2022 is going to be a pivotal year in the cordless power tool industry. What is Milwaukee Tool going to do, to keep up with competitor advancements?
Dewalt PowerStack – a stacked lithium pouch battery – is off to a very strong start, and they surely have higher capacity battery sizes on their road map. Dewalt also has their higher-voltage FlexVolt cordless system.
Flex has come out with a trio of new Stacked Lithium batteries. While Flex is a relative newcomer, the company behind the brand is not. According to recent promotional materials, Flex’s Stacked Lithium batteries have been in development for 5 years.
Makita broke through the power and performance limits of their 18V cordless power tool system by launching XGT, an 18V-form factor 36V/40V Max system. Makita accomplishes higher power delivery with dual-battery power for tools that need it.
Bosch has their 18V Profactor system, although they don’t seem to be doing much with it.
Metabo HPT has MultiVolt, a hybrid 36V/18V battery system.
Milwaukee’s last major cordless battery technology advancement came in 2019, 2-1/2 years ago, when they announced their MX Fuel cordless equipment system. However, MX Fuel is distinctly a line of cordless equipment, rather than the mainly handheld and benchtop tools found in typical cordless power tool systems.
Milwaukee’s most powerful and highest capacity battery is their High Output HD 12.0 Ah battery.
Where will Milwaukee go next?
In addition to Dewalt recently launching their most compact 20V Max battery ever with PowerStack, they have also come out with their largest and highest capacity FlexVolt battery ever, with a 15Ah charge capacity.
Meanwhile, in the red corner, there’s… nothing? Not exactly.
Milwaukee has a new M18 dual battery cordless mower coming out this spring. They also announced a new line of cordless shop vacuums and AirTip accessories. The two larger-sized vacuums will be powered by a dual-battery motor head.
So is Milwaukee going the dual-battery route? Not exactly.
Milwaukee’s M18 Radius Site Light worklight features a dual battery bay, and it can operate off of 1 battery, or 2 in sequence. While not the same as the dual-battery mower or vacuums that require the use of two batteries, dual-battery potential was always there.
I don’t think that “M18 X2” is going to be an emerging solution. They could have done this all along, but chose not to.
With tools like a mower or shop vacuum, having to use two batteries is a compromise.
Dewalt and Flex are taking their own routes towards higher energy density and power delivery.
The 18650-sized Li-ion cells hit a power and performance barrier at 3Ah. There’s a reason why most brands’ 5-cell 18V-class batteries stop at 2.5Ah, and their 10-cell batteries stop at 5.0Ah.
21700-sized Li-ion cells are larger, but offer higher charge capacities and power delivery levels. Most brands seem to have stopped with 4.0Ah or 5.0Ah cells in 5-, 10-, and 15-cell configurations.
Dewalt’s Flexvolt and 20V Max-compatible 15Ah battery is not built the same as their 12Ah battery, meaning they did not simply take the 12Ah form factor and swap the 4Ah cells for 5Ah cells.
Milwaukee does not need to go larger. They have MX Fuel for that. They can also utilize a dual-battery M18 interface for tools that could benefit from it without mobility compromises.
The spotlight will increasingly focus on the handheld tool space.
While Dewalt’s initial PowerStack battery offering has a meager 1.7Ah charge capacity, it’s a sprinter with lots of muscle.
Flex has 3 new batteries – 3.5Ah, 6.0Ah, and 10.0Ah. They have Dewalt and Milwaukee beat with respect to theoretical power limits.
Milwaukee M18 High Output batteries punch above their weight classes. Meaning, an HO compact (5-cell) battery is more on par with an XC (10-cell) battery built with “standard” 18650 cells, an HO XC (10-cell) battery is on par with an HD (15-cell) battery, and an HO XC battery (12Ah, 15-cell) provides the highest possible performance level.
According to the numbers, Flex’s new Stacked Lithium batteries are delivering yet another level of improvements.
The comparison isn’t exactly fair, as Flex has a 24V Max system with a base configuration of 6 cells, compared to the 5-cells of 18V and 20V Max systems.
All this is to say that Milwaukee seems to be facing a situation where they could be left behind as other brands charge ahead.
Milwaukee announced their M18 HD 9Ah battery in 2015, one year before Dewalt came out with their FlexVolt system. They are used to pushing boundaries.
I remember talking with a Milwaukee product manager about FlexVolt’s then-still-incoming 9Ah battery, which was described as being engineered with 20700-sized Li-ion cells. When would Milwaukee come out with their own next-gen higher performance M18 battery?
At the time, Milwaukee was not considering 20700, but had their sights set on 21700, which was forecast as a potential industry standard due to Tesla and other battery-makers’ interest.
Milwaukee has been able to advance and upgrade their battery tech over the years, with product managers more than once attributing their consistent compatibility to early-on flexible and forward-thinking engineering. It’s possible luck has also been a factor.
I have received numerous questions about if, when, and how Milwaukee might respond to cordless competitors’ battery tech advancements.
I don’t know.
What I do know is that it seems stacked lithium pouch-style battery cells provide a clear forward-charging path, and this new tech will likely break through current power and performance limits.
Dewalt’s new PowerStack battery is small, but it’s just the start. Flex’s new batteries will set new expectations and benchmarks.
What is Milwaukee going to do about it?
Right now, they’re quiet about everything. But, that’s the Milwaukee Tool way. They hold things close and work at their own pace.
Dewalt tipped their hand with PowerStack, but didn’t quite show all of their cards yet. Flex has everything on display, but they’re not playing at the same table yet.
I don’t know what Milwaukee is working on, whether pouch-style M18 batteries or something different, but I have faith that they’re working on something.
It has been 3 years since Milwaukee launched CP 3.0Ah and XC 8.0Ah batteries, and 4 years since they launched their 12.0Ah battery. It has been nearly 3 years since they first announced the MX Fuel line of cordless equipment.
What do you think Milwaukee Tool has been doing since then?
I can tell you that, pandemic-related disruptions notwithstanding, they haven’t been resting on their laurels. They’re not twiddling their thumbs. They’re not biding their time.
Milwaukee isn’t “in trouble,” and they’re not “falling behind.”
It seems that pouch-style lithium battery packs are the future, but there could be other paths that aren’t obvious yet. Either way, I’m sure Milwaukee will show their hand when ready.
Cordless power tool tech is changing. I am sure Milwaukee is are working on something, it’s just a question of when they’ll be ready to reveal it.
Milwaukee tends to be cautious and calculated. They could have went the higher voltage route, but didn’t. Yes, MX Fuel is a higher voltage system, but it’s not a handheld tool system. They could have went with a dual battery option, and they have done this for select tools.
With High Output, Milwaukee didn’t just build batteries around larger format Li-ion cells, they pushed new advancements, such as with custom power management ICs to help deliver higher current levels.
Milwaukee tends to have remarkably low turnover at the management level, which means the company’s path has been charted by quite a few of the same people who have been there when M18 first launched.
Just because we don’t know what Milwaukee is working on, that doesn’t mean they’re sitting on their hands. I trust that big things are coming.
What do you think Milwaukee’s next M18 advancement might look like – pouch-style batteries, or something else?