Getting the most power out of lithium-ion has been an ongoing arms race in the world of power tools in the past few years, and Milwaukee Tool just launched another major offensive in the battery wars. The MX FUEL line of tools—which includes a breaker and a 14-in. cutoff saw—are designed to tackle jobs that normally require tools running off gasoline engines or air compressors.
“With MX FUEL, Milwaukee Tool is now a light equipment provider,” says Brian Alves, Milwaukee group product manager. The tool manufacturer previously had been pushing the limits of its 18-volt M18 battery platform, but Alves says the firm needed to move to a larger profile and voltage to get enough power out of lithium-ion batteries.
In addition to the cutoff saw and breaker, the initial MX FUEL lineup also includes a coring drill, a 10-ft light tower, a sewer drum machine and a stand-alone power supply. There are two batteries for the MX FUEL line: a standard battery that is designed to fit in-line with the tool’s shape, and a slightly larger XC battery that boasts a longer runtime. The standard battery recharges in 45 minutes, the XC battery in 90 minutes.
The tools will initially launch in February 2020, with the light tower and power supply coming later in the spring. Milwaukee has not announced final pricing, but Alves confirms the MX FUEL line will command a premium.
Ensuring that these tools perform at levels comparable to those running off a gas engine or an air compressor took some serious work, according to Alves. “ ‘Why hasn’t anybody done this before?’ Because it was really, really hard!”
After shadowing various building trades workers to see how they used the tools on the job, Alves team had to rethink how they were developing the tools. “We wanted to put a battery on a cutoff saw with a water supply and concrete slurry everywhere,” he recalls. “We decided we needed a long time in development to ensure that everything is bullet-proof.”
According to Alves, these initial tools are only the first of a planned broad selection of battery-powered light equipment. “This range will be the focus for 2020, similar to how we launched M12 and M18 back in 2008,” he says. “But we’re attacking gas-powered [tools] across the board.”
“It’s groundbreaking stuff,” says Scott Sharun, procurement manager with PCL Construction, which ran trials of the tools. “When we look at the tools in industrial construction that limit us—like air tools and gas tools—this is a big deal.”
Sharun tried out prototypes of the MX FUEL breaker, cutoff saw and the coring drill on real jobsites. PCL’s users expected the battery-powered tools to struggle under harder applications, but were pleasantly surprised, says Sharun. “Our testing group felt like the torque was better than their gas counterparts in some cases.” PCL ran its trials of the tools on jobsites in northern Canada, where the cold can affect performance of gas-powered tools. “We didn’t experience any issue with using them in the cold. Gas engines are just a pain to use in the cold.”
The runtimes of the tools exceeded the charging times in most tests, so as long as Sharun’s team had extra batteries on the charger they could keep working indefinitely. But more importantly, not having to worry about lugging around air compressors or setting up refueling schedules changed the way PCL was able to work. “When we work on large projects we have a centralized tool area, so being able to move the tool to the work face and not bring a gas can or lug air hoses everywhere—it’s a big deal for us,” he says.
The lack of cleanup when working with battery tools is another benefit on industrial sites, adds Sharun. “We’re working on sensitive sites, lots of environmental regulations,” he explains. “Something as simple as a gas-powered cutoff saw creates the need for spill kits and spill containment, not to mention we have to drain it first if we’re going to ship it.” From a tool and equipment management perspective, Sharun is sold on the concept. “We plan on getting these out [to our jobsites] as soon as they are available and we have a need for it.”