In 2011, Milwaukee Tool and Uponor came together to launch the first M12 ProPEX Expander, a tool that changed the way many plumbing and mechanical contractors installed ProPEX fittings.
A decade later in January 2021, the two manufacturers launched the M12 FUEL ProPEX Expander with the goal of creating a complete solution to provide the industry’s most consistent installs. This launch continues an ongoing relationship between Uponor and Milwaukee where the two manufacturers share expertise in PEX and power tools respectively to provide expander solutions for installers.
Back to the beginning
Kate Olinger, senior marketing manager with Uponor explains the company is celebrating its 30th anniversary of being at its headquarters in Apple Valley, Minnesota. “We have always been a pioneer in the PEX industry and offered expander options for customers in the past,” she says. “But as customer interest in PEX started to grow, we decided we needed to have a partner on the tool side; we are really good at making pipes and fittings for plumbing and heating systems, so we wanted a partner with a similar innovation mindset to create the perfect tool.”
Morgan Sokany, senior product manager for Milwaukee Tool, explains the partnership with Uponor, specifically the ProPEX product development, has been a catalyst for Milwaukee. “ProPEX really changed the way installers joined pipe,” he says. “We saw this as an opportunity to partner with Uponor and enhance productivity by eliminating the manual, cumbersome process that often comes with using hand tools.”
Sokany notes the idea behind ProPEX tools has never been just about speed, it’s about thoughtful design and making sure the tool would operate properly in specific applications. Over the past decade, Uponor and Milwaukee have partnered to make four different PEX expander tools, some of which are Milwaukee’s most successful products. Sokany and Olinger agree the partnership engineering PEX solutions is expected to continue growing.
One tool launch that stands out for Olinger is from 2015 when the companies launched the M18 FORCE LOGIC ProPEX Expansion Tool, which is for 2-to-3 inch PEX applications. “I can’t even tell you how many hours we spent working together on product development,” she says. “I think this particular tool represents a highlight in the partnership, as Milwaukee brings their tool expertise and Uponor brings its long history of PEX knowledge into one solution.”
The expander will come standard with the new ProPEX Expander Heads with RAPID SEAL, designed to provide faster sealing connections in colder temperatures while maintaining the expected time to insert a fitting. Photo courtesy of Milwaukee Tool.
The latest launch
Sokany explains that after a few years of the original M12 ProPEX Expander being on the market, Milwaukee and Uponor began to think of ways to improve the product. “Prior to launching the [new] new M12 FUEL, customers had to kind of choose between the faster tool (the M18) and the lighter tool (the M12),” he says. “By leveraging fuel technology with our batteries and electronics, we’ve been able to give the best of both worlds with the M12 FUEL.”
Sokany explains that improving productivity, even in the most challenging climates, is one core benefit of the M12 FUEL.
“The M12 FUEL improved the productive solutions provided by the original M12 by optimizing the tool speed to deliver fast 3/8 inch to 1 inch expansions even in harsh, cold environments,” he says. “FUEL improves the speed of the expansions. Traditionally, expanding 1inch PEX can take much longer than 1/2 inch and 3/4 inch, especially in colder weather. Our M12 FUEL technology drastically improves those expansion speeds.”
Olinger says listening to customers was the backbone this latest product launch. “Both companies are really in tune with the market and listening to customers,” she says. “With the labor shortage, we know it’s important to provide a faster and easier install, as well as the ability to visually see when the PEX is connected.”
Sokany says using the new M12 FUEL with RAPID SEAL heads, installers can experience up to a 65% faster installs. “Traditionally when installers are working in colder climates, it can take up to 24 hours for connections to fully seal. This often forces them to use heat guns to speed up the process. This new expander will improve sealing times as temperatures decrease without the use of a heat gun.
So the opportunity we wanted to hone in on was to not only shrink the connection time, but also the sealing time so installers can move on to pressure test, have an inspector come and complete to more jobs.”
Benefits for the customer
When it comes to making end-user customers’ lives easier, Olinger explains training is important, but the ease-of-use of these tools is key. “Customers have the support of both the Milwaukee and Uponor teams and reps to get people trained on how to use the ProPEX systems,” she says. “We’ve worked to make the systems quick and easy to use, so there isn’t much of a learning curve when converting to these products.”
Sokany notes the partnership doesn’t stop with product development. “Both companies have extensive sales forces with the same goal in mind: making our customers more productive.”
Olinger agrees, saying the partnership focuses on distribution, making sure the customer can always get what they need at all times.
“When you start talking about connection tools, there’s often a question about what works with what,” Olinger says. “So this partnership offers piece of mind for distributors, taking that concern out of the picture; they don’t need to find a catalog and cross-reference because they always know the Milwaukee ProPEX expanders work with Uponor tubing.”