With the introduction of new technologies such as vibration reduction systems and lithium-ion batteries allowing for faster speeds, quieter action, less weight and more comfortable handling, power tools are once again revolutionizing the way contractors get the job done.
Not surprisingly, most of the new advancements focus on improved safety and increased power. The former is primarily driven by European legislation and ergonomics. New standards for tool vibration in Europe have prompted manufacturers to design tools with less vibration, bringing these same benefits to the American market.
"The whole thing with vibration the industry is getting ahead of the curve," said Joe Fedor, product manager for industrial tools for Hitachi Power Tools of Norcross, Ga.
Demand for power is driven by contractors who see a direct correlation between more power and greater productivity. "More power coupled with lower vibration gives you more trigger time, which equals more productivity," Fedor said.
Hammer Power Without the Side Effects
When workers use a powerful rotary hammer, they typically feel the power vibrating their hands and arms. In fact, most users don't distinguish between power and vibration, so they accept vibration as part of the job. Generally speaking, they're not asking for anti-vibration technology on tools and often don't see it as a necessity. However, new anti-vibration technology could soon change that. Once contractors and workers experience reduced vibration, they're quickly sold on it.
"After five minutes, the guys are giddy. They're saying, 'This is awesome. I just don't feel the tool working,'" said Eric Bernstein, group product manager for hammers for DeWalt in Baltimore. "For a person who makes a living in [construction], they say, 'I can go home and my arm is not shaking.' You can change that guy's [quality of life]."
Reducing the vibration leads to increased productivity, Bernstein continued. "Comfort is critical," he said. "The more comfortable a tool is, the more the person will use it and the more productive the person will be."
In November 2006, DeWalt launched three new cordless SDS (slotted drive shaft) rotary hammers (DC212KA, DC223KA and DC233KL) that feature an Active Vibration Control System, called SHOCKS. The system places shock absorbers between the handle and the hammer mechanism to reduce the vibration felt by the user. Also, an anti-slip comfort grip on the hammers is designed to reduce fatigue during extended use.
For added versatility, the 18-volt rotary hammer has a dual-mode hammer drill and rotary drill, while the 24-volt and 36-volt offer an added chipping function, Bernstein said. DeWalt is planning to re-launch additional SDS hammers this month that will have "25 percent greater performance, are more powerful, and harder hitting," he said.
The Milwaukee Electric Tool Corporation in Brookfield, Wis., recently unveiled two, one-inch SDS rotary hammers with an Anti-Vibration System (AVS). Contractors may not perceive a lot of vibration with the smaller tools, but even small vibrations over long periods of time can cause user fatigue, said Eric Fernandes, product manager for rotary hammers for Milwaukee.
|Milwaukee Rotary Hammer 5363
"As we started talking to users of the small SDS class, we found they don't hit as hard because of the smaller bit, but they're used more frequently," Fernandes said. "The guys who are going to see the value are safety directors. Their users and employees are exposed to less vibration."
Both of Milwaukee's new models (5363-21 and 5369-21) have three modes of operation hammer drill, drill and chipping and a variable-speed trigger and reverse switch for accurate drill bit starting.
Easier-to-hold Ergonomic Handle, Less Fatigue
Handle design also is playing a crucial role in rotary hammers. After conducting research on ergonomics, DeWalt found that 80 percent of users prefer the L-shape handle.
"It changes the center of gravity and balance, and it doesn't put any stress on the user's wrist," Bernstein said. "The L-shape gives it the ability to get into tight spots. For drilling overhead, it gets the user's hand closer to the work area."
DeWalt's new hammers that feature the L-shape handle are only 10-1/2 inches in length and weigh less than seven pounds. "Weight means comfort, and comfort means productivity," Bernstein said, adding that the L-shape adds about $50 to the cost of the hammer.
Milwaukee also offers an L-shape handle on its 28-volt cordless one-inch compact SDS rotary hammer (0756-22). The design places the user's hand directly behind the drill bit for optimal balance, and a non-slip handle reduces vibration and fatigue.
Powerful Masonry Tools Set New Standard
Makita USA in LaMirada, Calif., already had approximately 30 angle grinders when it released two new 18-volt LXT lithium-ion 4-1/2-inch grinders (BGA452 and BGA452Z) last summer. Like its corded models, Makita's lithium-ion cordless grinders produce an impressive 10,000 RPM for 50 percent faster grinding. A built-in electronic control circuit with warning lights flashes when the grinder's motor is overloaded. If the overload continues, current is automatically shut off to protect the motor.
Most of Makita's lithium-ion tools are 18 volts because it offers adequate power, yet isn't too heavy, said Wayne Hart, communications manager for the company, noting that grinders require a lot of power.
"The platform we're focusing on right now is that 18 volts has the best power-to-weight trade off," Hart said.
Additionally, lithium-ion technology gives tools less weight, more power, and longer run times. Even small tools can now pack a lot of power.
"The primary benefit of lithium is power to weight. But there is a penalty to pay for that, and the penalty is cost," Bernstein said. "A contractor won't pay extra for lithium-ion, but they will for the benefits. They're willing to pay extra for a greater run time, more comfort, more productivity. Lithium is one component of that."
Two new angle grinders from Bosch Power Tools and Accessories in Mount Prospect, Ill., have the industry's first Electric Kickback Protection technology that shuts off the tool if the wheel binds. The five-inch (1803EVS) and six-inch (1806E) grinders have Restart Protection, which keeps the tool from turning back on until the user flips the switch off and then back on.
Bosch Grinder 1803EVS
"Restart Protection prevents the startling effects of an unexpected grinder activation, as well as prevents grinders from skating across the floor causing damage to the tool or injury to those nearby," according to the company.
The company also added a new Litheon 36-volt drill driver (38636) and a hammer drill driver (18636) to its lineup in November 2006. The tools are up to 40 percent faster than lithium-ion drills with twice the run time of 18-volt drills.
|Bosch Litheon 18636-01 HD Slim Pk
Last July, Hitachi brought to market its new four-inch dry-cut masonry saw (CM4SB2) with an 11.6-amp motor that produces 11,500 RPM. A specially sealed armature coil helps minimize tool vibration and cuts noise.
The saw has a short base edge-to-blade distance, making it easier to cut into tight spaces. A one-touch lever quickly adjusts the depth of the cut.
Faster Caulking Without the Dripping
Impressive new power tools with lithium-ion and anti-vibration systems make it easy to overlook advancements in less prominent tool lines, such as caulk guns. But Milwaukee's new 14.4-volt caulk gun deserves notice.
"It's an upgrade from what we already had on the market," said Jianqing Chen, product manager for cordless caulking guns for Milwaukee. "One key difference is we have an auto reverse feature."
The caulk gun automatically reverses as soon as the user releases the trigger to keep the caulk from dripping out, Chen said. The tool's interchangeable carriages adapt to the 10-ounce, quart-size and sausage packs.
"This gun is designed to be as versatile as possible," he said. "It can handle any caulk and adhesive."
Two tiers of speed control allow users to caulk up to 23 inches per minute for high productivity. A single battery charge provides enough power to dispense 185 tubes of caulk in the 10-ounce size, Chen said. The gun has the ability to dispense high viscosity materials with 620 pounds of pushing force. "We have the best pushing force," he said.
Coming Up Next?
The competitive nature of tool manufacturing forces companies to keep producing safer, more powerful tools. Manufacturers are constantly conceiving, designing and testing new ideas. During the next three to five years, the masonry industry will reap the benefits as some of these concepts hit the market.
Anti-vibration technology, currently offered primarily on hammers, grinders and reciprocating saws, will continue to develop and the cost will come down, predicts Hitachi's Fedor. "You'll start experiencing it in other tools."
Fernandes agreed. "The trend toward more anti-vibration, more ergonomic features will continue," he said. "Comfort is important."
Milwaukee is looking at ways for tools to collect dust and pollutants at the point of contact, Fernandes said. Another emphasis is designing new, multi-function tools.
"Versatility will also become more important. It is an interest that users have," he said. "Contractors want one tool that can serve multiple functions so they won't have to keep switching tools."
The U.S. market may also see the new Multihammer (P'7911) by the Metabo Corporation in West Chester, Pa., within the next few years. The rotary hammer, developed by Metabo and Porsche Design, also serves as a drill and pneumatic hammer. An unusual design places the handle and trigger on top of, rather than under, the hammer.
"It has an innovative design," said Terry Tuerk, product manager for the Multihammer. "The ergonomic aspect is wonderful. The tool balances perfectly in your hand."
While it's already available in Europe, the company has yet to decide if it will sell the tool in North America.
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