Vehicle repair shops increasingly use cordless tools for greater access and precision
Davidson, N.C.—While pneumatic tools have been a mainstay in the vehicle service and repair industry for decades, new technologies and innovation have made cordless battery-powered tools an increasingly popular choice. These tools deliver comparative performance and durability with additional accessibility and comfort, and get the job done with greater ease of access, said Jennifer Travis, product manager for vehicle repair cordless tools at Ingersoll Rand®.
“Whether a technician is working in the engine compartment, under the vehicle or on the exterior, switching from pneumatic tools such as wrenches, ratchets or screwdrivers to a family of cordless power tools can improve output, quality of work and reduce fatigue,” Travis said.
Cordless tool benefits and variety
Cordless tools continue to grow in popularity because of their versatility, portability, power, ease of access, and long battery life. Some tool manufacturers have leveraged their pneumatic tool expertise and transferred those capabilities to cordless tools by making continuous improvements over the years and are using new technologies to advance cordless tool design to be more durable, versatile and powerful.
“The portability of cordless tools offers unparalleled flexibility of moving around the vehicle bay, working outside the shop and having tools on the wrecker,” Travis said. “Additionally, many cordless tools have a power regulator that can be adjusted for different power settings, so a single tool can do the work of many. No technician wants to over-torque a valve cover that ends up leaking because too much torque was applied.”
Many cordless tools now have the power and speed of air tools to remove extremely tight brake caliper bolts. They are also reaching parity with pneumatic tools’ size and weight, using composite materials that are lightweight, durable, and corrosion resistant. Lightweight design and small diameter handles also help minimize operator fatigue during extended use.
“The onboard power that cordless tools have opens up new opportunities for additional features and controls,” Travis said. “For example, the Ingersoll Rand IQV20 W5132 Impactool™ has a 360-degree shadowless LED task light that takes the flashlight or drop light out of operators’ hands, giving them greater control over the fastening operation.”
Cordless reciprocating saws designed to meet the demands of the automotive industry have low-profile designs that provide maximum access to tight spaces, and will quickly run through fenders, body panels and other metal surfaces. With a cordless sander, service technicians can get in and around the vehicle’s tightest spots to smooth, finish, and deburr hard-to-reach areas.
The tool race isn’t only about power, speed, size, and features
Many see cordless tools as trying to reach the power, durability, and features in a race towards parity with pneumatic tools. Ingersoll Rand sees the advancements in cordless tools somewhat differently, as the company makes both air and cordless tools.
Pneumatic tool twin-hammer impact mechanisms are different from ball-and-cam impact mechanisms on cordless tools. Each mechanism has its own strengths. For example, cordless tool impact mechanisms are twice as fast as air tool impact mechanisms. Conversely, air tools have a fast rundown, averaging 8,000 rpm. This is much faster than cordless tool rundowns that average 2,500 rpm. The key to success for air and cordless tools is to leverage each tool’s technology advantages and how they are needed for customer specific applications.
“Based on the tool technology, Ingersoll Rand tunes our tools for specific vehicle repair applications,” Travis said. “For example, we use a proprietary means for testing and analytics that allow engineers to better understand nut-and-bolt joint nuances. With these insights, we can optimize each tool’s design advantages to most effectively handle a particular application and give the operator greater control.”
This tuning also applies to how a tool manages battery power for specific applications. By tuning the tool to the application, battery life can also be optimized. While one tool manufacturer might use high-quality Lithium Ion batteries, they may not be optimizing the tool to get extended battery life for fastening applications.
Studying how vehicle service technicians use tools provides a better understanding of how a tool and battery are impacted by different applications. For example, a technician at a small-vehicle service shop might pull the tool trigger 60-200 times a day, while a salvage yard worker disassembling vehicles and taking almost every bolt off might pull the tool trigger 400-500 times per day. Every trigger pull is different, based on the user, type of bolt, tightness of the fastener and how much rust and corrosion is present. By testing and analyzing these diverse elements, tool manufacturers, including Ingersoll Rand, are able to optimize their tools and how they utilize the battery.
System optimization improves tool and battery performance
Many Lithium Ion batteries last up to 12 hours on a charge, depending on the application. A single charger can work with all of the manufacturer’s tools, from wrenches and sanders, to reciprocating saws and screwdrivers.
“Technicians don’t want multiple battery chargers in their tool boxes, and now, battery chargers are interchangeable among different tools and voltages,” Travis said. “For example, Ingersoll Rand’s crossover battery charger BC1121 that’s included with the company’s 20-volt tools supports both 20-volt and 12-volt batteries with a single port. Additional practical value-adds include a USB port for charging smartphones, holes for mounting the charger to a toolbox, a detachable cord so the charger can be locked safely within a toolbox and a ‘fuel-gauge’ located on the battery for easy reference.”
One tool with variable power for diverse applications
Cordless tools deliver accurate torque for many vehicle repair and maintenance applications, including lug nuts, brake hubs, interior dashboard components, support brackets and flange bolts.
Cordless tools with multiple power and control settings can quickly loosen and tighten a variety of bolts. For example, the Ingersoll Rand W5132 Impactool has 550 foot-pounds of nut-busting torque and 365 foot-pounds of max reverse torque. This power matches the capabilities of many pneumatic impact wrenches. Tightening bolts on brake calipers, transmissions, axles and flanges that previously required a pneumatic impact tool can now be completed with a cordless impact wrench.
Using the same tool with the adjustable power set to wrench tight, the technician can tighten bolts at 10-to-24 foot-pounds of torque. With shut-off control, the tool will automatically and immediately shut down when torque has been met so bolts on parts like valve covers are not over-torqued, breaking the gasket seal.
Hard joints versus soft joints
Most power tool manufacturers focus on specific industries, and depending on the industry, will determine how well a tool handles soft and hard joints. A soft joint might entail fastening a screw into wood, while a hard joint could include bolting two pieces of metal together. Some power tools are better suited for carpenters working in construction environments with wood products, while other tools are purpose-built and tested for technicians working in vehicle service and repair environments.
“Tools designed for soft joints yet used for hard joints can become erratic and cause excess vibration in the tool and the part, potentially breaking one or the other,” Travis said. “Tools optimized for hard joints will be more stable when operating at the upper end of performance where the tool mechanism is built for more assertive and forceful action, yet, with a steady and consistent drive.”
How well a cordless tool handles these joints goes back to how manufacturer’s test and analyze their tools within controlled lab environments. By testing and analyzing tools for both the upper threshold with hard joints and lower thresholds for soft joints, they can be optimized for specific applications.
“Because of their portability, versatility, durability, power and long-lasting batteries, cordless tools are becoming the go-to devices for vehicle service and repair shops.”