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Hilti's Konstantin Fedin uses hand tool batteries to power a vehicle

Konstantin Fedin demonstrates the power of Hilti’s cordless hand tool batteries by using them to power an electrified Hilti vehicle

Hilti distributes a wide variety of cordless hand tools.
Hilti distributes a wide variety of cordless hand tools.

On every major project, there comes a time when the earthmoving and lifting equipment steps aside and the powered hand tools come to the fore.

From the operators that come in after the structure of a building is up to thread the utilities and MEP through the concrete to the finishers who come in to install the windows, walls, floors and ceilings, a project might see thousands of hand tools at work.

Hilti is a premium supplier of hand tools ranging from nail guns to hydraulic hammers. It also offers a wide range of cordless tools, which still represent a minority segment in the region, but one which Hilti is keen to promote.

In April 2016, Hilti introduced a new battery range for its hand tools that nearly doubled their capacity from a 1.6Ah (Ampere-hours) to 3.3Ah range, to a 2.6Ah to 5.2Ah range.

This development in turn inspired Konstantin Fedin, the area sales manager for interior finishing at Hilti Emirates, to think outside of the box and embark on a rather colourful project to demonstrate the versatility and capacity of Hilti’s hand tool batteries by fitting out a car to run on the power cells.

Fedin notes: “For the last year and a half I was responsible for cordless tools, and with the introduction of the new batteries, I thought: ‘What can I do differently to show them the superiority of the batteries?’ My aim was to inspire the marketing team, so that they could sell to the customers, and believe it.

“The idea is that Hilti has a wide range of tools operated on those same batteries. It’s the versatility of being able to take the battery from one tool, and simply put it on another tool and have it work — so I just decided to top up the range of the construction tools with one more item that can use those batteries.”

PEDAL TO THE METAL

With Hilti’s backing, Fedin spent the last nine months first exploring the possibilities and subsequently working weekends alongside his formal duties to develop a system that could adapt Hilti hand tool batteries to power a car.

It took some experimentation, but the result is a Peugeot 2016 with two electric motors — one mounted directly on each rear wheel — and powered by eight batteries, four apiece.

Fedin details: “The electric motors are mounted on the rear wheels, and from the batteries there is a programmable controller which takes the energy in a smart way from the batteries and delivers them to the motors.”

Early on, the big challenge for the project was the weight of the vehicle, as Fedin notes: “I mounted one motor first, but it was a bit overloaded, so I mounted the second one.”

Fedin was able to remove the entire Peugeot 2016 powertrain, including the engine, gearbox and conventional rear axles. He also removed the rear seats to further reduce the weight.

Upon its completion, he recalls: “When I was introducing this car inside of my company, I parked the car in front of them, they all crowded around, I opened the front hood, and there was a big hole there — there was no front engine, and then I opened the back side, and there were the batteries.”

In the end, Fedin used two sets of four 22V batteries — one for each of the motors — and two controllers that could operate in the range from 40V to 120V, placing the 88V combined capacity squarely in the optimum range.

The batteries themselves are installed on the multi-bay charger designed by Hilti to recharge the power cells, but with the system reversed by Fedin to deliver energy instead.

The result is a vehicle with an operational range of around 10km, based on Fedin’s testing of the car at Hilti’s Dubai Investments Park premises, where he notes: “I tried it for around 1km, and it didn’t show any discharge.”

Moving forward, Fedin plans to take the vehicle to Hilti’s twice yearly events, to which it invites thousands of customers.

The point of this exercise, Fedin repeats, was to demonstrate the versatility and power capacity of Hilti’s hand tool battery range, and which on site can be used to power anything from a rotary hammer up to an angle grinder.

Fedin adds: “The plan is to use this car to inspire the people in marketing by showing them that our batteries can move something much larger than a construction tool.”

GOING CORDLESS

That capacity is critical on the jobsite, where cordless tools square off against corded rivals that have an unrestricted energy supply.

According to Fedin, however, cordless tool operations are not only not a problem, but a superior solution on the jobsite to corded tools.

He explains: “The battery powered hand tools that we are making available right now have the same if not more power than the corded tool, and the weight is more or less the same. The batteries provides the power for the whole day, so you don’t need to think of charging those batteries over the day.

He continues: “You can discharge the battery within one hour if you intensively use it, but this is not the reality on the site. When a customer asks me this question, I ask them: ‘How many anchors do you secure a day?’ And they tell me 100 anchors, and I tell them: ‘This rotary hammer will make 250 holes for you on one battery, which is way more than one day for you.’ And then the question is over.”

Battery life is also a function of how smart the tool is, as Fedin notes:  “Between the different brands you will find that the same battery capacity will provide you with different durations of application, depending on the tool itself — the electronics plays a very big role.”

Beyond capacity, Fedin highlights: “If you look back 20 years, everybody had a phone with a wire; now everybody has a phone without a wire, and everything is very mobile. The same thing is now happening on the jobsite. Currently, you have electric tools, and to move here and there, you need cord extensions — even 100m cord extensions —when you go from one floor to another floor.

“And when a concrete block hits a wire, or someone on a different floor takes the plug out, your tool no longer works — and you can spend a lot of time every day on the site making sure that your tools are running.”

And when the batteries do charge down, not only are they immediately interchangeable, but the can be rapidly charged back up.

Fedin continues: “These are the fastest charging batteries in construction. You can charge the 2.6Ah battery in just 25 minutes, and the 5.2Ah one, as little 35 minutes with an express charger — so after just over half an hour, you can recharge anything.”

LOCAL RECEPTION

The hand tool business is booming in the local market, where Fedin notes that “last year there was triple digit growth even in this segment, and we have experienced very solid double digit growth this year — across all categories”.

As for cordless tools, internationally the segment accounts for up to 50% of all hand tools in countries such as France, and Fedin sees considerable room for growth in the GCC region, not least because the ability of the product to get around power issues on site.

He notes: “If you have a mains supply to the site, it’s okay; but if you don’t, then you need a generator, and then you have to maintain the generator and store fuel. And the whole story becomes very complicated if something happens to the generator.

“Finally, the price premium on cordless tools versus corded is not that much — you can easily justify it. If you compare like for like, it’s probably twice the price, but if you look at what else you need to use your corded tool: the cord extensions and the time wastage — you will easily end up paying less using cordless.”

Fedin estimates that cordless devices now account for around 10% of the hand tool market in the region, and notes: “Now, people are seeing the value of it, and in several years, perhaps by 2020, it’s going to be twice that.”

He adds that, a few years ago, “there were only very small drills available with batteries, and now there are already combi-hammers and big drills with chiselling functions available with batteries. So bigger tools are becoming battery powered every year.”

Hilti is also already experiencing higher than average sales in its cordless categories, and in the light tool category specifically, 25% to 30% of its sales are now cordless.

The benefits of cordless tools also fit into a broader range of benefits associated with Hilti’s tools. This includes its introduction in August of a screwdriver fed by a feed of collated screws in a strap, which can vastly cut the time taken for a worker to position screws.

Talking with customers, Fedin notes: “When they ask how much the collated screws are, it is usually twice the price, but it allows you to work twice as fast on your application.”

For the fit-out of Abu Dhabi’s Midfield Terminal, he notes there are “600 people driving those screws every day — so if they can speed up they can save a lot on the labour costs”.

Hilti offers a two-year, no-cost service for wear and tear on the tools, with free pick-up from the jobsite. After two years, the firm promises to do all repairs within three days, and a free service if the process is delayed.

Whether for its cordless tools or its other range, Hilti’s pitch relies on customers seeing a future for their tools beyond the short life of a project, and that is a trend it sees continuing.

Fedin adds: “More and more I see people moving towards total cost of ownership, and considering that they can transfer tools on from one project to another project.”

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