PERFORMANCE VS. TORQUE

Three major tool manufacturers, Bosch, DeWalt, and Milwaukee– all PTI members that have so far failed to implement the voluntary procedures – argue that torque alone is an inadequate method of comparison. The companies claim that their own individual testing methodologies provide buyers with a better means of measuring a tool's actual performance.

However, while each of these tests may be a valid way to determine a tool's performance, the problem tool buyers face is that there is no way to compare these various testing methods to one another and therefore no way to compare tools. The PTI voluntary procedures– which requires that all tools be tested in the same way to the same criteria on the same test equipment– is an attempt to level the playing field and provide buyers with at least one point of comparable measurement from tool to tool.

And even though the noncomplying manufacturers vigorously defend their own test procedures, they also appear to accept the idea that a single procedure – and most likely the PTI voluntary procedures– will eventually win out. Still, none of them seems to be in any hurry to get there.

"All manufacturers need to comply" with the PTI procedures, said Andrew Gongola of Milwaukee Electric Tools, "but we need to work it into our overall product-line strategy. We need to educate our customers– we can't just throw new numbers at them."

Tom Baldwin, group product manager for cordless drills and drivers at DeWalt, agreed that multiple procedures could confuse tool buyers. But, he added, "we think the PTI method is a step in the right direction and a more accurate way to measure torque than previously used. We're happy that the industry is talking about this issue.

I don't want you to think we're not going to use this. We're evaluating it pretty heavily."

Randall Coe, vice president of marketing with Bosch, came at the issue from a different perspective. He insisted that the PTI voluntary procedures do not go far enough. In particular, he said, the PTI test does not take into account the "variability" of lithium-ion battery tools.

As Coe explained it, lithium-ion batteries may be a big improvement over nicad and niMH batteries in terms of power, runtime, and recyclability, but they're also inherently less stable. To counter this, manufacturers have each developed sophisticated electronic power-management circuitry for tools that use these batteries

"We are all for a standard that puts everyone on a level playing field, but the PTI voluntary procedure is incomplete," said Coe. "It needs to address the variability of lithium ion. We started talking about this process around the time when everyone was using nicads, and it was all very simple. Lithium ion has created a whole other set of variables. We have asked PTI to reopen the voluntary procedures and discuss this at the next meeting."

This argument, if true, has not deterred Hilti or Makita from testing their tools to the PTI voluntary procedures . Three of the six tools Makita lists with PTI torque ratings– and four of the six Hilti tools– are powered with lithium ion.

As for the claim that buyers are better served by having tools rated on individual manufacturer performance procedures rather than by a common torque procedure, Hilti and Makita counter that there is no reason manufacturers can't provide both.

"We always list 'maximum torque' and then we have our PTI torque listing," said Makita's Haughawout. "Until everyone adopts the PTI voluntary procedures, we're going to continue to list both. Hopefully, the pro tool user isn't just looking at one spec."

Chetalet at Hilti concurred. "We always tested to the ISO European 'electric screwdriver' standards in the absence of U.S. standards. When there aren't consistent standards, it's more difficult for the buyer and it's harder for us to explain." Hilti now lists its drill and driver tools' PTI torque first, followed by maximum torque in both "hard joint" and "soft joint" measurements. The new catalog explains each of these testing methods and the PTI torque procedure in detail, and includes the logo that certifies compliance (Click here to see excerpt).

Although none of the manufacturers interviewed wished to directly contest another manufacturer's position on this question, Haughawout took issue with the fact that his company's competitors are holding back while claiming to support voluntary procedures they helped create.

"Every manufacturer agreed to test by these voluntary procedures," he said. "When we developed them we didn't know what our torque numbers would be.

If our torque didn't come up well compared to others, we might have had to go back and improve our product. But we signed off on the agreement like the others did, and we're the only ones posting it. Everyone should just say, 'Here's our numbers' and go ahead and market them."

Even the bystanders in this industry seem perplexed by the conflict. "We're a conservative company, so we're waiting to see where the market is going," said Rick Bush of Festool. "But torque is only one measurement. I wonder why all the people on the PTI board wouldn't just implement it."

Mike Morris is a Tools of the Trade contributing editor.