We saw lots of new tools, technologies, and accessories at Milwaukee Tool’s NPS17 – their 2017 annual new tool media event.
There was one “reveal” during a tour of Milwaukee Tool’s headquarters that I wanted to bring up for discussion.
What direction will Milwaukee go in for their future next-generation Li-ion battery packs?
Some competing brands have come out with new higher capacity battery packs based on 20700 Li-ion battery cell size. This means the cylindrical cells are 20 mm wide and 70 mm long, compared to 18 mm wide and 65 mm long for today’s extremely popular 18650 battery cell form factor.
But we’ve reached the end of the road for 18650 battery cell development. The battery cells in today’s cordless power tool battery packs are as good as they’re going to get.
So what will Milwaukee do, if they want to make anything better?
Milwaukee has considered stepping up in size to 20700 or 20650 cells for their next generation of highest capacity battery packs, but decided against it.
They will be going with 21700 cells, which add an extra 1 mm in diameter to the 20700 cells some other brands have decided to go with.
It doesn’t seem very obvious, but I’m told that 21700 cells offers more desirable balance between power output, thermal behavior, and capacity, and will allow for a longer development roadmap.
Going to 20700 sized cells, or 20650, would still be a step up from 18650 cells, but Milwaukee wants to LEAP up. They said that they don’t want to take any “half steps.”
While a difference of 1 mm in diameter – around 0.0394″ – might not seem like a big difference, I’m told that it’s enough to allow for completely different battery technologies.
There seems to be a big difference in output potential as well, especially thermal considerations. When designing or using power tool battery packs, you want those battery cells to be as cool as possible. Heat is an archenemy of battery power.
With just a little research, I see that 21700 cells seem to be more favorable for upcoming electric vehicles, as least in comparison to 20700. This industry trend seems to have shifted quite recently.
21700 cells are 3 mm wider and 5 mm longer than 18650 cells. This means battery packs will probably be larger than those built with 18650 cells. How much larger? I really don’t know, but we have seen size and weight increases when comparing on-the-market 20700-based battery packs with those built with 18650 cells.
Will these next-gen packs replace the current lineup of M18 battery packs? I really don’t think that’s likely, at least not right away.
But the price of 18650 cells might contribute to this. I was told that 18650 cells are becoming more expensive, which I assume would be due to lower demand. The electronics industry has moved more towards custom-sized LiPo packs, and it seems that major players in the electric car industry want to head in a 21700 direction.
This has the potential to be huge. If the numbers I glimpsed on some web stories are directly analogous to power tool battery packs, we could be looking at a potentially large bump up in capacity and runtime.
Right now, there are a ton of questions.
One of my concerns is this: what happens if Milwaukee comes out with a new breed of more powerful battery packs? Of course they’ll want to build new tools that take advantage of it.
Milwaukee has made it very clear that they intend for M18 tools and batteries to FOREVER be forward and backwards compatible. Yes, Steven Richman, Milwaukee Tool’s President, used that word in his NPS17 kickoff. FOREVER.
But what happens if a tool is designed for a high capacity next-gen battery and is paired up with a compact pack or XC pack? Will it operate in “tortoise” mode, as opposed to “hare” mode?
As I expected, battery discussion wasn’t on the table for the main NPS17 event, at least not these new batteries. All we were shown was a single 21700 cell, for size comparison with an 18650 cell, and that was during the tour of Milwaukee’s headquarters.
But the takeaway for me is that Milwaukee is going to push forward with an even better M18 battery pack.
I suppose this should not come as a surprise. I found a 2015 Samsung press release that mentions:
The 21700 model can have various applications other than e-bike, such as in electric tools, laptops, and more. It is expected to become the new standard in small cylindrical battery usage.
Milwaukee showed restraint in not rushing to come out battery packs built with 20700 cells. Will going to 21700-equipped packs be the right choice?
I suppose that the answer to this depends on whether 21700-equipped batteries are as good as they’re being hyped up to be.
I had really thought we would see the introduction of a double-battery M18 cordless table saw, but we didn’t. I got the feeling that Milwaukee is hesitant to expand towards 2-battery tools.
They are coming out with a 2-battery LED site light, but that’s for greater runtime. Perhaps the One-Key software will “phone home” to tell Milwaukee whether users prefer to power it with 1 battery or 2 (for longer runtime).
How do you think Milwaukee will launch their next-generation battery pack? Will there just be one offering at the highest capacity end (10Ah? 12Ah?), or perhaps they will come out with all new battery packs with higher capacities across the board.
What do you WANT to see in Milwaukee’s next generation battery packs?