Demand for power tools in the US is projected to increase 2.9% per year through 2024 to $9.4 billion, according to a new Freedonia Group analysis. The COVID-19 pandemic is having a mixed effect on power tool sales. On one hand, DIY home improvement activity is up under lockdown, driving new and upgrade sales. On the other, unemployment has hit Depression levels, and weakened outlooks in construction, durable goods manufacturing, and personal incomes will stifle near-term prospects.
Nonetheless, through the pandemic and beyond, advances in technology and product development – including more powerful cordless tools and products that are easier to operate – will continue to drive market growth, even as longer product lifespans and other improvements resulting from innovation limit replacement sales. Below are four areas where power tool manufacturers are making strides.
1. Cordless Power Tools Increase Market Penetration, Spurred by Product Development
Cordless electric power tools continue to gain share from plug-in versions as product development leads to more powerful and longer lasting tools and costs continue to come down. In particular, the shift from nickel-based to lithium-ion batteries has greatly improved product performance due to such advantages as:
- higher energy density
- lighter weight
- longer lasting charge
- more rapid power discharge
- smaller size
While the price of the lithium-ion component of the battery has historically limited its use to high-end tools, prices have fallen significantly and will continue to decline going forward. However, lithium-ion batteries still have disadvantages, specifically their greater volatility compared to other battery chemistries. Recent innovations in battery technology include:
- Bosch’s CORE18V lithium-ion battery for circular saws and other high-capacity power tools is engineered to provide enhanced power and runtime with the same number of cells as an 18-volt 6.3-ampere hour battery and features cooling technology that extends the battery’s lifespan.
- Festool’s Airstream battery system is a combination lithium-ion battery pack and charger that reduces the cooling time of the battery and overall recharging time by 60%.
2. Integrating Power Tools into the Internet of Things
Like most companies involved in consumer electronics, power tool manufacturers are working to integrate their products into the growing Internet of Things (IoT). However, unlike many smart products – which often target consumers – development of smart power tools has focused more on professional users, who are more willing to pay a premium for these special features because they use tools more frequently and for longer amounts of time. For example:
- Hilti’s ON!Track system, a cloud-based tool tracking software platform, allows tagged power tools and other equipment to be tracked and monitored throughout a jobsite, thereby reducing incidents of theft and improving planning and inventory management.
- Milwaukee Tool’s ONE-KEY system performs similar functions, as well as provides other features, such as the ability to remotely program speed and torque settings to optimize tool performance for specific tasks.
Many of these features prove most useful to professionals, who could benefit from data collection and the ease of switching between customized settings when using power tools is an everyday task.
3. Improved Ergonomics a Mainstay of Innovation Efforts
To make power tools easier and more comfortable to use, manufacturers often introduce models with ergonomic enhancements. Such improvements include user-friendly controls, easier accessory changes, comfort grips, lightweighting, and compact designs:
- In March 2019, Chicago Pneumatic introduced a 1/2-inch impact wrench equipped with a forward/reverse and power control system that is engineered to be more ergonomic than controls mounted on the back of the tool.
- In October 2019, Bosch introduced its X-LOCK interface for angle grinders. It is designed to enable fast, easy grinder wheel changes without requiring spanner wrenches or flange nuts.
Because power tools are often used for long periods in repetitive tasks, ergonomically enhanced grips have become a key design element in recent years. For instance, Bosch touts the soft grip of its SDS-plus Bulldog rotary hammer, which was introduced in April 2019.
4. Brushless Motors Enhance Product Performance, Longevity
Use of brushless motors has substantially increased the performance capabilities and longevity of electric power tools by eliminating the frictional energy loss that often results from physical contact between brushes and the commutator. Brushless motors utilize an electronic control panel that switches the electronic current through the armature (the power-producing component), creating proper rotational motion.
Despite their higher cost, brushless motors have become the standard for power tools because their lower maintenance requirements and longer operational life often mitigate the cost premium.
Companies that manufacture cordless power tools with brushless motors include:
- Stanley Black & Decker
- Techtronic Industries (via Milwaukee Electric Tool)
Among recent innovations in brushless motors is the 35ECS model of Portescap’s Ultra EC line of brushless DC motors – introduced in March 2019 – which offers ultra-high speed and power and is suitable for power tool applications.
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