Marking milestones is important, and the milestones in one company’s history show how its technological innovations improved the power tool industry. For Metabo Corp., 2021 marks 50 years of establishing new and better ways of metalworking in the United States. Metabo entered the North American market in 1971 when it began operations in Long Island City, N.Y. By 1982, the company had moved to its current U.S. headquarters in Philadelphia.
It was in 1923, though, that the company began with Albert Schnitzler building the first egg beater-type hand drill in Nürtingen, Germany. Schnitzler did not have a facility to manufacture the drill, but his friend Julian Kloss had a brewery with an extra room. Together, they started Schnitzler GmbH and began producing a variety of hand-driven tools. Later in the 1920s, they hired Walter Rauch, who became their first sales and marketing person and the one to put the company on the map throughout Europe. In 1928, they changed the name to Metabowerke or Metabo Works.
Over the years, several developments helped the company grow. In 1934, Metabo produced its first electric hand-held drill, and it went from there. By 1936, Metabo had manufactured its first geared chuck, and a bench grinder came a year later. Twenty years on, the company developed the production of a hammer drill for use on concrete or brick materials.
Today, the company focuses on professional-grade metalworking and woodworking tools and tools for the concrete industry. Metabo offers a complete line of power tools, abrasives and tooling products which, in the U.S. market, are sold exclusively through professional distribution.
The main headquarters and production facility is still located in Nürtingen with the other main production facility located in Shanghai, China. Worldwide, Metabo employs more than 2,000 people, 1,200 of whom are based in Nürtingen. With more than 25 international subsidiaries, Metabo products are available in almost any country around the globe.
Over the decades, Metabo has introduced a series of patents and innovations to the industry, including in the areas of safety and cordless technology. Today, the company holds more than 700 patents in the power tool industry.
In 1966, Metabo introduced the first small angle grinder that included the S-automatic safety clutch, one of the biggest safety innovations in the industry. The invention protects operators
from excessive kickback. This is the No 1. safety issue concerning angle grinders, according to Terry Tuerk, senior product manager, who has been with the company for 23 years.
“This was the first small angle grinder,” Tuerk says. “Until then, angle grinders were 7-in.- and 9-in.-dia. heavy tools. But the small angle grinder could be held with one hand. And the safety slip clutch meant that if the wheel or disc would bind in the material, the clutch would allow slippage so it would reduce the reaction torque and allow the operator to remain in control of the tool. Because it limits the torque built up within the tool as the wheel binds, it also helps to prevent the wheel from shattering.
“Even today, Metabo is the only manufacturer of angle grinders that has a true mechanical safety slip clutch built into the tool,” he adds.
Another important safety feature was the mechanical brake on the angle grinder developed in 2012. The mechanical brake stops the wheel or disc within 2 sec. For a tool without the brake, it can take anywhere from 8 to 12 sec. before it spins down. That is unless the operator takes the dangerous step of stubbing out the wheel on the workpiece first.
“The mechanical brake greatly enhances the safety of the tool because if the operator loses control of the tool, the brake stops the wheel,” Tuerk says, “either preventing or mitigating injury that might result from that spinning wheel.”
Another area of safety that is gaining traction is the tethering of tools, for which Metabo has also developed a solution.
“Tethering is not mandated yet by OSHA, but we understand that it is coming,” Tuerk says. “Anytime someone is working more than 6 ft. off of the ground, they will have to tether that power tool, or any tools, to the platform on which they are working. It’s only been the last 10 years or so that there’s been an industry focus on preventing tools from falling.”
On the ergonomics side, Metabo started to develop anti-vibration technology in the early 2000s. The anti-vibration side handle absorbs the vibration created by the wheel or disc or other accessory. In the later 2000s, Metabo developed an auto-balance feature built onto the spindle of the tool that helped to offset vibration created by the accessory.
Reducing vibration makes the tool much more comfortable to operate longer without fatigue. And overall, it lowers the risk of long-term problems such as carpal tunnel and hand vibration syndromes.
Another feature that offers ergonomic benefits is in the side handle design on the angle grinder.
“The handle is offset 15 degrees to the front,” Tuerk says, “whereas most competitors have the handle placed at 90 degrees. The reason for the offset is that if you hold the grinder in the proper position, your wrist is straight versus at 90 degrees where the wrist is bent. This is a small thing, but it provides a much more comfortable operation of the tool and can help prevent things like carpal tunnel syndrome.”
Cut the cord
Cordless technology, including the battery development, is also an area of focus for Metabo. Two hundred of the 700 patents that have come in the last 10 to 15 years are based around cordless technology.
“Metabo has a very strong position in the technology of lithium-ion battery packs,” Tuerk says. “Many of the patents are involved with the charging and discharging of the lithium-ion battery pack and how the pack communicates with the charger and how it communicates with the tools.”
In 1986, Metabo developed its first cordless tool. It was actually a range of tools powered by one drill, which became the base for whatever the tool would become. The battery technology at the time used nickel cadmium, or NiCad, cells. While the best technology at the time, NiCad has both energy retention issues, as well as environmental issues.
But it was in 2005 that its first lithium-ion battery pack was developed, which offered huge advances over nickel cadmium and nickel metal hydride batteries.
“It was good battery technology for the time, but it did have some drawbacks,” Tuerk says. “Nickel cadmium has what is called ‘memory effect.’ As the battery pack wears down, if you don’t discharge it completely before putting it onto a charger, it will start to remember the range that it was used in so you lose the full capacity of the battery pack. It wouldn’t be unusual to only have 50 percent of that battery pack capacity be available. In contrast, you can charge or discharge a lithium-ion battery at any point in its lifecycle.”
In addition, nickel cadmium and nickel metal hydride are heavy metals that are bad for the environment and should not be added to the waste stream. Lithium-ion battery packs still have to be recycled, but they do not affect the environment like the heavy metals do.
Continuing its focus on battery pack technology development, Metabo introduced lithium-ion high-density (LiHD) battery packs in 2015.
“Metabo wanted to develop the first cordless 9-in. angle grinder but needed new technology in the battery packs to power it,” Tuerk says. “The LiHD uses new cell technology that allows you to get 100 percent power out of the same size cell so you get about 115 percent longer run time out of the same size cell. We do that by reducing the resistance inside the cell so rather than the battery giving its energy to heat, it’s giving its energy to the tool.”
The LiHD battery pack’s combination of a new kind of high-power cell and fully redeveloped components ensures maximum power availability for an extremely long time. In the years since, further enhancements have been made based on the LiHD technology. In 2018, Metabo introduced 4.0-Ah and 8.0-Ah LiHD battery packs, and in 2020, the company introduced a 10-Ah battery pack. Other advances include going to higher voltage platforms, including 18-V and 36-V platforms.
There is no telling what innovations Metabo will come up with next, but the company will undoubtedly continue to push the boundaries of technology to develop more problem-solving tools.
In that vein, Metabo announced in 2018 its partnership with other tool manufacturers to create the Cordless Alliance System (CAS). The CAS is a cross-brand battery system that makes tools and equipment from different manufacturers compatible. Participants are manufacturers with a clear focus on power tools for professional applications that share the same battery platform and chargers produced by Metabo. This grants CAS manufacturers the use of the same battery pack systems, allowing the 100 percent compatible batteries to be interchanged with other CAS manufacturers tools.