Screen Shot 2019-09-09 at 11.53.13 am

Power up

High-capacity batteries are making work safer and more efficient for tradespeople and construction workers.

High-capacity batteries are making work safer and more efficient for tradespeople and construction workers.

Rapid advances in electric car technology are helping tradies and construction workers as they reap the benefits of ever-better battery technology for power tools. At a time when corded tools are on the wane because of slips-and-trips hazards on work sites, the latest lithiumion batteries are delivering benefits such as higher power output, longer run times and quicker charging. Tony Brown, product manager—power tools and accessories at Metabo Australia, says the 21700-format lithium cell battery packs that are shaking up the power tool market have improved further on the 18650 cell packs, which were used in the original Tesla electric cars. “The electric car industry has invested heavily in developing lithium battery technology to achieve increases in power and runtime … So the power tool industry has been privileged to be able to take advantage of this research and development and adapt and transplant it into cordless tools to achieve similar results,” he says. The upshot is that corded, pneumatic and petrol-powered tools are becoming increasingly rare. For relatively simple tasks involving drills and impact drivers, for instance, cordless tools dominate. “It’s very fast-moving,” says Michael Di Iorio, product manager—power tools at Milwaukee Power Tools. “In just the past five years we’ve constantly seen higher-capacity batteries coming out.” The aim, he says, is to provide tradies with a full day’s worth of power-tool work on one battery charge.

Safer and more productive

Safety aside, power-tool manufacturers want tradies to consider the efficiency and productivity gains from cordless products. Set-up times for drilling and cutting work have been slashed, while Michael Princic, product manager for Makita Australia, also points out that cordless tools with lithium-ion batteries are much quieter and do not vibrate as much as older tools. “So they are able to use these cordless tools for longer periods because they vibrate less and they’re not as heavy as the traditional corded product,” he says. Princic adds that Makita has tried to ensure that most tools in its range are compatible with one type of battery. “That means it doesn’t limit tradespeople to one tool or trade. They’re able to use pretty much everything in their toolbox on one battery.” At Stanley Black & Decker Australia and New Zealand, commercial training manager Cameron Beecroft says it is clear that greater productivity has been instrumental to the uptake of cordless tools. On large apartment construction projects, for example, he notes that tradies using older, corded tools may have to spend 15 minutes or so setting up in each shell when in many cases they just need to do two or three minutes of drilling or cutting. “Now you’ve got a product as strong as a corded product without the set-up time,” says Beecroft. The transition to cordless has been smooth for relatively small tools which can be powered by standard 18-volt battery packs. However, Brown concedes that the scenario for highoutput tools such as chainsaws, large mitre saws and 9-inch angle grinders is more complex. “It’s okay if you want to make a few cuts, or do a small amount of grinding, for example, but if you’re in a workshop or you’re doing a lot of heaving grinding the batteries can lack a bit of guts,” Brown says. Nevertheless, Brown says this desire for extra power and run times is prompting constant advances in lithiumion batteries, “and we’re getting pretty close”.

Weighing up the options

To address the needs of more power hungry tools and tradies, most  manufacturers have their own unique offering. Milwaukee has released its M18 REDLITHIUM-ION High Output 12.0Ah battery pack, which promises a massive increase in fade-free power while running substantially cooler through heavy applications, allowing tradies to push their cordless tools harder and for much longer. “Not all tools need that extra power,” Di Iorio says. “But with a tool like a chainsaw or a table saw where they require a lot of energy, these new high-output batteries have been able to provide optimum power performance and run time.” He urges tradies to think about tools that run cooler. While standard batteries may not go flat quickly, the risk with heavy jobs is that tools can overheat and suffer motor damage. Stanley Black & Decker, through its DEWALT brand, has produced the first battery pack, called the FLEXVOLT, that automatically changes voltage from 18 volts to 54 volts when the user changes tools. Metabo’s LiHD battery packs cover the spectrum from 400 to 3200 watt and boast maximum power over a long run time, using both high-density lithium batteries and twin 18-volt technology on its higher-demand tools. And Makita, which is seeking to keep batteries relatively light and on the same platform, focuses on tools that let tradies use two 18-volt batteries in tandem when they need a power boost. “So they just have to click two batteries in side by side on the grinders and bigger saws that need the higher power,” Princic says. He adds that tradies should be aware when purchasing batteries that lithium-ion products offer protection from overheating, overloading and overdischarging. “So those three things prevent deterioration or damage to the lithiumion in the battery, which means you have a more durable battery that will last a longer period of time.” Princic warns against leaving battery packs in the back of hot utes because this will damage the lithium-ion and reduce the longevity of the battery. Likewise, tradies should put battery packs straight on the charger after use because the charger has a system that cools down the cells at an optimum rate.

‘Tip of the iceberg’

For all the advances in battery technology to date, one thing is for sure—the innovations will not stop. “It’s the land of the V8,” Beecroft says. “Aussies love more power.” He says recent battery technology improvements for power tools are “the tip of the iceberg”, while brushless technology in motors is also leading to superior performance. “If you look at the advancement in motor technology and battery technology, the batteries that we’re using today won’t be the ones we’re using in 10 years. They’re getting better and better.

Leave a Comment