Pull the plug
- Created: 2016-12-07
Cordless tools achieve the amp hours and power necessary for metalworking
by Abbe Miller, editor-in-chief
Walk down the power tool aisle of any Home Depot and it’s clear to see that DIYers and home repair enthusiasts have a lot of choices when it comes to the tools they purchase and amass in their garages. Another picture that comes into focus when perusing the shelves at Home Depot is the latest trend in power tools: everything is going cordless.
Most drilling, fastening and other low-power applications have already made the switch. Metal fabrication, on the other hand, still resists the change mostly because traditional battery technologies offered by the market leaders do not meet the power requirements. Either the batteries aren’t powerful enough to handle the job at hand or they don’t have the longevity to run a normal shift. Even the best performing ones will last only a few minutes removing welds.
Metalworking is the most demanding field for power tools. The amount of energy required to cut, slice, grind, bevel, burnish or polish materials, such as steel, stainless steel, aluminum, titanium and nickel, is so high that typical cordless tools do not have what it takes to replace corded ones.
The issue for metal fabricators then is making heads or tails of the various cordless options that are coming on board. From power levels to amp hours (Ah) and beyond, there are some that can fill the bill and there are other inferior models that will force a user to make sacrifices by using them.
When Metabo developed its LiHD battery it did so specifically keeping the metalworking industry in mind, considering it is the most demanding field for power tools.
A different approach
Bringing quality and performance to the cordless world has been a challenge for the industry. DIY drill kits found at home centers, like Home Depot, are no solution for heavy metal workers. They need something stronger and more robust. And they need specific solutions.
Could fabricators efficiently cut 1/2-in. steel plates when there isn’t power available? What tool can slice through a highway guardrail at the top of a mountain? Could assemblers tap perfect threads to prepare for fastening? Could sheet metal workers prepare stainless steel surfaces in a nuclear submarine where power lines and hydraulic hoses are unacceptable tripping hazards?
All of these applications, among many others, need cordless solutions. But they also need a different approach to power. Why? Joe Smith, Metabo USA’s president and CEO, explains.
“Historically, there has been an inverse relationship between runtime and power delivered by a battery,” he says. “Both are required to achieve metal-grade performance, however, technologically they oppose each other. Traditional lithium-ion cell technology requires the power output to decrease if the capacity of the cell, or ‘amp hours’ is increased.”
As consumers learned by way of Samsung phones whose lithium-ion batteries weren’t managed properly, higher concentrations of lithium increase the heat generated at the cell level. Because of this, the current drawn from the cell (the amps) must be limited to avoid overheating. To answer the call for a safer, capable battery, Metabo, a German power tools manufacturer, introduced its lithium high-density (LiHD) battery. It’s the first power source of its kind that has the ability, on the same platform, to deliver industrial grade energy to fuel cordless devices.
Combining a brand-new cell technology and a re-engineered battery pack, Metabo’s LiHD achieves 67 percent more power and 87 percent more runtime than the company’s 5.2-Ah battery pack, all while being 100 percent forward and backward compatible with the entire tool lineup. The technology opens the door to new applications simply not possible before.
Metabo’s cordless power tools are able to meet amp-hour demands while not sacrificing power levels.
Amp it up
When the industry moved from 4.0-Ah battery packs to 5.0-Ah (5.2-Ah in the case of Metabo), the power output of the battery had to be reduced from around 900 W (7.5-amp corded equivalent) to around 750 W (6.5 amps equivalent). But as is widely understood, metalworking tools need 11 amps or more, like the latest Metabo brake tool: the most powerful and first 14.5-amp 6-in. grinder on the market. The company knew that to continue to use the same lithium technology would be going in the wrong direction: the combination of power, runtime and compactness could not be achieved.
It was after two years of intense research and development efforts that the Metabo engineers had the breakthrough they needed: the LiHD battery. The technology articulates around two pillars: a brand new cell, larger and optimized, and a totally reengineered battery pack, smarter and more efficient. With the Metabo Ultra-M battery platform technology as the keystone, LiHD is 100 percent compatible with all existing tools on the lineup since its introduction in 2007.
The new first-of-its-kind, larger cell is the 20.700 (20 mm in diameter and 70 mm long). Compared to the standard 18.650 cell (18 mm in diameter and 65 mm long), the new Metabo cell represents a 33 percent increase in volume. That volume allows the storage of more lithium, but most importantly, the cell is optimized to reduce resistance by 50 percent, which means it will run cooler (and therefore save energy) while delivering significantly more current (amps).
“Other companies, like Tesla, have understood the benefit of such a technology and are switching their entire production to the LiHD format,” Smith says. “And a lot of that comes down to the efficiency delivered by the LiHD 20.700 cells. They’re assembled in a totally redesigned battery pack that has been optimized to collect the higher amp delivery and transfer it to the tool in the most efficient way.”
For starters, all transmission wires have been replaced by massive silver-plated power rails. Contact surfaces to the tool have been increased by 30 percent, and current collectors at the cell level have been enhanced with a proprietary nickel based alloy. Overall, 10 new patents have been granted for the LiHD battery pack.
The jump in performance is considerable; the power delivery is increased by 67 percent and the runtime by 87 percent. And that’s compared to Metabo’s 5.2-Ah battery pack. It’s also delivered in a compact format that’s comparable to the previous generation.
With the Metabo Ultra-M platform at its heart, the LiHD battery being developed is 100 percent compatible with every Metabo cordless tool and benefits from the most advanced cell technology. That technology is Electronic Single Cell Protection, which ensures proper charge and discharge of the pack as well as air-cooled chargers to minimize charging times and cool down hot batteries. For the first time in power tool history, Metabo was able to achieve over 1,200 W of cordless power on the 18-V platform, offering a safe and effective equivalent to 11-amp corded tools.
Pushing the limits
With such a technology in its portfolio, Metabo can now push the limits and create new cordless applications. In September 2016, the company introduced the world’s first 9-in. cordless grinder, using the LiHD technology in a 36-V architecture delivering 2,400 W of power (21-amp equivalent).
Furthermore, a series of new cordless metalworking tools are also now available: a push-pull tapping tool combined with a drill/driver for effortless and fast thread cutting, a high-speed drill (4,000 rpm) for sheet metal and pilot holes, a 6-in. grinder with professional-grade power and runtime, a high speed and a high torque die grinder for deburring and surface preparation, a beveling tool for chamfering and edge preparation, a metal bandsaw for conduit cutting and a series of stainless steel finishing tools (burnishers, pipe sanders, etc.).
With over 50 cordless tools dedicated to metalworking, Metabo offers the broadest range in the industry. And, in 2017, this range will expand with a series of new tools, such as a rivet gun and a shear/nibbler. More are expected, as well.
Naturally, metalworkers are prone to drain batteries, which is why Metabo also developed advanced charging technology, the latest of which is a multi-bay charger capable of charging eight batteries at the same time, for 18 V and 36 V. This multi-bay charger is the first of its kind, charging all eight batteries simultaneously as opposed to sequential chargers, which can only charge one battery at a time. Also, Metabo developed a fast charger with the capability to charge a 6.2-Ah (18 V or 36 V) battery in full in less than an hour. Metabo is so confident in its technology that it offers an unconditional three-year warranty on its batteries, regardless of the number of cycles.
“Metalworking is the most demanding field of power tools,” Smith says. “For almost a century, Metabo has been known as the premium power tool brand, and users rely on the superior quality and performance of its German-made products.”
Now that the company owns the most advanced and powerful battery technology with the largest range of tools dedicated to metalworking, it is the natural choice for professionals who share a passion for hard work, reliability and exceptional craftsmanship.