Todd Follis, senior project manager at Tonawanda, N.Y.-based plumbing, mechanical and HVAC contractor John W. Danforth, is a numbers guy.
“The biggest thing for us is productivity,” he says. “Thirty percent of our eight-hour day is used for installation.”
Thus, a cordless tool constantly running low on juice is not a welcome sight around a Danforth jobsite.
“If you don’t have reliable tools, you are losing profitability and part of that boils down to having good batteries,” he says. “If you are constantly changing batteries or trying to find a place to charge batteries, you are losing time and you are losing dollars in an already tough market.”
In recent years, new advancements in cordless tool battery and battery-charging technology are reducing jobsite headaches and allowing plumbing and mechanical contractors to get more accomplished during their work days.
Give me more juiceNick Feld, Bosch’s cordless product manager, says contractors have one consistent bone to pick when it comes to cordless tool batteries. “The single biggest complaint is runtime,” he says. “Contractors are constantly looking for more and more runtime. The industry is in a position now to look at ways to exponentially increase a battery’s runtime through cell development.”
Lithium-ion technology introduced within the last decade certainly moved the dial forward in terms of battery life and extended runtimes. “Lithium ion is a stable technology that has become an industry standard,” Feld says. “It’s here to stay.”
Porter Cable Associate Product Manager Mike Peiffer says a balance is constantly trying to be struck between longer runtimes and the weight of cordless tools.
“The industry as a whole is looking at ways to make tools smaller and lighter,” he says. “Lithium batteries help with that. Users are demanding better-performing tools and tools that run longer and can be used for multiple applications.”
For instance, Peiffer notices an increase in the use of impact drivers among contractors due to their smaller footprint and lighter weight.
“A lot of tradesmen are shifting away from the drill driver and moving toward the impact driver,” he says. “Due to advances in accessories, you can complete more applications with an impact driver. With the lithium battery in there, you can get much smaller 1.5-amp hour cells into a smaller footprint. Contractors are saying, ‘Hey, give me as much power as that big, old tool, but give it to me in a smaller and lighter tool.’ The trick is to get it smaller and make it last longer. That’s what our engineering team is constantly striving for.”
Milwaukee Tool Vice President of Cordless Project Management Paul Fry, whose company is readying to launch its sixth generation of lithium-ion battery technology with the REDLITHIUM 2.0 and XC4.0 series, notes battery durability also greatly matters in the construction of a cordless tool.
“Durability is what a professional demands,” he says. “Will the tool work in cold weather? The challenge is how do you deliver on such a basic expectation. Lithium ion responds differently to abuse. You have to protect the battery pack. We place a major focus on the construction of battery packs.”
Cordless tool manufacturers agree finding the proper mix between power output and runtime continues to be a major industry goal.
“How do you deliver that maximum runtime and still have maximum power?” Fry asks. “Just because you get one doesn’t always mean you get the other. Not everybody is driving 1 5/8-in. drywall screws. You have to find that balance.”
Charge me upAnderson, S.C.-based Glenn Plumbing Co. specializes in commercial and industrial work. With jobsites ranging from heavy industrial spaces to hospitals, having properly charged batteries is paramount for this contractor.
“You don’t want to walk halfway across a plant and realize a battery is dead,” says John Glenn Jr., who represents the fourth generation of Glenns in the company.
Battery-charging technology also has made major strides in recent years whether it’s LED lights on the side of the power tool indicating how much battery life is left, or the introduction of battery chargers that accommodate multiple batteries of different amp-hour capacities at the same time.
“When you grab a battery now, you know if it’s been charged or not,” says Glenn Jr., whose company uses RIDGID cordless power tools.
Beyond simple battery life, advancements in electronics are giving contractors a better peace of mind in terms of functionality when they go to grab a battery out of the charger.
“Electronics protect our batteries from overheating and overcharging,” RIDGID Director of Brand Management Craig Sumner says. “Whether on the tool or on the charger, that protection is there. Advanced electronics are something new and useful that we’ve brought to the table for customers.”
Getting a tool re-charged in as short a time as possible can make a big difference on a jobsite running up against tight deadlines.
“Sometimes finding a single outlet at a jobsite can be a challenge. Finding eight or 10 is fruitless,” says Follis, whose company uses Milwaukee cordless tools. “With a battery charger that can charge multiple batteries, a foreman can pick up all the batteries, go over to a specific place and watch them. When the next shift comes in, the batteries aren’t depleted.”
Feld says as technology continues to advance with batteries, companies will have to be aware of the potential consequences on the charging side.
“Right now you’re seeing more and more 3-amp hour batteries,” says Feld, who notes Bosch will be revealing a new battery-charging platform later this year. “When we get to the point where we have 6- and 7-amp hour batteries, the charging time is going to be longer. If you are burning up a battery like that, it’s going to take longer to charge and there might not be a benefit for the end user. It will be interesting to see how the market responds with higher amp-hour batteries and the longer runtimes.”
Peiffer sees no slowdown in industry advancements with cordless tool batteries and chargers.
“At this point, the sky is the limit,” he says. “Every year, companies keep pushing each other to develop the new best thing or the smallest battery or the battery that will hold the charge the longest. This industry will continue to develop and push the envelope in both spectrums. It’s a competitive landscape. There are a lot of great companies and great tools out there. You will continue to see innovation from everybody across the board.”
And that’s music to contractors’ ears.
“If you look at the amount of money companies spend on tools and you are not getting the return on investment, you aren’t spending that money well,” Follis says. “If you are using tools that maximize your time, you are going to be a lot more profitable.”