A small boatyard in Kappeln an der Schiel in Northern Germany might seem like an unlikely place to start a revolution, but the assembled press were rightly impressed as Metabo launched its new range of LiHD battery packs. These high-density lithium packs took a lot of development and input, but will deliver up to 67% more power and 87% longer running times. However, the new packs, available in a 3.1, 5.5 or 6.2Ah, are not much bigger than their standard equivalents and are completely compatible across the range of over 50 Metabo 18v cordless tools.
On the face of it some might say that “revolution” is overstating the case – but after seeing the products and trying them out myself, the target of a cordless only workshop and worksite envisioned by Metabo is definitely attainable and probably sooner than we think. Herein lies the revolution!
Perhaps a bit of background to the new battery technology is now required. As the name HD or High Density implies, the new cells in the battery packs are flatter and more densely packed with electrolytes than in previous Li Ion technology thus having potentially more power to deliver to the tools used. However, this being electronics, it is not the entire answer. As we all know, cordless motors (and corded for that matter) heat up as we use them. This is caused by operating friction and by the heat of the batteries themselves as they deliver the power to the motor. At some point the heat and power graphs coincide and, if you are lucky enough to have a proper electronically managed tool, the motor will shut off to avoid burning the tool out. This can happen with any Ah of cordless battery pack, so simply having a high Ah does not guarantee flawless performance.
Metabo’s R and D team has managed to ensure that the new LiHD battery packs remain as cool as possible so that they can deliver their full power at a manageable temperature for as long as possible. One of the obvious ways to do this was to beef up the electrical conductivity by using high copper content alloys and thicker contacts for the battery packs. These allow the current to flow more easily to the motor and reduce heat-creating resistance between tool and battery pack. With less heat being generated, the new packs were able to be made to within a smidgeon of the size of the “old” battery packs because the cooling airspaces needed in the “old” packs were not needed in LiHD.
The other advantages that flow from an average 87% longer run time include a much longer service life and fewer charges per battery to achieve the same amount of work. This durability means that Metabo supplies the new LiHD packs with a Three Year Warranty knowing that, in the words of Dr. Volker Siegle, Director of Product Development and Quality, “a LiHD pack has double the durability compared to a standard Lithium-Ion battery pack”.
What Metabo has also done to optimise the performance of battery packs is to continue to develop the range of brushless motors used in many of the tools in the range. Generally speaking, these motors are more efficient, can run at faster speeds and are sealed, so they do not ingest the abrasive dust that can often kill off brushed motors very quickly.
Metabo’s key developments for tools in the LiHD and brushless range are in angle grinders – Metabo’s strongest suit in world sales. I am told that in the US they don’t ask for an angle grinder, they ask for “a metabo”, much as we talk about “hoovers” for vacuum cleaners.
Being launched in June is the new cordless equivalent of a 1,000w corded 125mm diameter angle grinder. During the demo of this machine, the press watched as the cordless grinder outpaced the corded version cutting through steel plate in a timed test. Having got my hands on it a bit later and used it to cut through square steel tube, I was pleased to have donned the appropriate PPE, because the cutting performance was fierce and the spray of sparks was testament to that. Seriously, there was no question that the performance was inferior in any way to a corded machine.
Due later in the year is the first cordless 36v 230mm two-handed angle grinder on the market. Dr. Volker Siegler demonstrated this by cutting through a 6mm thick steel motorway barrier. He achieved this in a little over a minute, despite the barrier having built-in cutting difficulty because it has several strengthening bends in it that entail the disc having to cut in two places at once.
Once the press conference was over we were able to roam freely through the large demo area and talk to individual product managers and try out many of Metabo’s range of 18v tools for ourselves. I focused on a couple of the tools that I know very well, having tested them in the “old” 5.2Ah guises. The only difference being that they sported the new packs that are distinguished by having a red base and the letters “LiHD” inscribed.
Using a standard Metabo LTX drill driver loaded with a 3.1 Ah LiHD18v battery pack I drilled several 30 mm diameter holes through a laminated wooden beam where my wrists were more in danger of being twisted than the drill was of being stopped in the cut. It was clear that the extra power and run time in LiHD means that some users who value compactness can choose these smaller battery packs without sacrificing performance.
Since both the currently used chargers and all the current 18v tools are compatible with the new LiHD battery packs, if you want to upgrade your kit, all you need to do is to buy a new LiHD battery pack or two. Many of the product managers were keen to point out that in fact the “old” technology is perfectly sound and will not be confined to the bin in the short term because there are still many applications where the extra advantages of LiHD are not needed. Of course LiHD will come at an extra cost, but I am assured that the difference will not be so great as to be a big issue of affordability.
With woodwork being my main interest I had a long test of the KGS 18 LTX mitre saw. Even with the “old” 5.2 Ah battery pack I have now more or less ditched my corded mitre saw. But, loaded with the new HD battery pack, the power and run time of the KGS was simply amazing, with the result that I have already pre-ordered a LiHD battery pack for my workshop. It really is that good.
Some of the other commonly used tools in the Metabo range, including mains powered tools, had been converted by the Metabo tech guys into cordless versions for the press and dealers to try out. While these are not “official” yet, all I can say is be prepared to be surprised.
In the last few years, despite some still lingering signs of recession in some markets, Metabo has shown impressive growth in its sales of power tools, both in European and World terms, so we have to take the company’s target of a cordless worksite very seriously. The research that Metabo has undertaken has led to the development of several impressively advanced tools that are leading the market in terms of innovation and efficiency, and we can clearly look forward to more of the same. All of this research and innovation can only be good for the tool trade in general, and Metabo users in particular – and I predict a growing number of those on the evidence of what I saw at that boatyard in Germany!