Lithium-Ion Batteries: Improving Warehouse Efficiencies in Light Of Surging Ecommerce Demand

By: Roberto Denti & Nikolaos Tsiouvaras, Contributors

© Olivier Le Moal – stock.adobe.com

An increase in demand for ecommerce sales as a result of COVID-19 is undoubtedly applying pressure to enhance efficiency for many warehouses and fulfillment centers. Spikes and fluctuations in demand have emphasized the need to maximize working capacity and combat increased unpredictability as adjusted retail ecommerce sales in the second quarter of 2020 hit $211.5 billion, according to the Census Bureau of the U.S. Department of Commerce. This number shows an increase of 31.8% from the first quarter of 2020, and a staggering 44.5% increase from the second quarter of 2019.

The surge in demand in ecommerce sales is being reflected across the world and shows no signs of stopping as globally we prepare for further restrictions in light of a Wave 2 of COVID-19. As a result, warehouse and fulfillment centers need to improve operational predictability.

When assessing the efficiency of a warehouse, it is important to understand the performance limits of your equipment. Aging forklifts that are no longer running at the efficiency required may need to be serviced or replaced to keep up with high demand. However, it is also important to understand how components of the product may be hindering its performance. In particular, its power source: the battery.

The importance of the right battery

The right battery can have a significant impact not just on performance, but on the footprint of the warehouse and running costs. Lithium-ion batteries form a significant part of that solution. Their application in electrical industrial vehicles, including forklifts, helps to reduce downtime, enhance output and improve reliability.

With the impetus on maintaining increased demand across warehouses, operators need to extend the use of their machinery. Lithium-ion helps achieve this reduction in idle time through substantial improvements in speed of charging, and the primary advantage of the opportunity charging option, when required, with no effect on battery service life.

Using lithium-ion-phosphate offers approximately 4,500 charging cycles, depending on user profile. The added longevity translates to a marked difference on return on investment despite the higher initial purchase cost.

Innovative Battery Monitoring Systems (BMS) and Active Balancing modes, which can be employed both in the charging and discharging cycle for lithium-ion batteries, also allow the equal flow and receipt of energy between the cells, keeping them constantly at the same voltage levels, thus optimizing the performance and lifecycle of the battery as a system.

Improved energy efficiency results in significantly lower electricity consumption on charge-discharge cycles compared to classic lead acid solutions, combined with zero emissions during operation, attest to enhanced air quality in warehouses – where no dedicated charging room is required.

Lithium-ion batteries used in electrical industrial vehicles, including forklifts, help to reduce downtime, enhance output and improve reliability. © Naeblys – stock.adobe.com

Keeping Safety in mind

However, when it comes to the efficiency of lithium-ion batteries it is vitally important to specify batteries from a trusted manufacturer and follow care and maintenance instructions. The composition of lithium-ion batteries is quite complex. From a manufacturing perspective this needs to be considered at the very beginning, from the use of high-quality raw materials to state-of-the-art manufacturing processes in accordance with health and safety standards such as IEC 61508 health and safety regulations.

Compared to other battery options, lithium-ion batteries, due to their composition, require less maintenance, offer greater longevity and can improve the environmental footprint of a business, accounting for an important reduction in resulting annual TCO (total cost of ownership) compared to other technologies. However, the primary safety concern with lithium-ion batteries is the risk of fires.

Fires can happen when a higher-than-specified temperature increases by overcharging, deep discharging or mechanical faults. To mitigate these risks, batteries are manufactured with in-built safety measures. To provide warning against possible hazardous situations, it is important to look for manufacturers that provide BMS cloud connectivity functions as standard, which can send alerts via email and includes a predictive maintenance. Battery management systems with cloud connectivity opens up new possibilities for fleet management.

As ecommerce shows no signs of slowing down and fulfillment centers continue to improve efficiencies to tackle a surge in demand, simple changes such as the adoption and proper care of lithium-ion batteries can greatly improve productivity. By selecting a battery that features built-in safety measures, BMS and cloud connectivity as standard from a trusted manufacturer, warehouses can continue to provide a fast and reliable service to their customers, even in these challenging times. WMHS

Roberto Denti (left) is the Operations Director, while Nikolaos Tsiouvaras (right) is the R&D Director at Systems Sunlight, a leading technology company in the production of batteries for energy storage industry (www.systems-sunlight.com).