2015 is shaping up to be a big year for power tool batteries, which means it will be a big year for cordless power tools. Improvements include higher amp-hour packs, improved battery chemistries, and high-tech enhancements such as blue-tooth connectivity and inductive charging. Some of the new batteries are already out and several are scheduled for release early next year. One was recently announced in Europe so it’s likely only a matter of time before it becomes available here.
Batteries were not the sexiest products announced at the recent Milwaukee media event but they are arguably the most important. Beginning in January 2016 the company plans to offer M18 packs rated at 6.0 and 9.0 amp-hours.
The 6.0 Ah pack is basically an Extended Capacity (XC) pack with upgraded cells. In use it will provide proportionally greater runtime than existing 4.0 and 5.0 Ah packs, and with most tools, slightly more power. The jump to a 6.0 Ah pack was an expected development. Bosch already offers one in Europe and as of this month is offering it here.
Unlike the announcement of an upgraded XC pack, the announcement of a 9.0 Ah pack was completely unexpected. Half again as tall as an XC pack and about a half-pound heavier, the 9.0-Ah pack will be the first 15-cell 18-volt pack on the market. The current standard for full-size 18-volt packs is 10 cells.
The new pack will fit existing M18 tools but is not intended for use with all of them; it’d be overkill to put one on a compact drill or impact driver. 9.0 Ah packs were developed to power bigger more powerful tools, such as recip saws, circular saws, and the new “mega” tools announced at the media event: an SDS Max rotary hammer, Super Hawg right-angle plumber’s drill, and a magnetic drill press. Tools of this size require more juice than is reasonable to expect from an XC pack; these new packs should be just the thing to power them.
Bosch has been busy in 2015, with the introduction of the world’s first inductive tool battery and charging system and the release of a 6.0 Ah pack (BAT622), first in Europe and as of this month in the U.S. The greater storage capacity of these packs means longer runtime and likely slightly more power from the tools they are used in.
The inductive charging systemconsists of a special charger and batteries—which can be used with any Bosch lithium-ion power tool. Batteries can be charged in or out of the tool, by placing them on the charger. A coil inside the charger sends electromagnetic waves to a coil inside the battery that converts them to current used to charge cells. The initial release included 2.0 Ah ThinPacks though 4.0 Ah FatPacks were on display in February at the World of Concrete.
Given how the batteries are designed to be used, FatPacks hardly seem necessary. The idea is to put the tool on the charger whenever it’s not actually being used—so the battery is almost constantly charging. Unless you use the tool for an extended period of heavy work the pack is unlikely to ever be depleted. Obviously, this works best when the operator is working at a bench or single location with a tool that can easily be placed on the charger. I could see this system being used for automotive, cabinet making, and assembly work. It might also prove useful for service work: With the charge plugged into an inverter the tradesman could recharge between calls or on the way to and from jobsites. The batteries aren’t restricted to inductive charging; they can be removed from the tool and charged in the usual manner on a standard charger.
Metabo LiHD Battery Packs
Metabo is about to introduce a new LiHD pack that will surpass the Ultra-M pack that was introduced a couple of years back.
The 5.2 Ah Ultra-M came out at a time when the tool batteries sold in the U.S. topped out at 4.0 Ah. It is still the highest rated 18-volt pack sold in this country though that will change when Bosch and Milwaukee’s 6.0 Ah packs hit store shelves.
Metabo isn't worried; it's new LiHD pack will top out at 6.2 Ah. The runtime claimed for the pack is beyond what one would expect for an increase of 1.0 Ah. According to the manufacturer, the new pack will yield 87% more runtime (with a grinder cutting sheet steel) than the company’s current 5.2 Ah pack. Even more surprising is the claimed increase in power of the LiHd, 67% over 5.2 Ah Li-Ion packs. The increased power output is the result of better cell chemistry, larger battery contacts and cell connectors, and improved alloys used in contacts and connectors.
The new batteries were recently announced in Europe and it’s likely only a matter of time before they’re available here. Metabo’s take on the LiHD pack is similar to Milwaukee’s take on their 9.0 Ah pack, that it will boost the performance and runtime of existing tools and allow them to introduce tools that until now have been difficult to run without cords. One such example, the Metabo 18-volt slide miter saw that is sold in Europe but not here. And Metabo is big into grinders and tools for drilling and chipping concrete so there are likely some new cordless products coming in those categories.
The new technology will be available (initially, in Europe) in full size 6.2- and 5.2-Ah packs. Metabo will also be offering its first compact 18-volt pack—rated at 3.1 Ah.
DeWalt Bluetooth Battery Packs
At a media event held in June at the company’s assembly plant in North Carolina DeWalt announced the world’s first Bluetooth tool battery. Designed to be used with the free Tool Connect App, the packs can be monitored and “controlled” by Android and Apple devices.
Functionality includes diagnostics, actions, and alerts. Diagnostics include the temperature, condition, and state of charge of the cells. Actions include the ability to disable a battery when it is out of range (so it can’t be used by someone who steals it). Alerts allow you to be notified when the battery overheats, is low on charge, or when charging completes.
This is first generation technology and there is probably more that can be done with it. In my opinion, the most useful things these batteries and app can do is notify you when charging is complete and disable batteries when they are out of range. If Bluetooth batteries take off, then perhaps there will be increased functionality in the future: the ability to display tool diagnostics, charging cycles, and the like. The technology will initially be offered in 2.0 and 4.0 Ah packs scheduled for release in July 2015.
Makita 5.0 Ah Packs
Early this year Makita introduced a 5.0-Ah 18-volt pack (BL 1850). Less caught up in the amp-hour race than other tool companies, Makita has in recent years upgraded its packs after its competitors have already done so (Bosch, DeWalt, and Milwaukee introduced 5.0-Ah packs in 2014). To those who feel it’s a problem not to be first Makita would argue its standard charger is so fast (4.0 Ah in 40 minutes; 5.0 Ah in 45 minutes) that so long as power is available for charging, you are unlikely to run out of juice while using its batteries.
The company’s answer to the growing desire for larger more powerful cordless tools was to double up on batteries—first via an adapter that allowed 36-volt tools to be powered by two 18-volt packs and later via tools designed to accept two 18-volt packs at a time. Dubbed the X2 system, Makita’s current U.S. lineup of native dual-battery tools includes a 7 1/4-inch circular saw, 1-inch rotary hammer, chainsaw, blower, and hedge trimmer.
[This story was revised on 7/12/15 to reflect the fact that Bosch's 6.0 Ah battery pack is now available in the U.S.]