, and, as a result, increase production.”
Significantly, lithium-ion batteries continue to evolve and improve.
Today they have more power, increased runtime, and longer life, he explained.
“The 21700 cell has been adopted by many manufacturers and provides greater power in a minimally larger package. The result is greater power and runtime without adding size and weight to the tool,” Gregory said. “Heat is a considerable contributor to reduced performance and lifetime. Heat management—the ability to pull heat from the core of the battery—greatly increases the overall performance and lifetime of the battery. Also, lithium-ion eliminates battery charge memory that was prevalent with NiCad batteries. With NiCad batteries, if charge cycles were not properly managed, users were not able to access the full charge of a NiCad battery.
“Lithium-ion enables the user to focus more on the job rather than battery management. Also, lifetime value is increased due to the elimination of reduced runtime and life caused by improperly managed charge memory,” he said.
Finally, ergonomic considerations are now an important element in tool design. Gregory said ergonomics have and will continue to affect the design of power tools, ensuring a tool effectively addresses application needs while also minimizing stress on the user, greatly impacting overall efficiency and production.
“Much consideration goes into proper pairing of tool and battery to provide a balance of size, weight and power for a specific application,” he said. “An example is our 4 Ah Core 18V compact battery paired with our ‘Freak’ impact driver, which is the perfect solution for all-day fastening in tight spaces, while the Bosch 8 Ah Core 18V performance battery teamed with our SDS-plus Bulldog rotary hammer provides the balance of weight and power for overhead anchor drilling.”
“The placement of the battery on the tool is taken into consideration, providing a more balanced tool, resulting in less fatigue and increased precision,” Gregory said. “Optimized grip coupled with vibration control give users greater control over the tool, driving increased quality of work while not leaving the user exhausted at the end of the day.”
Daniel Heiney-Gonzalez, senior product manager at Towson, Md.-based DeWalt, believes innovation in cordless battery cells, electronics and brushless motors have taken the cordless world from where it was in early stages to today, where we see entire cordless job sites. This helps to reduce the need for temporary power setups, gas generators, air hoses and cords that can be costly and hazardous on a job site.
“Cordless power tools are revolutionizing the power tool industry. A great example of this is the Flexvolt 60V Max cordless pipe threader,” he said. “With the power of this battery, we were able to launch a cordless option to a very high-power and high-torque application. We were able to replace the traditional portable pipe threader, though there are still corded options available.”
Brushless motors, he continued, have enabled power tools to achieve new levels of power output at a higher efficiency rate than their predecessors. Combining brushless motors with new battery technology is enabling power tools to remove cords and gas from job sites.
With the improvements to lithium-ion batteries, new capabilities and capacities are unlocked. For example, last year DeWalt launched 20V Max with Flexvolt Advantage technology built into new 20V Max brushless tools.
“These tools recognize the battery attached and adjust power output accordingly, making them ideal tools for demanding applications,” Heiney-Gonzalez said.
Ergonomics are always a primary consideration in DeWalt tool design, because tools often are used for long periods of time in various orientations.
“Examples include the Atomic cordless platform 20V Max brushless motor band saw for one-handed use and overhead applications, and the cordless Atomic 20V Max brushless motor 5.8-inch rotary hammer, a compact, well-balanced tool,” he said.
Robert Chetelat, senior product manager at Hilti, Plano, Texas, said cordless power tools have taken over the market, with more dollars being spent on cordless rather than corded products.
“Professionals have seen the productivity of using cordless tools and found our cordless tools worth the investment,” he said. “They are built to last so they can be used for years.”
Chetelat said most of Hilti’s lithium-ion batteries are 21700 cells rather than 18650.
“This means our batteries have higher capacity and power output per cell, while also running cooler when in operation,” he said. “Using the newest and longest-life cells available helps our customers get more done with smaller, slightly lighter weight and more powerful batteries.”
Using brushless motors, he continued, helps reduce the physical length of the tools and improves performance while maintaining the long tool life professionals want.
“We have also spent more time on the grips of our tools, improving how they feel and adding modulation in the padding for better comfort,” Chetelat said. “To summarize, Hilti has improved the size, performance and runtime of tools, all while maintaining lifetime. A good example is our new cordless drill/driver. It is shorter than its predecessor by one inch, and drills faster at 2,100 rpm versus 1,800 in second gear. It can complete up to 30% more work per charge than other tools in its class.”
Paige Bovard, vice president of product marketing at Brookfield, Wis.-based Milwaukee Tool, believes cordless power tools have made users more productive.
“Cordless power tools provide numerous benefits, making them the preference of many users,” Bovard said. “Without the need of cords or hoses, cordless power tools offer greater mobility, portability and productivity while still meeting the user’s needs for power and performance.”
She said Milwaukee’s Redlithium battery pack technology’s patented designs protect against drops, water and harsh environments, and robust electronics optimize performance for every tool/battery combination.
The newly introduced Redlithium High-Output batteries deliver more power and run cooler, while providing more runtime and faster charging versus their M18 Redlithium counterparts.
“This allows users to experience faster application speeds and greater productivity in all three segments of M18 batteries (CP, XC and HD) under one fully compatible system,” Bovard said. “There is a battery pack for every application a user might take on, from lightweight to maximize ergonomics to high-output to increase performance and runtime.”
She said brushless motors, when combined with the correct electronics and batteries, can provide users with more power, torque and increased runtime. For example, Milwaukee’s Powerstate brushless motor is engineered uniquely for each tool’s demands. It is optimized for the perfect combination of performance, portability and productivity, and it is built with maximum copper content and top-grade rare earth magnets.
“Our M12 cordless tool system is specifically built to be used anywhere,” she said. “The lightweight, ergonomic design makes portability easy and operation faster and more productive. For example, the M12 600 MCM cable cutter simplifies cable cutting with one cordless tool that fits comfortably in crowded panels and generates 5,000 pounds of force. The average electrician cuts 48 wires per box install, and 6.6 minutes can be saved per box install when using the M12 600 MCM cable cutter versus a manual hand cable-cutting tool.”
The new M1 Force Logic 6-ton linear utility crimper has a slim grip and enlarged trigger, specifically designed for use with Class 3 gloves.
Bovard said Milwaukee’s lithium-ion powered crimpers, cutters and knockout tools are engineered to fundamentally change the way high-force tools are used in the field.
Each tool is engineered to provide users with the power and runtime needed to complete electrical installation tasks quickly and efficiently.
“Dual electronic release buttons allow both left- and right-handed users to easily activate without changing hand positions. This optimized grip delivers best-in-class balance and pairs with the tool’s 340-degree rotating head for the easiest set up,” Bovard said.