DeWalt releases power-tool batteries that can change voltage

The Baltimore Sun
DeWalt releases batteries that can change voltage.

DeWalt, a Towson-based unit of Stanley Black & Decker, on Tuesday unveiled what it says is the world's first lithium-ion battery that automatically changes voltage to fit the tool it's plugged into.

Batteries for cordless power tools usually work at just one voltage level. DeWalt's new Flexvolt battery will be able to power a new line of 60- and 120-volt cordless power tools, also announced Tuesday, and any of its 65 existing 20-volt cordless power tools. The battery and tools will be available to consumers sometime this fall.

"Most professional contractors like to use one voltage system, one battery type and one charger," said Ward Smith, group product manager for professional power tools for DeWalt. "What Flexvolt provides is a full-system solution for these professional users. The existing 20-volt charger will charge the new Flexvolt battery."

Smith said the new battery technology could allow some professional job sites to go cordless.

With the new battery and related products, Stanley Black & Decker hopes to seize a larger share of the professional power tool market.

The professional market makes up about two-thirds of power tool sales, said E. Reta Sober, an industry analyst at The Freedonia Group, which estimates global power tool sales will rise to $32.9 billion by 2018.

"Sales in power tools are heavily driven by product innovations, particularly those that increase the usability and ergonomics of a tool and decrease safety hazards," she said.

Sales of cordless power tools are expected to surpass corded tools by 2023, according to Freedonia. That timeline could accelerate with the development of batteries that hold a charge longer.

"The primary requirement for cordless units is that they offer comparable performance to corded models," Sober said. "Longer runtimes for batteries and shorter charging times are key recent innovations."

Stanley Black & Decker, based in New Britain, Conn., was created in 2010 through the $4.5 billion merger of Stanley Works and Towson-based Black & Decker. While the headquarters moved to Connecticut, the combined power tools division was placed in Towson.

The company employs about 1,500 people in Maryland between the Towson headquarters of its global tools and storage unit and a DeWalt tools plant in Hampstead, said spokeswoman Sarah Windham.

DeWalt brought some manufacturing back the United States in 2013, about a decade after the company stopped producing its power tools domestically, and it now has seven U.S. plants. None of the batteries Stanley Black & Decker sells are made in the United States, Windham said.

The new battery, for which Stanley Black & Decker filed a 500-page patent application, allows DeWalt to introduce what it said is the first cordless table saw. It is powered by a single 60-volt battery.

During a demonstration at a facility in Middle River, Frank Mannarino, president of the professional products group at Stanley Black & Decker, said the table saw would be able to cut about 300 feet of wood on a fully charged battery.

"We are revolutionizing the table saw because we are getting rid of the cord," Mannarino said after using the saw to cut a 2-foot piece of wood. "It really does give the user the performance and the power of a corded table saw."

The saw has what is known as a brushless motor, which generates less heat, thus using less energy.

A new 120-volt miter saw could be powered by two of the 60-volt lithium batteries.

"The cool part is that users can power multiple tools," Mannarino said.

He said the power and stamina of the 60-volt batteries will allow construction sites, which often use more powerful machines, to become fully cordless.

"Of course everyone wants to use cordless power tools, but they also want to get the job done quickly," he said. "What users tell us is that if they have to sacrifice power, then I don't want to use a cordless tool."

These products should allow consumers to have both, Mannarino said.

Mahoney Nguyen, a carpenter with The Rachuba Group, an Eldersburg-based homebuilder, said he's used multiple power tool brands over 32 years. While he prefers cordless tools and likes the idea DeWalt has presented, he still wants to see how the product will perform on the field.

"I'd try them. They could be pretty handy," Nguyen said. However, he said he's had problems with cordless tool batteries in many brands before. "They would need to work right. Some batteries don't work well."

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