Hougen's HMD905 is a two speed magnetic drill designed with a swivel base for greater versatility in the shop.Click image to enlargeby Mary Scianna

Better power tools for better performance

Power tools are an essential part of a metal fabrication shop. They are the handheld cousins that complement and complete the work performed by fabrication machinery.

As fabricators look to improve fabricating efficiencies and part quality, they expect to achieve it in part by the tools they use. Power tool suppliers are responding to this by providing more specialized tools aimed at specific applications.

“When looking at specialty applications, end users should be looking at tools that best suit the application at hand and have the abrasives/finishing products that produce the finish required in a fast and efficient manner,” says Randy McDonald, national training and product manager for Fein Canada, a power tool supplier based in Mississauga, ON.

TRUMPF's drill driver, TruTool DD 1010, is designed with safey and ergonomics in mind. A balanced design and 1.13 kg weight make it easy for operators to use.Click image to enlarge“Our tools are very specific in nature,” says Tony Mirisola, product manager for power tools at TRUMPF Inc., Farmington, CT. “We’ve developed a niche in this and have designed tools around specific applications.”

By way of example, he cites a series of beveling tools, the TKF. The tools serve as a replacement for handheld grinders. “Beveling is faster, more accurate [than grinding] and the tool is adjustable to very close tolerances, something you don’t typically have with other options for this process.”

And while many power tools are designed for specific applications, the opposite may also true for other types of power tools, says Greg Londrigan, marketing coordinator with Hougen Manufacturing Inc., Swartz Creek, MI. “For unique situations where you’re unsure of what tools to use, contact the manufacturer to discuss how to solve your problem. Power tool specifications may not tell the entire story, meaning a tool might be able to be used in a different way or used beyond certain specs, using the manufacturer’s guidance.”

Better designs
Ergonomics and safety are the two most significant developments in power tools, and it’s reflected in the design of many products.

“We’ve always developed tools with safety and ergonomics in mind,” says Flor Ariza, sales manager for power tools at TRUMPF. “Our drill driver, for example, is designed for the hand of the operator and fits users like a glove. It weighs only 2.5 lb (1.13 kg), which includes the weight of the battery. It’s designed for hard-to-reach areas and for tasks where the operator has to drill for long periods of time.”

When Hougen created a new family of portable magnetic drills, “safety and ergonomics played key roles in the design,” says Londrigan. “Hougen’s mag drills use a safety switch, built into the bottom of the magnet. If it detects any lift of the magnet, the safety circuitry will shut the motor off. We added an easy access ring at the back of the magnet to allow the operator to attach the safety chain quickly. Using a safety chain is vital to help protect the operator if the drill was to ever lose power or break loose from the surface.”

A key feature in the design of Fein’s new Rat-Tail angle grinders is the grip design. Called ErgoGrip, the convex-shaped grip has a handle that measures 120 mm (4.7 in.) in length. The convex shape provides maximum contact between the palm of an operator’s hand with the grip. The design offers what McDonald and Fein call “a new benchmark for fatigue-proof grinding.”

New designs and features can help address comfort and safety when handling power tools, but these changes won’t help if tools aren’t used correctly, warn suppliers. In grinding applications for example, two big issues are people using too much force beyond what the tool is designed for, and using incorrect rpms.

“Some people think if they push harder, the more they grind, but the opposite is true. The tool slows down and the so does the abrasive. What happens is that the wheel can load or glaze because of overheating and then doesn’t grind or cut well. Also, overloading the tool generates high amperage draws, which in turn creates heat in the motor. Over time, if done continually, this can cause the motor to burn.”

Fein's Rat-Tail angle grinders are designed with a convex-shaped grip called ErgoGrip to provide maximum contact between the palm of an operator's hand with the grip.Click image to enlargeRunning at incorrect rpms can lead to real safety concerns and, in some cases, death, warns McDonald.

“A number of years ago, the son of the mayor of St. Catharines [Ontario] was killed on a shop floor because the wrong wheel was installed on a grinding tool and when turned on, the wheel exploded and killed him.”

Less severe, but still critical problems that can occur when you run at high, incorrect rpms is damage to the tool and to the material.

“In stainless steel, running at high speeds will overheat the material and it can cause blueing of the material. If you’re working with thin sheet metal, it can cause the material to wrap or distort and once that happens, you’re in big trouble,” says McDonald.

Better performance
Power tools are now better designed to perform better in challenging environments and challenging applications.

Fein, for example, has introduced what it says is the first handheld core drill, the KBH 25, for drilling in hard to reach areas “where you can’t get in with a mag drill,” says McDonald. It’s designed for handheld drilling of holes up to 25.4 mm (1 in.) in diameter in steel up to 19.05 mm (3/4 in.) thickness using carbide core bits. It can also drill holes up to 53.98 mm (2 1/8 in.) in diameter in sheet metal up to 3.97 mm (5/32 in.) thickness with carbide hole saws.

Hougen’s answer for drilling in tight areas is the introduction of smaller right angle drills such as its “ultra lower profile right angle mag drill for extreme tight spots,” says Londrigan. It fits in tight spots measuring 170 mm (6 11/16 in.) high.

Tool vibration can create problems and many suppliers have developed technologies to reduce vibration. TRUMPF’s TruTool DD 1010 drill driver features a soft grip for secure handling and low vibration work. Fein’s line of oscillating tools feature a new “anti-vibration system” that features flexible damping elements to separate the housing from the motor, resulting in what the company says is up to a 70 per cent reduction in vibration.

Better data
As industry continues to move towards digital manufacturing systems, power tools are also evolving to become Industry 4.0-enabling tools.

“The way an operator uses the tool, how much he is putting it to work and how he is using it–Industry 4.0 applies to these areas. Power tools are beginning to offer some of these functions. If you can know how the tool is being used and whether it is being used incorrectly, you can correct issues before they happen. We’re seeing this already and a few of our tools offer Industry 4.0 type information,” says Ariza from TRUMPF.

For example, TRUMPF has equipped many of its power tools with sensors that read and measure data and communicate this information to the operator. When brushes on motors begin to wear down, a sensor shuts the motor off to prevent further damage. On its drill drive, an LED light indicates how much of the battery life is left.

“We’re providing more data to the operator and the next step is to read and analyze that data and make changes based on the information that is available,” adds Ariza.

Power tools for fabricating and welding will no doubt continue to evolve. Suppliers say there is room to improve safety and ergonomics and to continue to improve on specific features such as vibration reduction and the performance and the speed at which power tools can complete tasks. SMT

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