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issue: February 2003 APPLIANCE Magazine

Power Tools & Power Sources
The Power to Do More


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by Linda Abu-Shalback Zid, Associate Editor/Newsletter Editor

With U.S. home sales at record levels and money-conscious consumers expanding do-it-yourself (DIY) efforts, power tool demand is expected to continue its upswing.

U.S. demand for power tools is forecast to increase nearly 5 percent annually to U.S. $9.4 billion in 2005, according to a report from The Freedonia Group, Inc., a Cleveland, OH, U.S.-based industrial market research firm.


Ryobi Technologies (Andersen, SC, U.S.) has released what it is calling the "ultimate combo kit" in a roll-around storage case. This "six pack" of 18-V cordless tools includes a compound miter saw, Speed Saw(TM), reciprocating saw, circular saw, drill driver, and flashlight, as well as three 18-V batteries and a 1-hr diagnostic charger.

The increases are expected to be a result of upgrades to more powerful, high-end power tools and by the continuing spreading of cordless products.

While professional users are expected to continue to dominate overall tool use, growth in consumer tool demand is expected to outpace the professional market, according to Freedonia.

David E. Smith, executive vice president of Metabo Corporation (West Chester, PA, U.S.) agrees that the trend exists. "There is definitely increasing activity on the part of do-it-yourselfers," he tells APPLIANCE. "I think more people are trying to tackle a bit more ambitious projects themselves, where they wouldn't have before."

Mr. Smith adds that in the current economic climate, consumers are repairing rather than replacing tools. "You can probably buy a new one for maybe 20 or 25 percent more money than the repair might cost, and people would do that, but not this year," he says.

On the professional side, however, the economics are different, according to Mr. Smith. "The people that really are still thinking more long term will definitely spend a bit more money to get the more durable, better performing product because it will also get the job done faster and reduce labor costs," he says.

Flexibility on the Fly

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This 18-V cordless drill/driver from Metabo Corporation (West Chester, PA, U.S.) features the company's patented "Impuls" technology. Impuls enables the bit to find a point of resistance during an interval between impulses. Once this point is located, the screw can reportedly be easily driven in or removed. A quick action keyless chuck and spindle stop system is said to enable one-handed bit and accessory changes. The tool reportedly weighs only 4.7 lb, with the battery pack and its T-handle design providing a reportedly optimum center of gravity and balance.
Tools that serve multiple functions is an area that is expanding in the industry, according to Mr. Smith. Metabo recently introduced new rotary hammers that allow users to drill concrete, steel, and wood. In the past, those functions were done with different tools, but now a simple change of the speed and drill bit is all that is required.

On the consumer side, Skil Power Tools (Chicago, IL, U.S.) has introduced a 14.4-V drill/driver with built-in bit-size indicator, which stores two screwdriver bits, allowing for fast and easy bit changes.

In addition to functions, Skil has added features to some of its products, its 7 1/4-in Skilsaw(TM) features the company's Site-Light "headlight," which can cast light where needed on projects.

Because Skil products are geared toward consumer DIYers rather than professionals, it has more "flashy" features, according to Randall Coe, director of Product Marketing for Bosch Power Tools (Chicago, IL, U.S.), which is also part of the company that makes Skil products.

Bosch-branded tools, though, are geared more toward "paycheck users" who use the tools to make a living, according to Mr. Coe. He adds that there is a crossover seen where the paycheck users are buying DIY brands, and DIYers are buying professional brands, which he attributes to the fact that home improvement retailers carry both.

Cordless Comfort

As battery and power technologies become more sophisticated, cordless tool performance has also gotten better, according to Mr. Coe of Bosch. One advancement that is increasing in importance is the reduction of weight for cordless tools. "For some tools it is not a real issue, but in certain areas in cordless to get more power, they had to go heavy," says Mr. Coe. "People didn't want to buy tools that were that heavy, so in cordless the idea is to increase the power and durability without increasing the weight," he adds.

Igo Home Products(TM) (Cleveland, OH, U.S.) boasts that some of its products are so lightweight they can be stored in a purse. The company's Grip & Zip cordless drills even run on lightweight AA batteries.

Milwaukee Electric Tool Corporation (Brookfield, WI, U.S.) has introduced a reversible battery on its new generation of driver/drills and hammer-drills, which allow the user to change the battery postion from forward to backward to better suit the environment in which they are working or distribute the weight of the tool for optimized balance when working overhead or in hard-to-reach applications. This allows for more comfortable usage, another driver in the industry.

Other ways to maximize comfort include reducing vibration and dust collection, according to Mr. Smith of Metabo. "People are much more conscious of the airborne sawdust and debris not being inhaled."

One way that companies are addressing dust collection is by adding capabilities to attach tools directly to vacuum cleaners.

Other companies, such as Makita U.S.A., Inc. (La Mirada, CA, U.S.), include dust collectors with their products. Makita's 10-in dual-slide compound miter saw includes a highly-efficient dust bag, according to the company.

For reduction of vibration, Husqvarna (Charlotte, NC, U.S.) has introduced its 136 chain saw, its smallest chain saw to date. It features the company's LowVib technology, which dampens vibration by putting the handles away from the engine. The saw also has an angled front handle for a better grip, natural working position, and increased ergonomics overall, another driving force in the power tools industry.

Makita U.S.A. has also increased ergonomic efforts. Along with reportedly being lightweight at only 5.3 lb, its new rotary hammer features a variable speed trigger to allow for a smooth transition into operation, and it can be actuated to reduce fatigue by use of a "lock-on" switch.

Comfort and technology will continue to add to the trend of cordless tools. According to the Freedonia report, shipments of cordless power tools from U.S. facilities are forecast to rise nearly 10 percent annually, approaching $1.5 billion by 2005.

Mr. Coe of Bosch says the cordless market has been growing steadily for the last 15 years, and he agrees that growth will continue.

"In the beginning it was only early adopters because it was high price and poor performance, but now performance has gone up and price has gone down," he says.


Also from the February 2003 issue of APPLIANCE Magazine:
Power Tools & Power Sources: Innovative Power Sources

 

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