Review By Dean Bielanowski  GMC Website - http://www.gmcompany.com




GMC
FlashCell Cordless Screwdrivers
Models FQC54V and PFC46V

Review
By Dean Bielanowski

 

Please note: Since this review was published, Global Machinery Company (GMC) has gone into receivership and is no longer operating. As such, spare parts or technical support cannot be obtained directly through them. Their website at www.gmcompany.com appears to still be available online and offers some product information and manuals but contacting them will receive no reply. Note that OnlineToolReviews.com does not work for GMC, nor do we offer any support or spare parts for their products.

Do these new tools from GMC mark the end of conventional cordless battery tools?

What am I talking about? Capacitor Cell Batteries of course! But why do you need a new battery technology? Well, Lithium Ion batteries are pretty good, and some can be recharged in 15 minutes. But what about a battery that can be recharged from empty in just 45 seconds, and perhaps better yet, may have unlimited cycle life with no issues with memory effect?

These are the advantages on offer with capacitor cell technology, and this technology is included in GMC's new FlashCell Cordless Screwdrivers.

Traditional Batteries vs Capacitor Batteries
Now, I don't claim to be an expert in the field of electronics or battery physics by any means, so take from this only what you will. But traditional batteries, like NiCad and Lithium Ion that we use on most cordless power tools today provide energy by means of a chemical reaction. This allows the battery to store a good amount of energy and provide good output power. The downside though is that eventually these batteries lose capacity through continuous charge and discharge cycles. Eventually the capacity is such that the battery becomes useless at storing power and must be replaced. Each type of chemical battery has its own set of pros and cons too. NiCads have a supposed memory effect whereas Lithium Ion does not. Lithium batteries also have a longer shelf life with lower self-discharge than NiCads.

Capacitor batteries on the other hand do not use a chemical reaction as the basis for producing power. Instead, capacitors have two metal electrodes which contain an electric field made up of charged particles between them. The issue with this in the past has been that the amount of "charge" you can get was basically proportional to the physical surface area of the field, so for a capacitor to deliver the same amount of charge as a normal "chemical" battery, it would have to be quite a lot larger. Imagine a capacitor battery the size of a small pancake compressor hanging of an 18v drill! Not very practical to say the least. The answer to solving the size problem is to greatly increase the area of the particle field without increasing the size of the capacitor. How do you do it? Well, apparently, you insert a lot of very small fiber-like tubes that dramatically increase the surface area of the space they are contained in, and hence, you have much greater surface area and more electrical capacity (charge). This is the newest advancement in capacitor cell technology, and it is a revelation that may see many of the old battery technology issues solved once and for all!

With that said...
The technology is yet to fully develop in the consumer tool market to the point where capacitor cells are available mainstream in cordless power tools or other electronic devices, but things are advancing extremely rapidly and GMC has hopped onboard the capacitor cell train. Both the FQC54V and PFC46V cordless drivers we are reviewing here implement this capacitor technology, and interestingly, they offer quite competitive performance in comparison to chemical cell powered tools of the same type, but with all the benefits that capacitor cells offer that chemical cells simply can not.

GMC FlashCell Cordless Screwdrivers
I will review these two drivers together as their features and application are mostly the same. The FQC54V model offers 5.4v of power in a straight barrel drill design. The PFC46V model offers 4.2v of power in a more "drill-like" pistol grip design. Both tools have in-built capacitor cells and come boxed along with a FlashCell charger for very rapid cell re-charging. Both drivers feature a standard 1/4" hex bit chuck that the various driver bits simply slip into. They hold securely and I have not had one fall out to date. Because the drivers only rotate at a slow speed (220 RPM for the FQC54V model and 170 RPM for the PFC46V model) and are single speed with no variable speed control or clutch for torque settings, they are not ideally suited for drilling tasks. But if you do happen to have some hex shank drill bits, you can use these drivers for very light duty drilling in thin materials. Drilling is perhaps best utilized for light craft work in cardboards, styrofoam, thin plywood or balsa wood because of this. However I have used these to drill through thin fiberglass too without any drama.
They will even handle hardwoods because they have quite good torque for their size, but drilling in these harder materials will be slow if using anything larger than a 1/8" drill bit. But essentially, these are best suited as screw and nut driving tools. You can drill with them if you have plenty of time to spare.


The FQC54V FlashCell Cordless Screwdriver in charger.
 

Each FlashCell driver comes with its own rapid charger and there is a set of small hex driver bits onboard the charger to get you started. The cordless drivers simply drop into the charging slot (they can really only go one way) so it is very difficult to get the polarity wrong. Plug the charger into the mains outlet and switch on. On the PFC46V charger (the pistol grip driver) several red lights indicate the tool is charging, followed by a green light which illuminates when charging is complete. How long does a full charge take... Just 45 seconds! You might think I am joking, but no! 45 seconds and your tool is fully recharged and ready to go again.

The FQC54V charger is slightly different in design and charge indication. The barrel shaped driver slots into the charger only way way for ease and it locks into place while charging. To remove it from the charger you press the yellow lock release button which releases the driver and allows you to remove it from the charging base. This charger has no onboard lights for charge indication, but it has something even better. Onboard is a power gauge indicator. When you drop the driver into the charger, the needle on the power gauge will automatically show you how much charge is left in the tool's capacitor cell. Additionally, as the tool is charging, you can see the needle rising as charge is added to the cell. Once the needle reaches the top of the gauge arc (where the "Full" label is located) the tool is fully charged ready for use once more. And how long to charge this tool? 90 seconds! Yes 90 seconds is all it takes, and I timed it too from a dead state and it took 92 seconds to be precise, but nonetheless, extremely fast! It should be noted that this tool stores twice the capacity of charge and hence why the recharge time is longer.

There are no issues with memory effect with this type of power cell so you can charge either driver up to full no matter what its current state of charge is. This means that you may only need to recharge a driver for 10-20 seconds before you head off to complete your project if it is already partially charged.

But what about the cell capacity? Well, I don't have any small comparable 4.6v or 5.4v drivers to directly correlate so I will only be guesstimating using my experience in the past with other similar battery powered tools. But I will say that these tools will run for about 60-70% of what a comparable chemical cell battery might last. They certainly would not seem to outlast a comparable chemical battery driver, but heck, if you can recharge them in 45 or 90 seconds from dead flat, that perhaps becomes almost a non-issue, except for convenience sake. These drivers are designed for quick charge and use cycles. Whenever you need them you can grab them from the shelf or cupboard, quickly charge them up and be ready to go.


The PFC46V model in charger base.

In terms of torque, both drivers exhibit quite a bit for their size. Numerically, they rate at 4.5Nm and 6Nm which may not sound like much, but the lack of a clutch that slips means you have to grip these tools firmly as they will invariably work your wrists as the screws bite into the material they are being used upon.

Both drivers feature forward and reverse gears with the PFC46V using a traditional drill slide switch for direction selection while the FQC54V has separate forward and reverse trigger buttons.
There would be no fatigue issues using these tools all day because they both weigh well under half a kilogram each.

The pistol grip PFC46V has a two position rotating head for versatility (so it can be adapted into more of a barrel shape) to get into deeper areas, but the drill can still be used at any angle between those two positions if needed. The FQC54V has a fixed driving head.

In Use
So, what can these small, light weight drivers be used for? Well, I have used them both in the workshop successfully to drive 8 gauge and smaller woodscrews into most woods, although pre-drilling is definitely required to drive them all the way in except when driving into softwoods. I do a lot of computer repairs involving fixing and releasing a lot of computer case and component screws, and for this task, these drivers are perfectly suited. The same goes for the majority of electronics work or case work involving smaller machine screws.

Around the house these drills come in handy for removing and inserting hinge screws for cupboards and doors, lock fasteners, or for fixing curtain rods or vertical blind fixtures etc. They can be used on any electronics or toys that use small screws to secure their housings, and these are the drills I now reach for first for these tasks.

Essentially, wherever a light duty fixing is found, the FlashCell drivers will generally be able to handle its release or re-insertion without any problems. The only thing to be careful of is stripping the screw heads as their is no clutch on these drills to prevent this, or prevent over-tightening.

Life Cycle
If my understanding behind capacitor cells is correct, these tools, barring any actual mechanical failure in the driver itself, should have an almost unlimited cell cycle life, although I do notice on the GMC website that the barrel grip model mentions 500,000 cycles as a lifespan. Ahem, that is quite a few! The average human might be on earth for 27,375 days in total (for a 75yo) and that means that if that person used the drill every day from the day they were born until they left this earth, they would need to cycle the cell 18 times every day to reach that 500,000 cycle figure... so yes, you could call it almost an indefinite life cycle for the cell.

So far, the drivers have worked perfectly and continue to recharge in extraordinarily fast times, and watching that charge needle rise rapidly after plugging the charger in and flicking the switch on always brings a smile to my face. In fact, just the thought of the capacitor cell technology evolving to compete with traditional chemical cell batteries in terms of power output and capacity is extremely exciting indeed.

Overall
Ok, these tools are not going to replace my 14.4v or 18v cordless drills for every cordless drilling/driving task imaginable, but of course, they are not designed to replace those larger drills either. They have very few practical limitations when used for the type of work they are designed to do. Both drivers have met my expectations, with the huge bonus of rapid recharge times and the hope that the battery cell may never need replacing, and that alone makes them very attractive in terms of the value for money factor. The pistol grip PFC46V retails for AUD$99 while the FQC54V retails for AUD$119.

Review Date: July 2008.

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