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Market Report: Power Tools & Accessories

Magnetic machines

Phil Mist reviews the latest developments in the magnetic drill stands market.

The first magnetic drill stands appeared in the UK 35 years ago. They were heavy and expensive, but were reliable and performed well. They were usually fitted with large-diameter Morse taper drill bits, whereas nowadays, HSS annular cutters are popular. The motors fitted to modern smaller magnetic drill stands are often hand-held rotary drills fitted with a normal three-jaw drill chuck and it is, therefore, possible to use standard length HSS bits for drilling holes of smaller diameter into steel.

Most annular cutters use a similar location or fitting system, although some are non-standard. Many, when subjected to heavy loading, need to be cooled and this is often supplied automatically through the cutter itself or at the cutting teeth. In some models, however, coolant has to be manually applied around the cutter rim.

The tools are ideal for drilling or re-drilling large diameter holes into structural steel on construction sites and in workshops. Their annular cutters drill out a ring of steel, leaving a plug of material behind, usually ejected by a central pin. This is a more efficient system for drilling large holes than using solid HSS bits. There are no HAV issues and the handle can usually be fitted either side of the machine for left or right handed use.

The right features

A number of the models available in the UK are manufactured in China, keeping prices relatively low. The secret is to find one with the right features, good quality bearings, a decent magnetic base and sufficient power.

Untrained operators may cause undue cutter wear or damage, however. Many machines have failsafe devices on the stands themselves, overload protection on the motors, drill guards, and waterproof switches. It is also important to remember that some models are only available in either 230V or 110V, not both. Most require the magnetic base to be on and the tool firmly clamped before operation is possible. While every stand has a maximum clamping force that matches the machine’s drilling capacity, it is still possible to break the magnetic hold by clamping the machine to an insufficient thickness of raw material, using an incorrect or blunt cutter, or for the operator to be too heavy handed. This can result in a serious accident. It is also essential to ensure that the voltage is sufficient for the task.

Because they include a portable electric tool as a power unit, many magnetic drill models have either two or four speed gear selection, and some have variable electronic speed. This facilitates speed selection, but it is also obviously possible to choose the wrong speed. The pressure exerted on an HSS drill bit or an annular cutter can be enormous if the operator turns the handle too quickly.
In order to prevent a magnetic drill stand from falling in the event of the clamping force being broken, particularly when operating overhead, it should be supplied with a safety chain or strap. Hire staff must ensure customers know how to use this. Many stands also have an in-built system that provides backup power briefly should the electrical supply be interrupted.

Some small to medium capacity models have portable rotary drill motors of 720-800 watts manufactured by Hitachi, Makita or Bosch. Various larger tools on the market are fitted with German motors of 1100-1400watts, typically from Atlas Copco or Einhell.

Some manufacturers, including Alfra and Fein, produce drill stands suitable only for their own tool ranges. Alfra (www.alfra.co.uk) produces five standard models and two petrol powered units. The smallest has a maximum drilling capacity of 32mm, whereas the largest will drill up to 75mm diameter. Four of the electric tools have been available for some time in the UK, including the 1050watt Piccolo that weighs only 10.5kgs and has a maximum drilling capacity of 32mm, the similar Max38 Plus which has a maximum drilling capacity of 38mm, the Midi 50/50 with a maximum drilling capacity of 50mm and a 1200 watt motor, and the Junior 75/50 with a 75mm maximum drilling capacity and an 1800 watt motor. The fifth model, the V32, is a new machine powered by a 900watt motor with a maximum drilling capacity of 32mm. A horizontal unit, it is only 227mm high and can be reduced to only 185mm by removing the handle.

Fein (www.fein.de) offers two dedicated magnetic drill stands and three more that can be fitted with one of six electric drills or two machines from its tapping tools range. Although not for the budget conscious, they are well engineered, have capacities ranging from 16mm upwards and weigh 15-50kg. Rotabroach (www.rotabroach.co.uk) markets four models, namely the Puma, Panther, Scorpion and Cobra. The 800watt Puma has a drilling capacity of 35mm diameter and weighs 11.3kg, whereas the 25kg Cobra is a 1400watt unit able to drill 65mm diameter holes in material up to 52mm thick.

Universal Drilling and Cutting Equipment’s (UDCE) Magtron line-up boasts seven complete models and two stands. The smallest machine has a 720watt motor and weighs 11.5kg, while the largest has an 1800 watt motor, a maximum drilling capacity of 100mm and weighs 26kg. Also offered are five Unibor (www.unibor.com) brand models with drilling capacities from 32-100mm. Together, the available line-up includes electric, petrol driven, air powered and pneumatic models.

With other less well known brands also available, the magnetic drill stand market is even more competitive than that for standard hand-held power tools, relative to market size. Manufacturers cannot rest on their laurels and maintaining quality and performance is vital.

Executive Hire NewsArchivesJuly 2007Market Report › Magnetic machines

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