AS SEEN IN INDUSTRIAL SUPPLY
By Susan Orenga
These days, most power tools have “cut the cord” and run on rechargeable batteries. This simple fact, however, can have a ripple effect on procurement. Here’s how.
Power tools are part of a delicately balanced system. At the heart of the power tool system is the relationship between the tool, its battery, and the battery charger.
Tool users will sometimes need to be reminded of this because cheap and easy to find counterfeit or knock-off batteries have flooded the market. If your customer goes it alone and tries to source power tool batteries online, it could be a safety risk for your customer.
That’s where industrial supply partners come in. Becoming a partner in your customer’s long-term power tool experience means understanding the science behind battery safety and being able to help customers appreciate the risk.
The Science of Cross Talk
Today’s cordless power tools are much more complex than those of the past. Most have built-in electronics that let the battery and tool “talk” to one another in real-time. There are also additional electronic communications that happen between the battery and the charger. When original manufacturers design a battery-operated tool system, they select the specific cell and other components to create a system that delivers energy as efficiently as possible.
This is why only the original equipment manufacturer’s system components can be used together: tool, battery, and charger. Each manufacturer has its own unique control circuitry that allows the system to communicate properly. This is what controls critical functions, such as cell balance, energy levels, flow of energy in/out, and temperatures.
The Power Tool Institute, the leading industry organization, says the only way to be certain a power tool has the right interaction with its battery and battery charger is to make sure all three are made by the same manufacturer and designed to work together as a system. Using a battery or an adapter that purports to allow battery-switching between brands may disturb this delicate balance.
Understanding Lithium-ion (Li-Ion)
Some might wonder why good chemistry even matters for power tools. But when you look inside, you see that it gets to the very heart of what makes a power tool run safely and efficiently.
For many years, the chemistry used in power tool batteries was commonly nickel metal hydride (Ni-MH) and nickel cadmium (Ni-Cd). In recent years, the industry has made an almost universal conversion to lithium-ion (Li-Ion) batteries. Li-Ion batteries provide higher energy density (amount of energy for its size), lower-toxicity materials, no “memory effect” (the phenomenon in which a battery holds less of a charge the more it is recharged), and slow rate of self-discharge (losing charge while in storage).
The benefits of Li-Ion technology have allowed higher-demand tools to be battery-powered and provide significantly more work-per-charge. This extended capability, combined with the portability of battery-powered tools, has resulted in a dramatic increase in battery use.
But consider that, by design, a battery must direct its energy along defined pathways in a controlled manner. Because the Li-Ion battery contains more energy, it is critical to make sure that its energy does not find a different, uncontrolled path. This could cause contact with caustic chemicals, burns from escaping chemicals, fire, or even an explosion.
For this reason, tool-battery-charger systems are designed and rigorously tested by power tool manufacturers. Because power tool battery packs contain high amounts of stored energy, original equipment manufacturers manage this energy storage and release by employing a sophisticated battery management system. The system allows electronic communication between system components so that proper charge and discharge levels are achieved during use. Because each system may be unique, the system’s electronics may exist in the battery, in the power tools, and/or battery chargers. The electronics may also be split amongst the various system components they are designed and intended to be used in.
Knock-off and counterfeit batteries do not contain the proper electronics. The battery, charger and tools of different manufacturers also aren’t designed to communicate with each other. The use of either a third-party battery or a battery adapter may bypass the systems elements contained in tools or chargers, which can create a potentially dangerous situation. For these reasons, the Power Tool Institute recommends using only the original equipment manufacturer’s battery, tool, and charger together; never using third-party or knock-off batteries; and avoiding battery adapters that claim to allow different batteries to be used across tool brands.
Every company says it values safety. Many even say it’s their top priority. But just how seriously do they take it?
Purchasing a power tool battery from an unknown seller without having any verification of the seller’s qualifications or experience, or of the battery’s construction or testing or certification, can lead to an unsatisfying – and potentially unsafe – experience.
As scammers leverage vulnerabilities in the global supply chain to sell cheap and possibly dangerous fakes, even the FBI has issued a warning about these fraudulent practices.
What may look like a well-made counterfeit or knock-off seems reassuring, but what really matters is what’s on the inside. Because each OEM has its own proprietary control circuitry, which is not available to third-party component suppliers, it is virtually impossible for any knock-off battery to match the quality, performance, and safety of OEM equipment. What seems to work well out of the box may deliver dire consequences later.
Even the product’s packaging doesn’t always tell the full story. Makers of knock-offs sometimes use colors and typefaces similar to those of the recognized brands specifically to create confusion.
Purchasing batteries from authorized dealers might be slightly more expensive, but it is infinitely safer. Be suspicious of any price that seems too good to be true. It probably is.
For more tips on buying safe, authentic power tool batteries, visit https://www.takechargeofyourbattery.com/.