You have probably already seen some of my coverage of the new tools Milwaukee announced at their recent new product symposium. If not, go ahead and check out the posts in our Milwaukee NPS15 category, or make a point to do it later. There are LOTS of great new Milwaukee tools coming out.
But what about Empire Level, which is now owned by Milwaukee Tool?
I know you recently went to the Milwaukee show, which I’m loving all the updates. But I was wondering if you are going to report about Empire Level, if they had anything new to show off. I know levels play second fiddle to power tools, I’m just wondering if there will eventually be a post about the levels–granted that they had anything to show you.
Short Answer: There will be new Empire products in 2015, and very many more in 2016.
The long answer is, well, a lot longer.
First, it was emphasized that Empire isn’t going anywhere. Right now, something like 85% of Empire tools are made in the USA, and they plan to keep it that way.
Milwaukee is pumping a LOT of money into Empire, allowing for R&D to be scaled up in a way that the former family-owned company just couldn’t support before. There’s a lot of new stuff coming out, but it’s not just about new products but about new branding. Milwaukee is a marketing powerhouse, and they’re bringing that to Empire as well.
Empire’s TrueBlue laser-etched rafter square isn’t a completely new product (the 7-inch model sells for $17 at Amazon), but new ones are coming out in August 2015. The 7-inch model looks to have received a slight redesign, and there’s also what looks to be a new 12″ model.
Do you see those framing squares that are so delicately balanced on the tool cart handle? I knocked them all down, like dominoes, right after taking this photo. Whoops!
Remember what I said about Milwaukee being a marketing powerhouse? It’s not enough for Empire’s TrueBlue combination squares to have the brand’s iconic blue-liquid-filled vials. The ruler-clamp part of the squares (is there a better word for these?) are now blue instead of black. This should help them stand out from other brands’ combination squares a lot better.
There will be new “next generation” torpedo levels that are expected to launch in March of 2016.
There will also be a new box level launching in March of 2016, but I didn’t really get a good photo of it to share. So here’s another shot of a new Empire torpedo level.
One interesting feature is that the levels will have easily removable rubber end caps. I won’t remark on the fit and finish, as it’s pretty clear this is a prototype with carved-out recess and 3D-printed plug. But overall it seemed like a great feature. I don’t recall a time when I had to use a level to make a mark in a corner, but removable end caps are one of those I’d rather have it and not need it features.
And here’s a prototype of Empire’s new UltraView LED-lit box level, which is expected to ship in April 2016.
I didn’t have the opportunity to check vial visibility in regular light, but it lit up beautifully in dim lighting. And the darned thing even has a battery fuel gauge! If it’s running low on batteries and less than 15% of charge is remaining, the vials will flash a little bit when you first turn on the level.
I expect that the new Empire UltraView level will quickly gain popularity. My only niggle is that there’s no built-in handle, but that might change before these levels ship out next year. Remember, this is only a prototype.
There was a display showing how the Empire UltraVision LED lighting system compared to single and dual LED setups. Yes, the difference really was this dramatic in person.
During the Q&A, one person asked about the future of Milwaukee’s trades-specific torpedo levels, now that they own an entire layout and measurement division. The answer was that Milwaukee would still consider levels or other layout and measurement tools that fit in with their goal of providing unique solutions for their users.
I’ve liked Empire Level for a long time now, and own a bunch of their products. Off the top of my head, I have a 36-inch ruler, a basic 48-inch level with case, a 9-inch torpedo level, a combination square or two, a 12-inch Craftsman level that I’m almost certain is made by Empire, and some random tools – a scratch awl and a glass cutter that I haven’t opened yet.
I am actually very excited about what I saw at Milwaukee’s NPS15 new product showing. They already said that we’re going to see a lot of new products in coming years, and I’m already quite excited by what I saw.
And, as a reminder, they intend to keep production here in the USA. When we first discussed the acquisition, there was a lot of worry about this. It’s good to see that Milwaukee Tool and Empire are firmly committed to their USA manufacturing base.