For anyone in the metals fabricating industry, power tools are almost just as ubiquitous as a cellphone. Most likely, there’s a smartphone in one back pocket and a right-angle grinder in the
holster on a tool belt. And just like anyone that relies on a fully charged cellphone, when it comes to a cordless power tool, the overriding question is whether it’s fully charged and ready to go.
However, a more important question might be: Is that power tool properly pairing with its battery and battery charger?
According to a press release issued by the Power Tool Institute (PTI), an industry organization for power tool safety resources, “if all three are made by the same manufacturer and designed to work together as a system, then the answer is yes. But, if you’re using a third-party battery or an adapter that purports to allow battery-switching between brands, the answer is a resounding no.”
Just like those questionable gas station cellphone chargers, the PTI wants to address the desire to save a few bucks on third-party power tool batteries and chargers and why it’s important to only choose ones designed to match the tool system. When you look inside, the PTI said, “you see that it gets to the very heart of what makes a power tool run safely and efficiently.”
Risk and reward
At the heart of a power tool battery pack is a very high amount of stored energy. “Original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) manage this energy storage and release by employing a sophisticated battery management system (BMS) present in the battery, in the power tool, and in the battery charger,” the PTI explained in the press release. “The BMS allows electronic synchronicity between system components so that, in addition to numerous parameters it monitors, proper charge and discharge levels are achieved during use.”
The electronics in third-party batteries differ from the electronics in OEM batteries, which means the battery, charger and power tools of different manufacturers either don’t work together at all or they work together, but at greater risk when paired with each other.
“The use of either a third-party battery or a battery adapter may bypass the BMS elements contained in tools or chargers, which can create a potentially dangerous situation,” the PTI relayed in the release. “This can include causing contact with caustic chemicals, burns from escaping chemicals, fire or even explosion.”
It is for these reasons that the PTI strongly recommends using only the OEM’s battery, power tool and charger together. Furthermore, it recommends never using third-party, knock-off batteries and to avoid third-party battery adapters.
Founded in 1968, the PTI’s mission is to inform and educate users about power tools. The PTI has established a reputation as a leading organization for building global understanding of power tools and for maintaining high standards of safety in the industry. Members of the organization lend their knowledge about power tools to the community as a whole, including informative articles, such as one about avoiding the hazards of knock-off and counterfeit batteries.
In the article, the contributor addresses the fact that lithium-ion (Li-Ion) batteries have become the industry standard as an energy source for cordless power tools. OEMs go through a process to ensure their Li-Ion batteries are safe and reliable. For example, independent certification labs, such as Underwriters Laboratories or Canadian Standards Association, test and evaluate the batteries for compliance and safety. Once the lab has certified the system, it achieves the status of “listed.”
In work environments governed by OSHA, it is mandatory that the power tools meet internationally-accepted safety standards.
“For cordless power tool systems (a dedicated combination of one or more tools/batteries/chargers),” the contributor says in the article, “these standards evaluate the system to ensure the tool, battery and charger communicate properly to monitor and control critical functions, such as cell balance, energy levels, flow of energy in/out and temperatures.”
An important caveat is that only the power tool OEM is able to obtain system certification, as each manufacturer utilizes its own proprietary control circuity to achieve compliance and the circuitry design is not available to third-party component suppliers. Unfortunately, knock-off batteries and counterfeit batteries, which are third-party batteries that appear to be from the OEM, have surfaced in the marketplace.
“Counterfeit batteries are, by definition, illegal, and therefore are not certified by any recognized lab – although in some cases the tool may bear a UL or CSA sticker,” the contributor notes. “Because some counterfeit and knock-off batteries can be difficult to distinguish from OEM, the best way to avoid this painful experience is: (1) purchase batteries from authorized dealers and distributors; and (2) if the price sounds too good to be true, it probably is.”
OEMs take the time, effort and spend the money to design their power tool systems and have them tested and listed. The confusion comes when a knock-off battery appears to be listed, but it’s to a general battery safety standard – not from a certified independent lab. Others, however, are not tested or listed to any safety standard.
There are a variety of undesirable outcomes to using a Li-Ion battery that is not intentionally designed for a specific power tool. These outcomes include damage to the tool and charger, shorter battery life, poor performance, voiding the tool’s warranty or “a battery bursting that may cause a fire or explosion resulting in personal injury and/or property damage.”
While purchase price is an important factor in making an investment, beware of remanufactured batteries, as there is no industry or governmental oversight on these items. While an OEM’s battery might be listed, that status is voided when sold as remanufactured.
Always verify a seller’s qualifications. When a user buys a battery from someone they don’t know or from a non-OEM online store, they’re bypassing the verification process and have no idea if the battery has been tested or certified, which can lead to a potentially dangerous experience.