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The past 12 months seem to have marked another important set of milestones for cordless tools and the technology inside them.
While performance, both in running and recharging times has been steadily improving every year for lower voltage units, until recently users still had to resort to a different battery system when they wanted to use more heavy duty units like hammers and grinders.
That is all beginning to change however with many players now releasing larger capacity products that can work with the same systems as 18V tools, effectively including them in their existing cordless ecosystem.
I spoke to several players about the state of the market, the latest developments in technology as well as addressing any concerns they may have for the health of the category.
Nick Armiger at Stanley Black & Decker, is happy to report that the last 12 months has seen positive growth for the company and an increase in market share. In particular the Dewalt FlexVolt system, which incorporates both 18V and more power hungry 54V tools into a single existing charging setup, has been very well received.
Armiger reports that among the many other heavy duty units joining the FlexVolt family are a 12-inch mitre saw, table saws, SDS Max Hammer, as well as heavy duty angle grinders rather than just finishing models.
Unsurprisingly, the majority of take-up for these units has been the trade but Nick Armiger has also noted a trend in recent years for homeowners to venture into professional level products.
“Trade power tools, particularly cordless, are getting more and more competitive and there is probably a blurring between the DIY price and the trade price so some people are trading up and getting into aspirational brand, that they couldn’t before.
“And, particularly in Auckland, if you own property in this current market you are pretty much a millionaire so they feel justified in trading up.”
From Nick Armiger’s perspective, New Zealand’s robust housing market has created plenty of business with the aforementioned equity increases helping in DIY while the creation of new homes is giving the trades more than enough work to do.
That said, the recent construction losses reported by Fletcher Building’s B+I division are causing some concern.
Although related to larger construction projects like Auckland’s New Zealand International Convention Centre and the Justice Precinct in Christchurch rather than domestic construction, Accent Tools’ Andrew Way fears that losses at this top level have the potential to trickle down.
For now though, he admits that he can’t really complain about the state of the market.
Indeed the Accent Tools team has been “crazy busy” in the last year thanks to huge demand for the latest generation of Hitachi tools.
There is probably a blurring between the DIY price and the trade price so some people are trading up
Andrew Way is particularly excited about the new wave of Hitachi gasless nail guns which he says are generating “massive” demand.
Much like the changes in higher voltage cordless units produced by many players, Hitachi’s new nail guns are now compatible with the 18V charging systems used by other cordless tools.
While eliminating the considerable running costs of buying gas cylinders this also welcomes one of the most used tools into the “cordless family”, if you will.
“Almost all nail guns, regardless of brand, were orphans when it came to compatibility,” says Andrew Way.
“So this is massive for us in terms of sales opportunities as well as for consumers who have already bought into a cordless tool system.”
The other big news for Accent Tools, as already reported in these pages, is that from the first of October, Hitachi will change its name to Hikoki.
Andrew Way stresses that while the change is a big deal (in a good way) for Accent Tools, it will be business as usual until the switchover.
Behind the scenes however, the company is putting considerable effort into getting the message out that the transition will be a seamless and positive experience for dealers and end users alike with a plethora of cool new tools and new technology due to be available in later part of the year that will still be totally compatible with Hitachi branded products.
CORDLESS MARCHES UPSCALE
Also set to release a raft of new tools this year is Bosch. Following on from an excellent year of sales in 2017, Sales Director Troy Scragg reports that in the next year alone, over 300 new products will be released in the green and blue cordless ranges.
Like many players across the board, Bosch end users can expect to see more heavy duty products like hammers and grinders using the same charging system that powers their cordless drill.
Does this signal demise of corded products? Troy Scragg explains that while Bosch does still see good business in corded products, he admits that the category has inevitably continued to contract at the same time as cordless has been growing.
The other technology trend that Bosch feels is growing in importance within this category is connectivity. As seen in household products where coffee makers, vacuums lights and even beds are increasingly becoming part of the Internet of Things, tools are inevitably getting smarter.
Already Bosch and other major players have Bluetooth-enabled tool platforms along with related smartphone and tablet apps designed to enable greater efficiencies on-site.
“Technology is obviously going to really start playing a big role in this category and those companies that have no obviously deep resources in this area aren’t going to be in a great position for the future,” says Troy Scragg.
Bosch end users can expect to see more heavy duty products like hammers and grinders using the same charging system that powers their cordless drill
One thing that even the smartest device can’t control is how tools are priced on the market. Troy Scragg for one points to continuing price erosion in power tools as a major bugbear in the market today.
Fortunately this has been to some extent offset by continued healthy margins in accessories.
Although he has just had a very positive 12 months, particularly with the Estwing and Marshalltown brands, Toolware Sales’ Aaron Bell is another to be wary of price deflation.
Having noticed a few newcomers in the market offering suspiciously low price points, he comments: “At the moment there are a number of new players that have come in where there’s already pricing in the market offering you what is really cheaper quality product at a cheaper price.”
Fortunately Toolware Sales plays mainly in the trade market where end users tend to have a keener eye for quality than some of the more price-orientated DIYers.
QUALITY OVER PRICE
Another player concerned about inferior products is Simpson Strong-Tie Sales Manager, Rob Lawson. For the former Makita player it’s what goes into the tools that is the major concern, with cheaper quality knock-off fasteners still reportedly being used with Strong-Tie’s range of tools.
As well as jeopardising the integrity of the tools, using these inferior products can mean major headaches for home owners and builder further down the track.
Asked for a worse-case scenario, Rob Lawson explains that on a home build, a project manager will assume for instance that a floor has been screwed down with a tested, certified product only to find a year down the track that floorboards start to squeak or feel unstable.
The resulting fix is not only costly and time consuming but reflects badly not only on the builder but also the tools being used.
Despite these concerns Rob Lawson is happy to report that Simpson Strong-Tie had a healthy year in 2017 with steady sales from its screwdriver and growth coming from its powder actuated range of fasteners and tools.
What’s the secret of this continued success? Rob Lawson says it’s thanks to the company’s “100% policy of not selling direct to a builder” a practice that has earned Simpson Strong-Tie the loyalty of their merchant partners in the channel.
“Most of the incumbents are selling direct to site and cutting the merchant out whereas we’re going through them and getting a bit of support there,” he says.
“Sadly a lot of [retailers and merchants] don’t know that they have a brand they can access that will sell through their stores rather than cut them out of the deal and go direct.”
Looking ahead, Rob Lawson explains that Simpson Strong-Tie will be building on its positions in timber connectors and releasing new tools to work with their products in this area.
First up is a just-released pneumatic connector nailer, said to be the only one in the market to take 65mm nails.
And Rob Lawson promises that this is just the start, with Simpson Strong-Tie planning to release a range of connectors using longer nails, for bigger loads with fewer nails “as part of a complete solution”.
We will of course be keeping an eye on what all the major players in this category have to offer in the coming months.
From the well-heeled homeowner through to the flat tack builder on one of the many housing projects going up around the country, demand for tools is showing no signs of slacking off.
And, with plenty more tools promised in the coming year, with each generation getting smarter, more “connected” and ever more efficient 2018 should be an interesting year for the category.
Power, performance and protection without the cord
Coming soon, Dewalt’s 54V XR FLEXVOLT Stud & Joist Drill is the latest addition to the range, perfect for end users who need to drill large diameter holes in timber.
This joist drill provides exceptional power, control, cordless convenience and runtime with its 54V brushless motor that can be used with the same system as 18V units.
With safety in mind the E-Clutch feature detects reactionary torque caused by a bind-up or stall and reduces speed to a manageable level until control is regained.
The spec also includes an adjustable bail handle, two-position side handle for safety, leverage and control, two variable speed ranges to match appropriate torque and speed to the application and a metal-gear housing for jobsite durability and increased reliability.
Decking just got easier
New to Senco Brands, the Dexter Power Hand is a decking tool designed to greatly increase the efficiency of deck installation.
The Dexter Power Hand can straighten and hold any deck board, be used on up to three deck boards and is tightened with any standard power drill. Users report time savings of up to 50%.
Trucut means quality
The DART holesaw range is now available from Trucut (formally Sheffield NZ). These high quality tools have an extra deep 38mm cutting depth and are manufactured with 8% Cobalt for resistance and long life.
Features variable pitched teeth for a wide range of cutting applications and precision set teeth for aggressive material penetration and swarf clearance.
Designed for professional use the DART holesaw range is available in a full range of sizes and kits. Comes in a zipped soft shell cover with foam inner to hold components securely.
Worx gets smart
The latest addition to the Worx range of power tools is the 20V Ai Smart Drill featuring an E-clutch that eliminates complex torque settings and an independent rotation impulse mode for accuracy when drilling into smooth surfaces.
This compact and lightweight unit has an auto chuck for fast and simple bit changes and an LED sight for use in dark or enclosed areas. The POWERSHARE 20V Max battery is interchangeable with other Worx tools.
Makita goes Bluetooth
Makita’s new Auto-Start Wireless System (AWS) uses Bluetooth to create a wireless connection between an AWS equipped tool and a dust extractor which will automatically turns on or off whenever the tools starts or stops, running only when the tool is in use.
The AWS system allows up to 10 AWS equipped tools to be linked to one AWS dust extractor /vacuum.
The system offers major benefits including the elimination of cords on-site. Productivity and efficiency is also increased for battery life as the unit only works when needed while the reduced use of the extractor helps to reduce general noise levels on site.
Bosch gives you a virtual tool box and more
Aimed at professional users, the Bosch Toolbox app is a collection of digital tools for tradespeople and other professionals.
Features include a measuring camera, report sheet, building documentation, a unit converter among many others.
The newly added “My Tools” function also provides a Bluetooth link to your compatible Bosch tools offering feedback on usage, parts availability with more features set to come in future.
The app is provided free of charge and is available for both iOS and Android
Hitachi: no gas, more nails
Hitachi has released its new Air Drive Gasless Nailer, expanding its 18V cordless power tool platform and delivering significant cost savings on consumables.
Boasting many other benefits over gas and Pneumatic Nailers, the Air Drive system makes no combustion noise, creates no gas fumes and requires no regular internal cleaning or servicing and performs consistently in low temperatures or high altitudes.
The Air Drive Gasless Nailer range consists of a 90mm Framing Nailer, and 15, 16, and 18 gauge Finishing Nailers, running standard and widely available nails. All are available in either kit form with 18V batteries and charger, or as bare tools for end users adding to their existing Hitachi cordless tool kit.
Fully compliant with NZ Health & Safety guidelines these nailers offer only sequential fire modes rather than the prohibited bump fire mode.
Hitachi is also offering its new premium end 150mm High Performance Random Orbital Sander.
Features a 350W high performance motor, variable speed dial, orbit diameter changing between 2.8mm and 6.2mm, non-slip handgrip, TurboBoost Switch and high dust collecting performance.
Cool – a water gun that pierces concrete
An interesting tool from the US, the PyroLance water gun can cut through concrete in under a minute, helping firefighters reduce the heat inside a burning building before they go inside.
The PyroLance has been proven to pierce steel and even bullet resistant glass and works by pumps a mix of water and granite dust, cutting a pea sized hole.
Once the hole is cut the lance continues pumping water through the hole, reducing the heat inside before firefighters enter with temps dropping from 1500°F to 200°F degrees after use of the PyroLance.
Simpson Strong-Tie’s big gun
The Simpson Strong-Tie PT-27 is a powder actuated tool for installing a variety of fastener types and lengths.
This semi-automatic, fast-cycling and versatile fastening tool is engineered for continuous use, high reliability and low maintenance.
Suitable for 300” or 8 mm headed fasteners from 22 mm to 72 mm in length. PT-27 has a load calibre of 27 strip loads and weighs 2.38 kg.
Applications include acoustical ceilings, electrical applications, framing members, drywall track, water proofing material and/or lathing.