Do your current power tools cause you to “fumble” through your workday? Today’s industrial power tool users demand products that stand up to abuse, feel good in the hand and simplify their job. To meet these needs, power tool manufacturers are using modern materials and techniques to design tools. So, put down that drill and read on to learn about the latest trends in the power tool industry chances are you’ll find something that will help you “tackle” that ever growing list of work orders.
It used to be that all power tools were made of metal and seemed to weigh a ton. Then along came plastics, which made tools lighter but less durable. For this reason, many manufacturers have gone back to using metals or are working to develop more durable plastics for tool construction.
As far as metals are concerned, Rob Hartman, manager of product engineering at Sioux Tools, Inc., says the industry moved from steel to aluminum, but is currently using even lighter metals like magnesium and titanium. “The trick is to get as light as possible but to balance that with the need to be durable and serviceable. Magnesium isn’t as durable as aluminum or steel, but it’s much lighter so it’s a trade-off to get to the lighter weight.”
High tech plastics are also in the limelight when it comes to new tool materials. “Plastic is becoming more sophisticated and is getting stronger,” says Randall Coe, director of product marketing with Bosch Power Tools. “In the beginning, the move to plastics was about weight and cost savings, but now it’s about making composites better and stronger.”
For instance, Coe says, Bosch offers Tough drills tools constructed of an ABS nylon composite called Durashield. The material has the properties of plastic, is more durable and impact resistant.
And firms like Sioux Tools are offering products in a variety of materials in an to please everyone. “We have three series of random orbital sanders,” says Hartman. “The 690 Series is made of aluminum so it’s not light but is very durable, the 790 Series made of magnesium for a lighter weight version, and the 890 Series offers a plastic housing, making it one of the lightest weight products available.”
“In litigation-happy America, everyone is concerned about eliminating ergonomic problems by designing tools that are lighter in weight, more comfortable to hold, and offer less vibration and lower sound levels,” says Hartman.
To do this, tool manufacturers are changing the design process. “In the past, tool design was a very qualitative thing. We would design a drill and pass it around for people to hold and decide whether it was comfortable,” says Hartman. “But now the process is much more quantitative because we are using published data on human hand sizes. This allows us to see what 90% of the population has for hand sizes and what the exact measurements are, so we can fit people properly.”
Using this information, manufacturers are coming up with some interesting, ergonomically correct products. Metabo recently introduced the Power Grip, a very small, pistol grip cordless screwdriver.” It fits in the palm of the hand in the proper ergonomic position and allows people to drive screws in very tight locations because of the small and comfortable design,” says Terry Tuerk, technical services manager with Metabo USA.
Another popular trend driven by ergonomics is the advent of tools with interchangeable handles. “It used to be that you bought a tool and it had a standard handle,” says Hartman. “But now we realize that there’s people of all sizes in the workplace, so one size handle doesn’t really fit all. As a result, many tools are offered with interchangeable handles.”
Along these lines, Bosch offers a compound slide miter saw with a handle that can be moved into four positions based on user preferences. “We noticed that some people select a saw because it has a handle that is more comfortable for the individual,” says Coe. “So we designed this miter saw with a moveable handle that people can adjust any way they like and then lock it in place.”
Vibration dampening handles are another new development. Bosch offers a line of rotary hammers with vibration dampening handles.
“These handles actually have about one half inch of movement so that as you put pressure on the tools, there’s an actual shock absorption,” says Coe. “The handle is designed so that as force comes one way, the handle moves the other way which provides a lot of shock absorption.”
Tricks of the Trade
Not only are manufacturers making improvements that allow tools to last longer and feel better, but also they are trying to make the user’s job a little easier. “We are looking at selling solutions that will lower our customers’ cost of doing business,” says Hartman. “Just selling cheaper tools isn’t the answer. Instead we, and other manufacturers, are starting to offer additional features.”
One of the latest styles along these lines is the addition of electronics that actually make tools smart. “In Europe, Metabo has introduced a self-diagnosing tool in our rotary hammer line,” says Tuerk. “By using a computer program and a wand, the electronics inside the tool diagnose any problems. You simply wave the wand over the tool and it talks to the tools, sends a message to the computer, and then prints out a report that tells you exactly what needs to be fixed.”
Sioux Tools is offering a tool with built-in timing features that calculate how long it takes to drill a particular material. “Through electronics, the tool alerts the operator that drilling time is increasing, which lets him know that the bit is dull and needs to be changed,” says Hartman.
Bosch uses electronics to improve efficiency and cordless performance. “We have a table saw with electronic feedback that allows the blade to maintain constant speed even under load,” says Coe. “The electronics maintain an even feed rate by keeping power in reserve. When the load is increased, it grabs from that reserved power, rather than lowering the RPM when pressure is applied.”
Some manufacturers are also providing tools with a higher power to weight ratio. Specifically, there’s more power in today’s tools than in those of three years ago with the same size package. This is done through a combination of higher quality materials in the motors and newer motor designs that provide a higher amp rating. Metabo, for example, now offers the Excalibur, a 6 in. grinder with 12 amps of power. The previous version had the same size package, but only offered 9 amps of power, says Tuerk.
Another helpful change is the move toward design for manufacturing. “When we design new products, we are trying to make them easier and less expensive to service,” says Hartman. “This is done by eliminating fasteners so pieces just snap together, minimizing the number of parts, and making it so that the tool only fits together in a certain way. Tool repair becomes less confusing for the people on the floor when tools are designed this way.”
Bosch is aiming for the same goal. “We want to design tools so they are field serviceable,” says Coe. “This means we include things like exposed brushes and easy to remove motor caps and use swivel cords that are easier to replace. We try to keep in mind what parts will break and make them easier to fix on the job site so it doesn’t create unnecessary downtime.”
As you can see, there’s a lot that is new in the power tool industry. More changes are expected on the horizon as tool manufacturers continue to work on their game plan for designing the next generation of power tools.