Dewalt's mega-launch

22 April 2008

Only in the power tool sector could you have a company saying that it planned 68 new product launches during 2008. This is what DeWalt says it will do this year, and used a major customer, dealer and press event in the UK early in January to show a (big) selection of the new equipment.

Much of the focus was on a new range of Lithium-Ion (Li-Ion) battery cordless tools, including new 28 V and 18 V ranges - the company's first foray into Li-Ion batteries was a 36 V range launched in 2006. These, says the company, will bring the advantages of the ‘Nano' Li-Ion technology to smaller cordless tools. Also new are the first ever plunge saws from DeWalt and a portable combined worklight/battery charger system, as well as other new 12 V to 18 V cordless hammer drills and drill drivers.

Many rental companies will look first at the new 10/12 kg demolition hammers being launched by the company, The 10 kg D25901K and 12 kg D25941K will replace two models that were first introduced in 2001, and as you might expect the big change is a significant reduction in vibration levels.

DeWalt has fitted a system of counterbalances and floating handles to reduce vibration levels on the smaller model from 13.1 m/s2 to 7.9 m/s2, while vibration on the 12 kg unit falls to 8.8 m/s2 from 13.1 m/s2. Both hammers are a bit heavier than their predecessors - up 0.8 kg to 10.6 kg on the smaller unit and just a little heavier on the 13.1 kg bigger unit.

This fall in vibration levels makes a big difference to the allowable working time for each - three hours on the 10 kg version and 2 hours 35 minutes on the 12 kg hammer. DeWalt says these vibration levels are lower than equivalent competitor models. (The company's 7-9 kg demolition hammers already incorporate vibration damping.)

Lio-Ion ranges
The new power tools, meanwhile, include an extension of the use of the Lithium Ion Nano batteries first used on the 36 V cordless range two years ago. Li-Ion batteries will be available on a new range of 28 V tools, as well as on 14.4 v and 18 V tools. The 14.4/18 V tools will have backward compatibility with existing products, meaning that you can use the new battery system on current tools powered by NiCd and NiMH battery packs. The Nano charger will also charge "the majority of older 18 V NiCd and NiMH batteries in only 40 minutes."

The 28 V range will eventually replace the 24 V power tool line, although the 24 V models will continue to be produced for another 18 months or so. DeWalt says the 28 V models will now provide users with a "genuine step-up" from the 18 V range.

The Li-Ion batteries are more expensive than NiCd or NiMH batteries, so there have to be benefits. Here, DeWalt says it has worked with a specialist US Li-Ion battery supplier, A123 Systems, to create batteries designed for power tool applications. The company claims that its particular Li-Ion batteries give up to 2000 battery recharges, which it says is five times greater than some competitive Li-Ion batteries and double that of NiCd and NiMH.

The Nano Li-Ion batteries are also lighter, which means, for example, that the new 28 V hammer drill works "harder and longer than 18 V, but with the same battery weight as a NiCd/NiMH 14.4 V pack." The 14.4 v Nano battery weighs the same as a Nickel based 9.6 V battery, and the 18 V Nano is equivalent to a 12 V NiCd/NiMH battery.

Products in the new 28 V range include the DC310KL circular saw with 55 mm cut depth; the DC315KL heavy duty reciprocating saw; the DC318KL heavy duty jigsaw as well as a grinder, hammer drill and heavy duty impact wrenches.

The new 18 V Nano Lio-Ion battery system is being launched at the same time as two new compact drill drivers, the DC727KL and DC722KL. DeWalt says they will be smaller, lighter and more powerful than their Nickel-battery equivalents. The 727 weighs 2.2 kg and a 375 kW power output; the 722 weighs 2.1 kg with the same power rating.

In the woodworking sector, meanwhile, the company is introducing its first ever plunge saws and also updating its established DW707 mitre saw. The new DW777 mitre saw is 1.5 kg lighter than its predecessor - it now weighs 13 kg - and its power rating has been boosted from 1200 W to 1800 W. The new saw has been extensively tested throughout Europe, including the Nordic market where wood is often wet and frozen; "A great test of power and durability in a saw", says a DeWalt spokesman.

In entering the plunge saw market, DeWalt is hoping to compete head on with current market leader Festo. In fact the DeWalt saws are even compatible with the Festo guide rails. DeWalt says its new saws use a parallel plunge system rather than the pivot plunge arrangement on the Festo unit - this design, says DeWalt, reduces the risk of kick-back. There is in any case an anti kick-back mechanism in place.
There are three models in the range: the 1300 W DWS520K corded unit; the 700 W DC351KL cordless saw that uses the 28 V Nano Li-Ion batteries; and the 390 W DC352KB which uses DeWalt's 18 V battery system. The DeWalt tracks for the plunge saws come in 1 m, 1.5 m and 2.6 m lengths.

Plunge saws are not yet a popular product in the US, where carpenters and others tend to use table saws or planers. However, Les Ireland, president of Black & Decker (DeWalt's parent) in Europe, tells IRN that "we feel we can help create that market in the US."

So a lot going on at DeWalt. And by the way, the 68 products in 2008 - that's actually 68 products between January and July. Wonder what they got planned for August to December.

Battery choices

It can't be the ideal situation when a power tool manufacturer is using three different battery technologies: Lithium Ion (Li-Ion), Nickel Cadmium (NiCd) and Nickel Metal Halide (NiMH).

Pete Morris, the newly appointed vice president of marketing at DeWalt in Europe, Africa and the Middle East - and previously VP of cordless products in the US - tells IRN that determining when the industry will move to a single battery technology is the "million dollar question".

He says that Li-Ion batteries currently make around 20% of power tool batteries, up from 10% in 2006. However, the take-up of the technology - which is cleaner, lighter and longer lasting that the nickel based alternatives - depends on switching customer preferences, which takes time.

Customers in North America, for example, still overwhelmingly favour NiMH batteries, while users in Japan have been far more progressive in opting for the latest Li-Ion technology. European users, he says, have been somewhere in the middle.

Li-Ion batteries are also more expensive to buy (although manufacturers like DeWalt will claim ‘whole-life' cost benefits), and this makes it difficult to persuade customers in developing markets to adopt it.

It will also depend on how quickly the technology evolves; "Current technology was developed for laptops and watches, not power tools", he says. DeWalt is playing its part in this, working with Li-Ion battery specialist A123 Systems (see main article.)

"We would like to see Li-Ion technology advance and the costs come down", says Mr Morris, "But right now it's a user issue. Lots of users are more than happy with NiCd products." The Nickel based products are heavy - and difficult to dispose of - but they are reliable.

Mr Morris concludes that "you are gong to see a continued growth of Li-Ion over the next couple of years. But until Nickel batteries get legislated out, you will continue to see them being used." It could take a further 10 years for half the power tool battery market to become Li-Ion, he says.

Fleet management

Hilti has been making waves with its fleet management programmes offered to large customers, both rental companies and end users. Will DeWalt follow its competitor?

Les Ireland, president of Black & Decker for Europe, Africa and the Middle East (which includes the DeWalt business) tells IRN that DeWalt is "evaluating it" and acknowledges that fleet management is a strategy that the power tool business as a whole "is going to have to address".

However, he is cautious about committing DeWalt to a similar path; "We have looked at fleet management, [but] our success has been with distribution, which has been extremely important. We have to make sure we have local support of our distribution base."

The concept of fleet management is one that has a big potential impact on the rental sector, since fleet management is essentially one of the services that the bigger renters offer their customers. For the tool manufacturer, there is the double danger of ‘competing' with your bigger rental customers and bypassing your existing distribution network.

However, if Hilti is aggressively promoting its fleet management offerings, DeWalt is being no-less aggressive in its own sales activities. For example, in 2007 the company held dozens of what it has described as ‘Hilti nights', where it tries to convert large Hilti customers to DeWalt equipment. These evenings are aimed primarily at the hammer products, and DeWalt says that last year it managed to convert around 100 Hilti customers in the UK alone.

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