It Keeps Going And Going...

Fast-charging and effective battery maintenance can minimize lift truck downtime.


"You can immediately cut your investment in batteries," notes Bret Aker, CEO and founding partner of Aker Wade, a Charlottesville, VA, company that makes fast chargers.

According to Aker, an operation that has 100 vehicles and utilizes traditional charging systems will need 200 to 300 batteries to keep its fleet running on a two or three-shift schedule. With fast-charging you only need one battery per vehicle.

Perhaps the biggest advantage that switching to a fast-charging solution brings is the elimination of the battery room.

Battery Maintenance

"The single most basic thing they can do to keep a battery health is to water it after its equalization charge," says Harold Vanasse, vice president of sales and marketing for Montgomery, PA-based Philadelphia Scientific, a maker of battery maintenance tools.

Due to the fact that a battery goes through the water portion of its electrolyte during its charging process, Vanasse says, it is critical to keep it watered to the correct levels--otherwise it will die and fail to give the operator runtime. The frequency of watering depends upon how hard the application is.

Another danger is overwatering a battery. If an operator puts too much water in, when the battery is charging it will boil over and eject electrolytes. Should this happen while the battery is in the truck, the acid in the electrolyte could damage the vehicle itself.

"Every time you boil over a battery, you lose three to five percent of the runtime of that battery," explains Vanasse. "That's about 20 minutes. Do it again and that's another 20 minutes. This can get very expensive."

Manufacturers suggest two important tools that can reduce the chances of under and overwatering in a battery. The first is a single point watering system. This is a universal connector that hooks up to a battery on one end, and a water hose on the other.

"It allows you to put water directly into the battery's cells through a valve in each cell and distributes it evenly in each cell," notes Hyster's Hopkins. "It also makes it easier for the operator to water the battery, because in a lot of reach trucks and order pickers, it's hard to get to the battery watering point without extracting the battery."

Using a single point watering system is also much faster than having an operator do it manually--anywhere from 15 seconds to two minutes, as opposed to 20 minutes by hand. In this way, the experts say that a watering system will pay for itself within a year.

The second tool is a battery monitoring system, which alerts an operator that his truck's battery requires watering through a blinking light on his dash. This can help prevent a battery from drying out.

Companies should also consider a de-ionizer, if their water supply has a high mineral content (what's known as "hard" water). These minerals poison the negative plates on a battery over the course of a few years and shorten its life. The de-ionizer connects into a facility's water supply and as water goes through it, it removes the minerals.

In addition to watering, another key to maintaining a battery is to apply an equalizing charge to at least once a week, before watering. This is important because during regular charging, all of the cells may not charge at the same rate as the others.

The purpose of equalizing is to bring all the different cells' voltages up equally and ensure that the electrolyte in the battery is mixed properly. A variance in cell voltage will drain some cells harder than others and these cells could die out.

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