To the layperson, the pneumatic tools that are used in today’s garage bays have not changed much since they were introduced over a century ago. The concept of these tool powered by compressed air has not changed and the function is the same. Right!
While this may be true of the pneumatic tools that one buys in the discount tool shed hastily set up in a vacant lot in an industrial area or from the back of an unmarked truck, the new air tools made by the leading manufacturers are brimming with the latest technology and materials.
Gone are the bulky shiny cast alloy housings. They have been replaced with sleek, streamlined compact housings made of lightweight materials including magnesium, titanium and space-age composite plastic. The simple on/off button trigger is now usually a smoothly functioning variable speed trigger.
“Tools are getting smaller, using composite bodies, and are more powerful,” said Jody Baker, product marketing team manager at Matco Tools. She said that the drive for smaller equipment is made necessary by today’s automobiles that have less access to various components that need to be removed or repaired.
She said Matco has many tools that use composite housings like the new MT2814, 1/4″ Composite Ratchet. It has several interesting features for a ratchet including an ergonomic composite plastic body, a variable speed feather throttle and a moveable exhaust sleeve to direct air away from work. The ratchet can provide 45 ft. lbs. of torque. “Technicians like the variable speed control for precision work, it is very important. Another thing is that it is a quieter tool since the shop owners wanted a lower industrial level in the shop,” Barker said.
Baker also noted that the composite handle works better in a cold shop because the tool does not feel as cold as the metal ones did when working in similar conditions. This provides less fatigue for the technician.
Operator comfort is very important according to Peeter Toome, area sales manager at Chicago Pneumatic. “The focus is on compactness and durability for all the new tools that we have introduced in the last few years and what we will introduce in the upcoming year,” he said. “We are planning to launch 20 new models by 2011.”
Echoing Baker’s comment about the coldness of metal tools in a technician’s hand, he said, “the problem is obviously greater in the winter and handling cold tools becomes a problem.” Another area where he said Chicago Pneumatics spends its research and development money is of vibration dampening and controls. “We try to reduce vibration. Excessive and prolonged exposure to vibrations can lead to various issues like carpal tunnel syndrome. This is also exacerbated when working in cold conditions with cold tools.”
When designing a tool the power to weight ratio is very important according to Toome. “The lighter the tool is the less the operator will get tired and the less fatigue they will have in their hands.”
An example is the CP7749 1/2″ pneumatic impact wrench. Not only is it light at 4.37 pounds, but also it has a convenient forward/reverse switch located directly above the trigger for easier one-hand operation.
Brian Dove, senior global product marketing manager for Chicago Pneumatic, said that although the tool is light and compact, it has 725 ft. lbs. of torque. “We did a ton of research to get the trigger just right so it would work well in the shop,” he said. He added that ergonomics are helping to drive new technology, “all of the products that are coming out are smaller and more powerful than what they were even five years ago.” He said that for the shop owner it is not just to get the job done quicker but more precisely as well.
The emphasis of the industry on using exotic materials is just beginning according to Dove.
“We have just scratched the surface now with magnesium and titanium. These are the two that are popular now but they are metal,” he said. “We will have to look at materials like carbon fibre or other materials that are as hard as metal but lighter. Carbon fibre is not easy to mould with today’s technology.”
Heather Dugar, marketing manager for vehicle services channel at Ingersoll Rand, stated that the evolution of the new tools to what was being produced just a few years ago is amazing. “We have used titanium in our premium tools,” she stated. “Titanium has the strength of steel with the weight of aluminium.”
She said that their new 259 3/4″ Impactool impact wrench is, “two pounds lighter and half an inch shorter compared to its predecessors and direct competitors.” The tool weighs 8.8 pounds and has 1,050 ft. lbs. of maximum torque available from its variable speed trigger. Another feature of this tool is its ability to work well with different sizes of air hose.
“The 259 features a “rocking dog” impact mechanism that performs well with a variety of air pressures and supply conditions, eliminating the required cost of upgrading to a half-inch air line,” according to Adam Brown, global portfolio manager for impact tools and wrenches at Ingersoll Rand. “Most of the garages where this tool is used do not have half-inch airlines that typically 3/4″ impact air tools require to operate efficiently. So the tool is designed to function sufficiently on a smaller diameter air line.” He adds that, “of course you still have to have the necessary PSI and CFM in place for the tool to perform adequately.” The hose recommended for the 259 is 3/8″.
Toome from Chicago Pneumatic agrees that airflow is crucial for the pneumatic tool to work properly. The best tool will not work properly if there is a lack of airflow. “We recommend all our tools be used at 90 PSI and to make sure there is enough cfm for the full load range,” he said.
According to Toome, the main culprit that robs tools of air in most shops is the nipples that connect the tool to the hose. “We emphasize that shops should start using more full flow nipples -that you are making sure that you are not restricting the airflow. There is a tendency to use smaller nipple that will restrict the flow of air.” This simple step will make all pneumatic tools work to their full potential. “If you want more power out of the tool and more productivity out of the tool you should not restrict the airflow,” he said.