For many forklift fleet managers, batteries can be one of the most challenging components to manage and understand. It can be especially difficult to precisely determine battery performance and overall life. Forklifts consume power differently depending on the application, operator and driving patterns. Operators and warehouse managers often know little about the health of a forklift battery until the forklift stops working. The best way to gain insight into how batteries perform is to conduct a power study.
A power study combines monitoring, data analytics and expert insight to provide fleet managers with recommendations and best practices for enhancing forklift battery performance. By working with a forklift provider to employ battery monitoring technology, real-time data can be gathered from a broad sampling of frequently used forklifts. This data can then be used to reveal how your fleet regularly consumes and replenishes power. Modeling that considers the applications, power usage and different charging scenarios can also help determine the best charging process, including the number and locations of charging stations.
The following are four ways a power study will help bring standardization and predictability to a forklift battery program and enhance forklift performance.
1. Adopting lithium-ion batteries
There can be many benefits associated with the right combination of lithium-ion batteries and charging locations in certain applications. A power study can help you determine if switching to lithium-ion batteries is the right choice for the operation and also provides recommendations for charging locations and processes. For instance, a study of a fleet using lead-acid batteries may show that idle time is high, the power consumption rate is low, but the batteries do not last an entire shift. There may be a strong case to transition to lithium-ion power in such an application. Not only can lithium-ion batteries charge more quickly and efficiently, but they can power the forklift through the entire shift and ultimately improve its uptime.
2. Understanding your power needs
Another outcome of a power study is right-sizing the forklift fleet based on the battery utilization information gathered. The study monitors amps-per-hour for each battery, which compares power usage and forklift utilization across different applications and shifts.
Such comparisons can reveal which applications or operator actions consume power at the highest rates or in total. Predictably, it is often applications that require attachments or the lifting and lowering of heavy loads. It may be that operators are bulldozing loads, using the forklift to push rather than carry pallets. Understanding both the power the forklifts are using and how that power is being discharged can lead to improved operator accountability and battery management practices.
A power study may also be more than a “one and done” requirement. It’s important to understand power requirements as operations change, especially if there are modifications to pallet movement, racking, or even the weight of the product being moved.
3. Optimizing charging practices
Conducting a power study can determine the right charging method or combination of methods for the forklift fleet and operations.
There are three types of forklift battery charging methods: conventional, opportunity and fast charging. The most common method, conventional charging, is typically used for lead-acid batteries and allows for a complete recharge after the battery is partially or fully discharged during normal operations. Typically, this method is preferred when there is an ability to charge the battery for several hours, followed by an appropriate cooldown period. A power study may reveal situations within an application that will allow for opportunity or fast charging of lead-acid batteries, though there are considerations on the effect of these charging methods on overall battery life.
Opportunity or fast charging with lithium-ion batteries, however, allows for more flexibility. A power study may reveal idle times – perhaps more than realized – when batteries could be subjected to these alternative charging methods. For instance, warehouses can utilize opportunity charging stations anywhere operators have downtime that allow the battery to be plugged in for at least 10 minutes. These opportunities can include work breaks, scheduled lunches, and shift changes. Lithium-ion batteries can prove to be more efficient through opportunity charging without adversely affecting the battery’s overall life. Similarly, fast charging takes advantage of longer time intervals to charge but comes with its own rules and requirements, which a power study can help determine.
4. Enhancing operational performance
Establishing battery best practices enables you to implement and adhere to standardized processes more easily as you grow and add to your fleet. With the rising pressure for higher throughputs to meet increasing and changing demands, there is a near-constant need to increase the productivity of existing forklift fleets and warehouse facilities. Through a power study, operators and warehouse managers gain a deeper understanding of their power needs and possible battery issues, ultimately enhancing the overall forklift performance.
A power study offers important real-time data of a warehouse and brings expert insight and recommendations into fleet operations.