Advanced tool technology is combining greater protection with productivity improvements. Therefore, having the right tools that are safe and powerful is critical for ensuring that standards  remain high. Adrian JG Marsh looks at some recent developments.

Batteries just keep getting lighter and more powerful, and improved battery technology has created the explosion in cordless power tool ranges that is providing fitters and fixers with more flexibility and choice than ever before. There is only so much to be squeezed out of materials’ suppliers or the labour market, but innovations in tools and fixings offer potential savings for contractors.

“There is little doubt that certain combinations of tools and fixings can improve productivity,” said Mark Grocock, managing director of  Newark-based Bespoke Drywall.

“The steady improvement in battery life, weight and recharging times has made the clumsy cabled drywall screw-guns obsolete,” added Mr Grocock, who sees other benefits from this improved productivity.

“The advantage of many [new tools] is they also improve safety. As a company we long ago stopped purchasing mains power tools. Our lads will order the tools and we allow them to pay for them over a fixed period. We’re now on third generation Hilti cordless drywall guns which, though expensive, are at the top of their game. Add to this the magazine which allows the use of collated screws and you have a proper and super-fast tool,” he continued.

Richard Gunn, the finishing and interiors trade manager at Hilti, said: “Hilti launched its next generation of 22V batteries earlier this year. Each battery has increased runtime by up to 80 per cent, creating performance that’s equivalent to, and in some cases superior to, traditional corded products.”

Terry Hallahan, technical manager at DEWALT, agrees about the continuing growth of cordless technology: “This trend is expected to continue, particularly in the interiors sector. Needless to say, they provide the convenience of a totally portable solution that can be used anywhere on-site. And with no trailing cables, they can also improve safety in a busy workplace.”

Ross Cheney, SPIT product manager at ITW Construction Products, said: “The SPIT Pulsa system maximises productivity and minimises downtime by combining Lithium Ion power with Start & GO technology that turns the tool on and off based on motion.”

Stuart McCrudden from Makita’s marketing department said: “Contractors tell us that they want smaller tools with more power. Batteries are longer lasting and we’re up to 5Ah units.        “All through the construction world we’re  trying to find solutions to identified problems. We take our R&D guys to visit customers and can see how the powered caulking gun is a fine example of making life easier for fitters.”

Bosch has also extended its range of 18V power tools to include a new compact cordless sabre saw. The GSA 18 V-LI C Professional  combines a low weight of just 2.5 kilograms with high power.

The tools market is much more than just tools and consumables, though. New services are available to help contractors manage their assets and allow companies to control all the equipment they own – regardless of item, size and manufacturer.

Hilti ON!Track keeps an accurate record of assets, showing where they are, what condition they are in and which employee is responsible for them at any given moment. Initial benefits of this technology include increased speed and accuracy of stock checks; fast and secure  identification of tools, including batteries, accessories and consumables; on-site tracking; and the ability to store asset-related  information, such as service intervals and  hand-arm vibration and dust exposure limits.

The technology behind Hilti ON!Track is Radio-Frequency Identification (RFID) tags that scan batches of equipment. They connect over a mobile network or Wi-Fi, updating a secure cloud-based master record instantly, which can also be viewed by web or mobile. Mr Gunn said: “Working in conjunction, the system will track and search for all tagged assets and minimise losses, assign individuals to each piece of  equipment, allow the rapid reassignment of products, maintain asset lists quickly and avoid time-consuming stock checks.”

Over at DEWALT, the new Tool Connect Smartphone App has recently been introduced – a security tracking and management tool for its new Bluetooth-enabled rechargeable batteries. Mr Hallahan explained: “Tool Connect can be used to enable/disable the battery remotely  via a smartphone if, say, it has been stolen.  Individual battery status can be checked via the App and alerts issued if a battery is taken out of the prohibited range or power is running low.”

Health and safety has, of course, always been a key issue in the construction industry. Major  manufacturers are committed to the development of products that satisfy increasingly stringent health and safety standards and which help to create a cleaner, safer working environment.

Yet, for all these improvements, there is one tool that manufacturers cannot provide.  “You still need the ultimate tool,” concluded  Mr Grocock. “Quality labour.”