When it Comes to Tools, What’s Next?
Manufacturers aim to stay ahead of all the moving parts in the tools marketplace
No matter the industry and no matter the product or service being discussed, everyone wants to know what’s next. It’s human nature to keep at least one eye peeking over the horizon and wonder what may soon be possible, even if it isn’t quite at our fingertips already. Complacency, especially in the evolving world of HVAC, is a path toward consumer abandonment for manufacturers.
This reality holds particularly true in the tools marketplace as recent trends have allowed tools to become more diverse, intelligent, and capable of innovations previously thought impossible.
Corey Dickert, vice president of product management, Milwaukee Electric Tool Corp., said it’s an interesting age in the trades right now. There’s a labor shortage, and the amount of people going into the trades is not going to keep up with demand, so people are looking for ways to make all of their employees more efficient and, obviously, better on job sites.
And as manufacturers attempt to stay at the forefront of today’s trends, they also attempt to navigate the uncertain waters of tomorrow.
WHERE WE STAND
Brain Painting, product manager, electrical testers, Fluke Corp., summarized the current state of the tools market as safer, simpler, and faster.
“The tool user’s world is becoming continually more complex,” he said. “HVACR controls are part of the Internet of Things [IoT]; lighting now consists of a mix of incandescent, fluorescent, and LED models; and energy efficiency is a constant area of improvement. Hand tools that can help simplify this maze of technology will make the user’s job easier.”
Similar changes are also being seen in the digital tools arena.
Christopher Mohalley, training manager, Regal Beloit Corp., said, “In relation to digital/online tools, there are more tools/devices that combine a component that physically connects to HVAC components or system parameters, such as airflow, air properties, and refrigerant pressure/temperature, and communicate wirelessly to smartphone apps.”
It’s also worth noting that manufacturers generally agree on some principles of the marketplace that will always be present regardless of what major changes may be shifting.
“It will always be about precision and accuracy as a kind of theme within HVAC as well as reliability, which crosses over into digital tools too,” said Lesley Atkinson, product manager for hilmor. “For example, we recently launched a digital torque wrench that is highlighted in the mini-split market. It takes the guesswork out of the traditional torque wrench that you would use when working on a mini-split unit.
“It has buzzers to let you know when you have reached the proper amount of torque that was specified by the unit manufacturer, and it also lights up when you are approaching that amount,” Atkinson continued. “Even if the technician’s view is obstructed from the area they are working on, they are still going to be able to know when they approach the specified torque.”
For hilmor, removing guesswork is one of the most important aspects of helping technicians on the job site.
Dickert highlighted the importance of constant engagement with the people who interact with the products.
“We are interested in defining problems and finding the right solution,” he said. “You have to keep a watchful eye on the technology curve that is available.”
A PEEK OVER THE HORIZON
As Dickert said, it’s critically important to understand what technology is available, but it’s also important to stay ahead of developments in the marketplace and realize where the industry may be going next.
“We have transformed the company from ‘power tool provider’ to a partner that looks at large industry problems and acquires the technology to attack them,” said Dickert. “There are a couple big trends on our end, and one is the evolution of the Milwaukee battery platform over the past few years, where when you tailored something to the trade, it meant you had a tubing cutter, metal saw, or band saw on your battery platform. Now, battery platforms are massive, and it’s really about how deep you are in each category, whether you are talking about concrete or installation tooling. People are selecting their first product based on the fact that they will have 35 other tools that work on the same unified platform.”
According to Dickert, having that unified battery platform has created the need to branch out beyond anything seen before.
“You are seeing an increased level of connectivity,” he said. “The IoT is a major trend across many industries, but you cannot just apply it to anything and be innovative. We have taken a unique approach to it where it is not just providing information about the connected devices, it specializes benefits to each product it is utilized in and holistically enables tracking and security that the contractor base has never had the ability to do efficiently. Beyond that, the One-Key platform interacts directly with our tools but also interacts with everything else you have.”
The use of measurement data to avoid breakdowns is one area Fluke sees the market evolving in the next few years.
“The ability to measure, store, and analyze maintenance data is now possible with simple handheld tools and a smartphone,” said Painting. “For HVACR technicians, this means they can use the same types of tools with which they already have familiarity and improve their ability to identify problems before they turn into a catastrophic failure.”
Painting used Fluke’s 279 FC Thermal Multimeter as an example of how the market is evolving.
“Results from the 279 FC can be sent to the cloud for long-term storage, retrieval, and analysis,” he said. “This includes thermal images that are performed as a first check for unusual readings. A thermal scan can be made of an entire area. If anything appears out of the ordinary or different from prior readings — usually indicated by a hot spot — the 279 FC can then be used to perform troubleshooting tasks. Afterwards, another thermal scan can verify that the work is complete, and the hot spot is gone.”
As digital awareness continues to rise, Atkinson noted the importance of ensuring products remain durable and capable on the job site.
“These products will be used outdoors, in crawl spaces, and in a wide range of hot and cold environments,” she said. “They need to remain accurate and reliable for technicians.”
Painting said Fluke lives by the phrase, customers talk, we listen, and combines that with state-of-the-art engineering.
“We devote a very high number of hours to working with our customers to understand their needs before we start building new products,” he added. “Our engineers can then turn the customer pain points into groundbreaking new products.”
It looks as if groundbreaking new products will continue to be the name of the game in hand tools for the foreseeable future, and manufacturers are fully preparing for whatever the next big thing might be.
Publication date: 11/6/2017