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Cordless tool tech steps it up

Cordless tool tech steps it up

Cordless tools are rising in popularity and the market is expected to grow over the next few years. Technology has allowed for creating smaller, lighter and more powerful cordless products. Charging solutions, tool electronics and brushless motors are three areas that will grow in the near future.

Cordless tools have been stepping it up. Farmers are recognizing how convenient portable tools can be on the farm, and cordless tool technology has advanced in recent years to match the performance of some corded tools. In the past year alone, hundreds of new cordless tools have come to market from the big players: Milwaukee, DeWalt, Porter-Cable, Makita, Black and Decker, Hilti, Ryobi and others. So just what technology is fueling this new generation of cordless tools?  

We spoke with Wil Granger, Group Product Manager, Porter-Cable, to get the details on how the tools have changed in recent years and where the market is headed in the future.

Recent tech change

Granger says that user demand for more power has been driving innovation in cordless tool design in recent years. One big change lies in the motor technology as they have transitioned from canned to frameless and now brushless motors.

A second change is in the transmissions.

“When we go out and talk to users and they “define performance,” what they always tell us is they want to be able to get the job done faster,” says Granger. “The transmissions have to be able to catch up with the motors.”

And because of this, the rpm rates have increased. Low speeds on a cordless tool used to range from 250 to 300 rpm and now range from 450 to 500 rpm. The same thing has happened for high speeds, which used to range from 1200 to 1300 rpm and now users will find between 1700 and 2000 rpm. As the motors have improved in performance, the transmissions have kept up as well.

The electronics in cordless tools have also been a major point of innovation in the industry.

Granger, Porter-Cable

“Five years ago, if you looked at what made up a tool, it was a very mechanical tool, meaning that the power came out of the battery, went through a switch, through the motor, through the transmission and out of the chuck. So it was a truly mechanical tool in nature,” explains Granger. “What you see now is a lot of electronics in these tools, talking between the battery and the tool, and it’s really optimizing performance throughout the tool because it knows the limits of the motor and the transmission.”

In addition to user demand for more power, Granger says they also are demanding longer runtime. So battery performance is key in meeting those demands.

“If you look at five years ago, a 1.3 or 1.5 amp-hour battery was pretty much the ceiling of where you were at,” says Granger. “Now you see most manufacturers moving to a 2 amp-hour on a compact battery and on a large battery you’re going from 2.6 amp-hours to 3 and now to 4 amp-hours.”

And the industry is bringing more categories of tools to cordless because of the power of these batteries. Drills and impact drivers were some of the first to go cordless, but now tools such as cut-off tools, grinders, reciprocating saws and circular saws are moving to cordless.

Ergonomics important, too

Granger emphasized that cordless tools overall continue to get smaller and easier to handle.

“The biggest driver from an ergonomic standpoint would be the battery packs  -- going from NiCad to lithium -- so you have smaller, lighter tools, which the users are demanding now,” says Granger.

“There’s actually 33 different parts to your hand, and what we try to do is maximize each individual part of your hand’s grips, and the user instantly recognizes it,” he says.

Where is the market headed?

Granger explains that the cordless and corded markets in the U.S. today are about equal in size, even though most people think that cordless is much larger. But he forecasts healthy growth within the cordless market over the next few years.

“I would say we’re going to see 5-10% growth each year over the next couple years, and this is driven by innovation and by more power and smaller sizes,” Granger says.

In addition to size, another improvement Granger predicts is in the available charging solutions.

“Typically today, you have a charger that’s plugged into the wall or to your vehicle, and I think you’re going to see more charging solutions coming out such as a hot pad where you put your battery on it [to charge],” Granger says.

Brushless motor technology will also advance and sustain the cordless market in coming years, according to Granger.

Smart tool?”

Using the term “smart tool,” Granger explained that electronics have improved cordless tools dramatically, with the ability for the tool and the battery to “talk to each other” and monitor the tool’s performance.

“We’re not quite there where we have a truly electronically controlled tool, but I think that it [the electronic component] does definitely maximize these tools,” he says.

And while it takes more time for advancements in the electronics within cordless tools to come to market, there’s no doubt that they will become smarter and more efficient in the coming years. But the combination of the technology behind the motors, transmission and electronics is key in driving the innovation forward.

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