Powering On

Barbara Nessinger, Chief Editor

A famous quote by Sir John Dalberg-Acton is “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” While a memorable (and often true) line when related to people, it really isn’t applicable when discussing industrial batteries and chargers. Power, rather than corrupting, is what makes it all run smoothly. When it comes to maintaining an efficient, productive fleet of vehicles, power is absolutely necessary.

Whether running a small operation with one lift truck or an entire fleet; a single or multi-shift operation; and whether you manage a warehouse, distribution center or factory floor—one thing is a given: vehicles need power.

Warehouses and distribution centers need reliable power to keep workers productive and operations running at peak performance. And, because of the trend towards “electrification” of vehicles, from forklifts to manned pickers to AGVs—there are many companies on the cutting edge of the technology. They can provide the right battery and charger solution for any operation.

Power sources have changed over the years, naturally, but certainly there has been a decided trend towards electric vehicles over internal combustion-powered (IC) lift trucks and other vehicles. In fact, when walking the show floor at ProMat last month, one often heard terms like “electronic revolution” or “electric trend.”

One battery provider, however, sees it less as a “revolution” and more of an “evolution” in the industry.

Brian Faust, General Manager, Douglas Battery, said, “The evolution would be from more of an awareness of employee safety, [such as] no gas emissions that they are breathing in, [and] more environmental awareness, i.e., less carbon emissions and the fact that lead acid batteries are 99% recyclable. [Plus, there is] the lower overall cost of ownership, versus IC trucks. We have conversion calculators that show a customer ROIs in converting their fleets from IC to electric.”

Quality batteries, as long as they are sized with the correct lift truck, are designed to give a customer a full shift of use, Faust stated. “…[h]igh-quality batteries, sized with high-efficient chargers, will ensure that the customer is getting a full recharge on their batteries much quicker, which will allow for more cool-down time between uses.”

Steven LaFevers, Vice President, Motive Power & Telematics, Fuel Cells and Data Solutions, at Hyster Company, sees many of the changes in power sources a result of environmental concerns. “Over the last few years, we’ve continued to see a global trend toward electric units over ICE. A few years ago, it was about 50/50%,” he said. “This year, WITS data indicates it’s 63/37% favoring electric units. Many of these changes are driven by environmental concerns, both in terms of the external environment (carbon emissions) but also internal work environments (indoor pollution, noise) that impact operators and other workers.”

Now, especially with the broadening availability of alternative power sources, like hydrogen fuel and lithium-ion, LaFevers thinks businesses are “beginning to recognize the positive ROI is switching from costly fossil fuels to more stably-priced alternatives.”

powering on

Tracking and Managing Batteries

A good battery management program needs to focus on consistency, as well as following appropriate maintece procedures, as prescribed by the manufacturer. Continued LaFevers: “One of the advantages of implementing some type of battery telematics device, like Hyster Battery Tracker, is the ability to have visibility not only to battery performance, but maintenance activities. When an operation is dependent on materials handling equipment, any downtime or disruption can send a negative ripple effect throughout the operation. Industrial batteries may seem an insignificant part of a larger fleet operation, but premature failure or unaddressed issues can be costly—both in terms of productivity and expensive battery replacements.”

The Hyster Battery Tracker provides relevant data insights on the general health of a fleet, in terms of charge level, event notifications and calculated asset health metrics, while highlighting potential undesirable treatments of battery assets in relation to charge and discharge characteristics. In addition, noted LaFevers, the tracker can “help eliminate battery-related equipment downtime, performance setbacks and even operational and safety concerns.”

Cold as Ice

One of the more exciting new concepts in the battery world is that of cold storage batteries—those that are specially designed and manufactured for the most demanding cold storage and freezer applications. The obvious advantages to a cold-storage industrial battery are numerous. Cold storage facilities are the backbone of the supply chain for such crucial products as frozen and refrigerated foods, pharmaceuticals and petrochemicals. However, the extreme temperatures needed to preserve perishables can reduce efficiency in electric forklifts—or even damage them outright.

Douglas Battery is, in fact, the only battery manufacturer that has designed an industrial battery specifically for cold storage and freezer applications. Faust elaborated: “One of the inherent characteristics of the cold is that it drains batteries at a much faster rate, resulting in shorter run times. Our Arctic Battery was designed with an insulation barrier and our special Arctic solution to allow faster recharge times. Our batteries were designed specifically for 40 degrees and colder temperatures. Our product contains the heat so well, that it cannot be used in an ambient temperature applications—or the battery will fail because of heat issues.”

Charge It

Obviously, an empty rechargeable battery has to be recharged, but it’s important to use the charger that is most appropriate to that battery. Charging properly means that the battery will regain the correct amount of energy in the available time. As a rule, the intensity of the charge and discharge currents strongly influence the lifespan of the battery. The higher the currents, the warmer the battery gets. High temps can, in turn, have a detrimental effect on the battery. To prevent this, the right charger is imperative.

Low-frequency chargers, aka, conventional chargers, can be recognized by their large, somewhat bulky size and weight. Low-frequency chargers also generate a lot of heat and lose up to 30% of their capacity, as a result. They also tend to be less cost-effective. (On average, a low-frequency charger will only charge a battery about 70%.) For these reasons, the conventional, low-frequency charger is now considered somewhat outdated.

The most efficient chargers on the market today are the high-frequency (HF) versions. HF chargers are lighter, more compact and more efficient. Such chargers also consume a lot less energy and don’t have a high inrushing surge current. This can result in lower long-term costs.

Other advantages to using HF chargers include a longer battery life-span; reduced heat-generation in the battery; lower water consumption; and lower weight/size.

Going Modular

Modular chargers fall into the high frequency (HF) category and are very efficient. Said Faust: “Modular chargers, specifically, are more versatile than standard HFs, because they allow us to fit the output specific to a customer’s need. If a customer is light duty now, and they want to add shifts or change the size of their batteries down the road, because their business has increased, then most times, just adding a module or two will get them the extra output needed. They wouldn’t have to purchase brand-new chargers.”

In the end, however, it’s the type of use that determines the best charger for any given operation. Faust stated that there are different types of applications that determine what types of chargers are needed.

“An application running a single shift or that is using multiple batteries will be using conventional-type chargers. Customers wanting to use just one battery and eliminate battery changes will either use an opportunity charger or a fast charger, all depending on their specific applications, battery sizes and shifts being run,” Faust said.

However, using opportunity or fast chargers comes with some limitations; they cannot be used by everyone. Faust continued, “They are limited to customers running no more than six days a week and would certainly require a power study to determine exactly what would work for them.”

Into the Future

From fleet management to warehouse management solutions, the focus on telematics adoption was also everywhere at ProMat. How much will this influence the battery-powered vehicle of the future?

LaFevers opined: “The beauty of telematics is that it can be installed on virtually any type of mobile equipment, regardless of power source. The pressures of balancing fleet efficiency and operator performance can be mitigated by having access to the right data. The ability for telemetry devices to integrate almost seamlessly into the battery and truck systems, and provide real-time actionable data, may help some operations choose battery or other alternative power sources over ICEs.”

Addressing lift trucks specifically, as they relate to telemetry/telematics, LaFevers continued, “Lift trucks are really transforming into mobile data centers, and having access to the appropriate data and information helps operations managers make informed responses to potential productivity disruptions.”

Douglas Battery’s Faust expressed a similar sentiment: “Telematics/telemetry will affect the future of the industrial battery, in that smarter lift trucks will ultimately mean lift trucks that run more efficiently and are not as hard on the batteries.” WMHS