“It’s been an incredible journey,” remarks Craig Baxter, president of TTi Canada Inc, when asked to look back at his time with Milwaukee Tool Canada. Having joined the company back in 2007, today is nothing like it was when we got started. It was humble beginnings, says Baxter.
At that time, Milwaukee had a very small share of the power tool market in Canada. Nowadays, the company has grown its share of the market with products launched almost every week.
Over the years, a line of plumbing/mechanical-specific power tools was launched. To date, there are over 25 power tools dedicated to this profession.
Recently, the company launched a line of piping inspection cameras. “Typically, you would have tools to unclog the drain blockage, or you have tools to visually inspect the piping,” explains Guillaume Brisson, core trades manager—pro plumbing and mechanical for Milwaukee Tool Canada. “Prior to 2021, we didn’t really have a line of cameras to assess those needs. We just announced a few months back, a line of inspection cameras and a locator.” The locator will tell the plumber exactly where to dig to get access to the pipe if required; while the inspection camera will help determine what type of problem or obstruction the plumber is dealing with. This information will determine what type of drain cleaning machine is required. “It’s also a fantastic tool to confirm that the drain cleaning job has actually been done correctly, and this gives the customer and the plumber peace of mind,” says Brisson.
Corded vs. cordless
One reason behind creating plumbing-mechanical-specific products was to further develop Milwaukee’s reputation with the tradesperson. They wanted to enhance their position as being the industry leader in innovation. “What we needed to do was to evolve Milwaukee from the corded version of those tools to cordless versions of the same tools,” explains Baxter. “We needed to get on job sites, and really begin to engage with end-users to understand how we could improve existing products and reduce pain points that they had with their current solution.”
In recent years, Milwaukee Tool has been pushing for a cordless job site. This means no petrol-based products, no pneumatics, and no hoses. “We want every single one of those tools to be powered by one of our lithium-ion platforms,” says Baxter. Milwaukee Tool offers three different lithium batteries—the M12, M18, and MX. The MX battery is a solution for moving away from petrol-based products and they say that they are only just getting started replacing petrol.
“If you have a gas-powered generator running on the job site, it’s like having 100 cars sitting there idling,” reports Baxter. “By having a cordless option, this would cut 100 per cent of the emissions.”
Stick vs. Slide
Milwaukee also made the switch from a stick pack battery interface to a slide pack. For the contractor, this affects the stability of the battery within the tool. “The slide pack has a much stronger engagement of the battery with the tool which is critical in high vibration applications,” remarks Baxter. Speaking of the battery, it is designed to handle the most extreme conditions —whether its cold or wet. Its lifespan can be affected by its environment which is something that needs to be considered in Canada as extreme cold is common from coast to coast.
Single coolest innovation
A recent tool that Milwaukee launched and are quite excited about is their press technology. “The press technology is the single coolest innovation that we brought to market for plumbers because it’s a 60 per cent time savings. It’s absolutely incredible,” reports Baxter.
Traditionally users sweat and solder, thread or weld piping. “We’re seeing a huge shift towards using press fittings to connect piping systems much faster,” explains Brisson. “It’s going to be much safer, there’s no open flame and you don’t need a hot work permit. You don’t need to empty the system of water. You can work on a system that’s not completely dry with press.”
The Milwaukee approach to launching products involves engaging with their user base on a regular basis. Going back and forth with the plumbing contractor is key to determine ways for the tool company to fill in the gaps and make their lives easier. Sometimes there are as many as 10 prototypes developed until they get it right.
Building credibility with its core users is part of this strategy. This means that sometimes the products designed don’t have mass appeal but rather fit within a niche market. The press tool is a good example of this. “No other trade is using that technology,” reports Baxter. “Press is extremely specific, but it’s changed the lives of plumbers and built even more credibility for the Milwaukee brand.”
Milwaukee looked at improving the quality of its motor and came up with its brushless technology. This refers to the fact that the motors do not use carbon brushes, they actually use magnets to generate power.
A number of tools feature Milwaukee Tool’s Fuel technology, which is a high-performing brushless line of tools. Most of the products within the drilling and fastening categories feature a Fuel version.
Another feature worth noting is their inline design system. The inline design essentially allows for the plumber or mechanical contractor to hold the tool with one hand, and then press the trigger, open the jaws, all using one hand, reports Brisson. This allows the user to get into tighter spaces.
In addition, Milwaukee has added Auto Stop technology to its tools, which is basically a kickback control feature. When threading pipe, the dies tend to bind on pipe during application which can cause threading machines to kick and create significant risk of injury. The Auto Stop feature limits the risk of injury to the user.
Investing in trade schools
This is only the beginning for Milwaukee. “There’s so much more that we can do. When we engage with the user to the extent we do, we continuously find new solutions.” This might result in the next generation of a current tool or a new-to-world solution that changes the way our user performs a task. “That’s what makes the future so bright, and we are just getting started,” says Baxter.
“We believe that what contractors learn first, they learn best,” says Baxter. “That’s why we invest a lot of time and effort in trade schools.” About 10 years ago, the tooling manufacturer started to partner with local trade schools to get Milwaukee tools into the hands of young tradespeople. They now have their tools in every trades school in the country.