Not that long ago, cordless garden tools were little more than a novelty. Lucky to get 20 minutes out of a battery, a hedge trimmer would have a slow blade speed and need recharging several times just to clip an average hedge. Mowing down dense grass with a line trimmer would kill a battery after 10 or 15 minutes. But times have changed. Now we can work all day using tools that have fast blade speeds and recharge in minutes rather than hours.
Since the introduction of Pellenc equipment, powered by lithium-ion battery technology, there has been a race to bring a choice of professional garden tools to the market. Developments have followed, one after another, and are likely to continue. There are also many more players in the market.
Although supplying the amateur gardening market for a number of years, Bosch is one of the companies launching professional tools into the UK commercial sector. The German firm began in 1902, first making a high-voltage magneto ignition system with spark plugs then, in the 1920s, developing diesel injection systems for commercial vehicles.
Focus on battery power
Today Bosch has a focus on battery power, introducing the Indego Smart Mowing robotic parallel grass-cutting system last year. Bosch cordless garden tools for professional gardeners also arrived in 2015. The range included brushcutters, line trimmers and mowers that, by using highly efficient battery systems and eliminating servicing costs, would effectively pay for themselves in under three years of regular use.
Today the appeal of battery powered kit is easy to reason. With longer running times, faster charging times, low noise and low vibration, the tools are easy and convenient to use and come with social, environmental and financial benefits.
Bosch estimates that using its cordless tools for up to four hours per day gives fuel and servicing cost savings of around £520. The annual energy cost of battery versus petrol tools is well below 10 per cent, assuming fuel costs of around £1.07 per litre and electricity £0.10 per kWh. It is also calculated that the brushcutter gives a running cost saving of £1.65 for each hour of use.
Now consider social issues. There have been extreme cases where council workers have been injured by members of the public incensed by the noise produced by mowing and other cutting equipment. In March last year, a woman admitted to a charge of GBH after she threw drain cleaner containing sulphuric acid over a council worker who had been cutting the grass outside her flat in east London. No wonder there is interest in battery kit.
Last year, the University of York invested in a Bosch battery powered mower to avoid noisy gardening during the revision season. Several National Trust gardens operate Pellenc equipment so visitors can enjoy the birdsong and smell the flowers while work continues.
Increasing environmental awareness also makes battery power attractive. For many working in the public sector, green procurement is not just a remedy, it is fast becoming an obligation. For operators too, battery means comfortable working conditions with no fumes and little noise and vibration.
"Professional users expect their tools to have high performance, long runtime, to be weather-resistant, and to be robust and easy to start. Health aspects in day-to-day use are also important," says Bosch Power Tools management board member Henk Becker. "With our cordless garden tools, we are also meeting the requirements of the professional user — high comfort, low noise, low vibrations and low emissions."
Expanding its range
Bosch is systematically expanding its range for commercial garden care and landscaping. The core of the system is the new 9.0Ah battery, said to be the most powerful 36V battery for garden tools in the world. It is equivalent in size and weight to the 6.0Ah batteries, which are still available, but offer a 50 per cent longer runtime. The cells are sealed, making the battery weatherproof.
For 2016, Bosch is introducing three new hedge cutters, a blower and a professional mobile power unit — another world first — capable of providing users with power without a mains connection.
Joining the battery powered handheld lawn and garden market in spring this year, Honda is the latest company to extend its offering beyond petrol power. The first products to be introduced will be a hedge trimmer, grass trimmer and leaf blower. Made by leading electric motor and battery manufacturer Chervon, the tools will be offered with a choice of two batteries and two chargers. The move shows Honda believes battery technology is now adequately developed to provide high performance, long runtime and fast charging.
"While many customers still appreciate the capability, performance and power of petrol powered handhelds, more and more are starting to see the convenience and usability of battery powered products, making this a natural move for Honda to extend its product range to a wider customer base," says Honda Motor Europe power product division director Pierre Vallet.
"With the growing trend towards battery products in general, this is the perfect time for us to enter the market, and we plan to grow the range further in the future."
Well known for construction kit, DeWalt is now responding to the needs of landscaping professionals with the introduction this year of a cordless string trimmer and leaf blower — an expansion of its line-up of XR brushless lithium-ion tools. The trimmer has a swathe diameter of 33cm from a bump-and-feed dual line head and is powered by a 5.0Ah lithium-ion battery pack for the fast removal of long grass, weeds and undergrowth. The leaf blower propels air at a speed of 90mph but has a noise output of just 56dB. Both items are available as "body only".
Makita, knowing that its customers often own batteries from other tools, also offers "body only" kit. The firm is expanding its twin-battery power system into an increasing choice of professional equipment for grounds maintenance, landscaping and gardening.
Utilising two 18V lithium-ion batteries — the type that fits many Makita work tools — to deliver 36V, latest items include a line trimmer, brushcutter and brushless leaf blower. A fast 22-minute twin-port charger is also available.
The line trimmer will run up to 6,000rpm and has a 35cm cutting diameter. With forward D-handle and soft-grip control, electronic two-speed control and reverse switch on the handle, the unit is well balanced and weighs just 4.5kg. The vibration rating is 2.5m/s2.
For brushcutting, model DUR365 gives a runtime of 90 minutes in low speed, 52 minutes in medium and 31 minutes in high speed. What makes it different is the location of the motor. It is in the cutting head rather than at the top end of the shaft, so there is no drive shaft, just an umbilical cord carrying power from the battery to the head. The result is a machine weighing 5.2kg and having near perfect balance.
Comparing favourably with a petrol powered backpack blower, the new Makita DUB361Z LXT blower runs up to 21,500rpm and produces a maximum air volume of 13.3cu m per minute with a maximum air speed of 53m/s — or 118mph. It weighs 4.5kg and has a three-stage telescopic nozzle with 100mm adjustment on the overall length of the pipe. Vibrations are recorded as 2.5m/s2 and maximum noise is 79.1dB(A).
The range of Pellenc equipment supplied in the UK by Etesia expanded last summer
with the addition of the Helion Compact 2 lightweight hedge trimmer. This machine is water protected to IP54, has a swivel head adjusting to +90°/-45° and boasts greater cutting power for pruning and finishing. It has a fast connect/disconnect system and uses the ultra-high-capacity technology of Pellenc’s lithium battery for up to a full day’s work.
For its Excelion 2000 brushcutter, Pellenc has developed the City Cut counter-rotating blade to avoid the catapulting of stones and debris. The company has also launched the Selion C21 HD chainsaw (see Market Report, HW, 22 January).
Two years ago the industry witnessed the launch of the biggest range of garden products as the Cobra brand arrived on the market with 70 electric cabled and petrol powered products. Last year the company launched two 40V cordless mowers, both working on a 4.0Ah battery and giving a choice of 16in or 18in cutting widths.
Last year we also saw the arrival of EGO with a range of 56V tools that includes a two-speed blower giving 45mph and 92mph blasts, a 61cm double-sided hedge trimmer, a line trimmer with 45 minutes operation and a 19in mower that also provides 45 minutes work from a recharge time of 30 minutes. At the time of the launch, EGO Europe marketing director Steve Roskell said: "Our lithium-ion mower is a direct challenge to petrol, electric and existing cordless garden products and we’re confident gardeners will see and feel the difference."
More equipment launched
Even more kit arrived at Saltex, held at the NEC in Birmingham in November last year, where Greenworks Tools launched its 80V Pro range. Stihl introduced the BGA100 battery powered backpack blower at the show. The machine weighs a mere 2.5kg but boasts a blowing force that is 70 per cent higher than its predecessor. Also seen at Saltex was the FSA90 brushcutter from Stihl, with bike handles and cutting blade, powered by a 36V battery.
With so many players now in the market, there are bound to be more developments around the corner. Already Husqvarna, a company offering a range of battery powered products, is talking about a concept of a connected battery that can collect and provide real-time data and augmented reality to support operators. A prototype battery with integrated Bluetooth connectivity is being trialled.
Tools equipped with the new battery will be paired to an operator’s smartphone or watch to provide direct information or pass on data to other team members, managers, technicians and dealers.