REMEMBER WHEN DEWALT'S 14.4-VOLT nickel-cadmium (NiCd) platform was something to get excited about? Of course you don't. That was a lifetime ago—11 years to be exact. The industry has moved on, and Brookfield, Wis.–based Milwaukee Electric Tool Corp. showed us how far when it introduced its 28-volt lithium-ion battery earlier this year.
The company says V28, as it is called, is “a revolution in cordless tool[s].” John Sara, cordless tool product manager, says Milwaukee has delivered what its end users have been requesting for a long time: more power. “You lose momentum when you have to ... recharge your battery or switch to a plug-in tool,” Sara says. “With V28, you don't have to.”
POWER SURGE The introduction of the 28-volt battery raises some questions: How much power is enough? Will all that power affect run time and battery life? And will the battery's benefits justify the price premium?
“There is a group of end users out there who always want more power,” says Randall Coe, director of product development for Mount Prospect, Ill.–based Bosch Power Tools. “But not everybody wants more power. A number of end users are perfectly satisfied with the power they currently have.” Coe says, for example, that an 18-volt tool with 500 pound feet of torque is more than adequate on a jobsite.
Most manufacturers say the run time a battery can deliver before it has to be recharged is more important than power. This is especially true for those workers who need to perform medium-sized jobs for a much longer time during a given day. “For the general guy, a longer run time is the big issue,” says Tom Duncan, sales and marketing vice president for tool manufacturer Positec USA in Charlotte, N.C. The end users the company asked to test its new WORX line of tools did not list power as an issue, Duncan says, but they were concerned with run time.
Another issue that everyone must consider is cycle life—essentially, how long an end user can expect a battery to last before it has to be replaced. Cycle life, says Coe, is perhaps the No. 1 user complaint because replacing a battery is expensive.
NEEDFUL THINGS “Milwaukee has answered the call for those people who want more power,” Coe admits. “The question is: How big is that group?” Coe continues, “I think we can learn a lot from the 24-volt battery. It hit the market around 1999 and made a big splash, but today it is not that viable, and you hardly ever see it. It costs significantly more and produces minimal benefits.”
One reason 24-volt tools did not catch on, manufacturers say, has to do with the NiCd battery it uses. Reliable and easily recharged, NiCd technology is versatile and is used in most power tools today. However, in making the move up to 24 volts, the battery's weight increase made tools too heavy.
Christine Potter, senior product manager for cordless tools at Baltimore-based DeWalt, says that the weight increase had a limiting effect on tool sales. Though De-Walt still offers 24 volts, “[t]he majority of the market is for 18 volts,” Potter says. “That is the sweet spot. It offers the best balance of power, run time, and ergonomics.”
“The game is about delivering a tool that is more efficient than the 18-volt battery,” Coe says. “It is important that any new tool delivers a demonstrable benefit over the 18-volt.” It also must also be reasonably priced.
Learn more about markets featured in this article: Milwaukee, WI.