Thoughtful Tool Innovations

by Kacey Larsen

Tools are a mainstay on remodeling jobs. Because they are often an investment for an individual or company, finishing and woodworking tools especially, tools are not designed, built or purchased with passing trends like some of the materials and products perhaps being installed during a remodeling job. Instead, manufacturers are giving thoughtful consideration, often based on user feedback, to ensure their tool products are worth the investment, create brand loyalty and handle the day-to-day beating they may take on a jobsite.

“The remodeler is a unique person because they have so many types of tools,” says Jeff Beck, group product manager for DeWalt Woodworking. “It’s an interesting mix with remodelers because the products need to be durable but they also need to be precise, especially if you are installing moulding or anything that will be visible at the end of the project.”

One area tool manufacturers see as a place to help remodelers is in time management in terms of making sure their product works efficiently — whether that’s with Quick Change solutions for accessories from DeWalt or dust extractors from Festool. “Remodelers are looking for ways to stay ahead of the competition, stay profitable and provide a rewarding customer experience. Festool helps remodelers meet these goals by increasing productivity,” says Rick Bush, product manager. “Our chief claim to fame is our dust extraction efficiency. By capturing dust as it is created through optimized tool designs and tool-triggered vacuums, the air is kept cleaner on the jobsite, reducing cleanup time.”

Although manufacturers know their tools will be used on remodeling jobs, thoughtful consideration includes recognizing what may or may not be readily available: power sources. Jim Stevens, product manager for Robert Bosch Tool Corporation, explains the thought behind Bosch Power Tools’ selection of cordless tools.

“We’ve been in woodworking and finishing for a long time, and that’s one of our strengths. In terms of cordless woodworking tools, the cutting tools that went cordless in a major way were the circular saw and reciprocating saw, and part of that is because those tools are often used in situations where there might not be power already. Usually by the time someone gets to routing and sanding, they’re in a place that has power, so there has never been the same press to make those tools cordless,” he says. “In terms of cordless for Bosch, it’s a very important part of our overall tool portfolio, and we continue to add tools in cordless that are woodworking related.”

Incorporating User Feedback

Tool manufacturers recognize the user is a very key and instrumental part of product development; after all, remodelers are the one using a tool day in and day out. With all that use, remodelers and other users have their own ideas about what might make a tool more successful, and the manufacturers want to hear it all.

“Our innovation typically comes from two places: the user coming back and bringing us an opportunity because they’re doing an application, and they say, ‘I love your miter saw, but if I could do this with it then it would be so much better.’ The other side often comes from our engineering guys because they work on a product so much,” Beck from DeWalt says. “We spend a lot of time with contractors and users, going through and finding out — whether it’s our product or a competitive product — what they like, what they don’t like, if they have ideas for what would improve it, and what they would do. Then, we come back to our engineering team, debrief them with common themes, and challenge them to figure it out and come back with a solution.”

Beck explains that everything in the company’s product development cycle revolves around the user. Once an idea or concept has been taken from the field to engineering and a solution has been found, that solution is presented to the users. If users respond positively, then the engineering team produces a prototype. “When we do our initial prototype, the user plays with it. When we do our first engineering build, the user plays with it. When we do our manufacturing build, the user plays with it,” he says. “If it takes me two years to create a new reciprocating saw, the user has seen that tool in various stages at least three times. All along we’re making changes or corrections based on their feedback.”

Bosch Power Tools also checks in regularly with the end user when developing tools. Stevens explains how many users may operate a product could shift the tool on the company’s priority list. “There are a lot of dimensions to prioritizing new product development, but we always try to talk and listen to our users and fit what they’re seeking. We also try to anticipate what they’re going to seek so sometimes we start tool development ahead of user wants,” he says. “We certainly have a lot of people in-house that are tool users themselves, but we put just about anything we develop into the hands of users early in the process to make sure there isn’t some perspective we have missed or checking to make sure we’re on the right track.”

Research and engineering teams from Festool also visit customers and jobsites regularly. Bush says this helps the company identify how tools are being used and see the challenges. Those insights provide the basis for improving the company’s tool technology. One such takeaway for Festool has been making its cordless lineup reach its full potential.

“There is no ignoring the freedom of movement that cordless tools provide, whether in the shop or in the field. However, cordless tools have had a reputation of providing compromised performance whether due to lack of power or run time,” he says. “For Festool, we didn’t want to just make cordless versions of our tools; we wanted to create tools that pros expect and need.”

Next in the Pipeline

While cordless may never fully take over the woodworking and finishing tool market, improvements are leading cordless to give corded tools a run for their money. “The cordless portion of the market has grown, is growing and will continue to go that way,” Stevens from Bosch Power Tools says. “The corded tool is never going to go away entirely, but the cordless is now seen as more of a mainstream, core part of someone’s tool portfolio.”

Talk with manufacturers revolved around brushless motors and batteries when it came to how cordless tools can and will be improved. Festool’s Bush comments, “Cordless tools will continue to lead the way with the advent of technologies like brushless motors and high-capacity batteries. Battery density will continue to improve as well.” The company’s entire 18-volt lineup of tools includes brushless motors and large-capacity batteries.

Similarly, Beck from DeWalt provides detail about why brushless motors could be a game changer in the cordless tool market. “If we make a new product cordless, we make sure we’re not giving user tradeoffs. A benefit of brushless motors, in addition to improving run time, you can get better power density, allowing the same power out of a smaller motor so you can actually take weight out of a product as well,” he says. “With some of the products that remodelers use — like a table saw or miter saw — any way to make that more portable or take weight out is huge.” DeWalt recently launched its 20V Cordless Miter Saw, which was designed with remodelers and flooring installers in mind.

To further help cordless tools become more viable, the technology behind batteries has become a key focus area. Developers at Bosch Power Tools have been creating higher amp hour batteries to provide users more run time before needing a charge. The company also recently presented an innovative solution for when the battery does need a charge.

“One thing we’re very much involved with here at Bosch, in terms of a new dimension of cordless, is wireless charging. For example, if you have a battery on the bottom of a drill driver, when you’re not using it you can set it down on the charger between uses and it continues to charge. You don’t have to take the battery off the tool and put it into a charger; it can actually be charging while it’s still on the tool and ready to go,” Stevens says. “That’s going to be helpful for a lot of users. We even offer a type of holster for vehicles so someone moving from one job to another can charge their drill and battery as they’re on the go.”

A preview of what’s to come from Bosch, Stevens shares, is a new accessories system for its oscillating tool in the next year. Also new to the market, Festool launched several random orbit sanders with brushless motors that remove the bulk and expanse of standard operating air sanders.

Make It Last

With the investment remodelers and other users spend on their tools and the day-to-day requirements, tools arrive on jobsites with high expectations, which is where warranty programs can come into play.

“Festool now offers a program we call ‘Service All-Inclusive.’ This program is more than just a warranty; it is a family of services we provide with every tool we sell. ‘Service All-Inclusive’ starts with a 36-month warranty and a 30-day money back guarantee. On top of these we offer three years of free shipping from the customer to the service department and back. We also offer a dedicated application and service hotline, 48-hour standard repair, instructional videos and a 24/7 online service hub,” Bush says. “One outstanding piece that has been well received amongst Festool customers is a 10-year spare parts guarantee. This guarantee provides peace of mind that once a customer buys a tool, they can be sure it will serve them for the next 10 years with available service parts.”

DeWalt offers a standard power tool and battery warranty, which is composed of a three-year limited warranty, one-year free service contract and 90-day money-back guarantee.

Brand loyalty is something tool manufacturers strive for, especially within the professional realm. While this is not the only reason to offer warranties, it certainly doesn’t hurt. “The nature of cordless tools makes brand loyalty a lot more competitive. When somebody gets into a system, they are often reluctant to have two systems with two sets of batteries and chargers and so forth, so it’s very competitive to get someone into a system and keep them,” Bosch’s Stevens says. “We do protect our users with cordless, and one of the incentives we have is what we call ProVantage. It extends the warranty to three years and includes a two-year warranty on the battery, and that’s a key thing we offer extra to cordless users to incentivize them to take on our system and maintain it.” |QR

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