Welcome to our spook-tacular Focus On! This month we're going to be looking at batteries and their maintenance, because there are few things more important to an electric forklift than what makes it go.
As the material handling industry moves more and more toward electric lift trucks for reasons like cost effectiveness, ongoing maintenance costs, and "fuel" cost/efficiency, batteries are becoming a more and more important part of everyday business. Because of that everyone is having to get a lot more familiar with what it takes to properly order and care for these hefty parts of business. Lucky for you we're here to help with every step of the process from initial ordering through to care and supplies, so don't hesitate to contact us!
If you deal with batteries on a regular basis there's probably a part of your brain screaming in disgust after seeing this image. Don't worry! That's a perfectly normal response to lifting the cover on this monster and seeing what lurks within.
This is a customer battery that we don't quite have the full story on (sometimes the person in charge doesn't even have the full story), but what we think happened is a tale of terror in two parts. First: the battery was probably over-watered before being charged; this results in the battery acid boiling out of the cells while charging (adding energy causes materials to expand). Second: on seeing the top of the battery completely submerged in battery acid someone dumped baking soda all over it to neutralize the acid, which is actually not a terrible call but ends up looking like this.
Unsurprisingly we're working on this walkie jack because of "battery issues."
Part of this problem could be solved with better training and education of those taking care of the battery. Part of it could have been helped by having a good spill kit on hand to deal with the problem effectively instead of "WhatdoIdo?" in a panic and grabbing whatever is at hand.
For the training and education side batteries are actually pretty simple.
The other part of this is having a good spill kit on hand. Most of these kits are fairly similar in that they come in a bucket to store their contents and anything you need to clean up. Inside the bucket is usually some PPE (face-shield or goggles, gloves, and apron typically), something to soak up any spilled acid (absorbent pads or snake, or sometimes a granular absorbent), and typically a spray or solution to neutralize the acid (this will get down between the cells and into the battery casing as well instead of just a surface touch-up). Keeping this all in a bucket makes it really handy to grab in case of emergency, and means there's somewhere safe to store the clean-up until you can dispose of it responsibly (laws vary by location but you can't usually just toss it in the trash).
One of the things we pride ourselves at Industrial Truck Service is on making sure you have what you need to keep your business moving. Your CSS Rep will be happy to help you find the right products to take care of your battery fleet, from easy to spot battery PPE boards to watering systems, and even Periodic Maintenance by one of our skilled technicians. Our Sales Team is also available to help you make sure you get the right equipment, batteries, and chargers for your business needs.
Here we see a battery that has been taken care of properly. This is a big one out of one of our Toyota 80V Electric Pneumatic forklifts. Most industrial batteries for material handling uses have 2V cells, so this battery has 40 cells cells to hit that 80V size.
This is not a new battery (we've got pictures of that later on) but instead a real life, working battery that's even had some work done on it. Over-use by a rental customer killed a couple of cells, so our in-house technicians needed to replace them and do some work to bring the battery back to factory spec. Despite all that you can see how well it has stood up. Its been through a cleaning and a full diagnostic load test and has already been back at work in our rental fleet.
A couple of notes on this battery because there's kind of a lot going on in the picture.
A little earlier I mentioned our 80V battery being put through a test. While there are a lot of tests you can do with batteries like checking voltages and checking acid specific gravity to name a couple, to really test a battery and put some numbers to what you find you need something like this fancy little box.
Officially the SBS-200CT Forklift Battery Regenerator & Discharge Cycler this beauty can actually test each cell under load and charge and tell you where problems are with an underperforming battery (not pictured are the wireless sensor packs that need to be hooked up to the battery for testing). This also allows for unmanned regeneration charging where the system forces several charge cycles one after another in order to bring back some degraded capacity. How much this helps very much depends on how far gone a battery is, and isn't a replacement for weekly equalization charging.
Investing in this kind of equipment lets Industrial Truck Service do a deep dive into what's going on in your battery and can take you from "This battery is garbage" to "There's a pair of dead cells that need replacing" and since a battery is only as good as its weakest cell this can potentially save you thousands of dollars in unnecessary replacement costs.
Ideally you won't need to take advantage of this testing capacity by taking good care of your batteries in the first place, but if something does happen we're there for you to call if there are problems. This kind of testing is shop based however, so your battery will need to come to us. You can contact Your CSS Rep to see if we have a battery available for rental to keep you up and running in the meantime.
I've mentioned battery cells, acid, and a few others things already in the article, but what are they all actually?
A few months ago we got some extra training from one of our vendors on their battery line-up and this cut-away view was just too awesome to not snap a picture of. This is from one of Crown's V-Force Batteries, specifically their Lead Acid Tubular Low Maintenance line. Within the cell you can see the plates (the tubes and grid-looking thing) within their protective dividers and substrate coatings. This is where the magic of the battery happens and what allows it to store energy when flooded with the right acid solution.
Above that are the battery posts which are how you actually get the power out of the battery. One post is connected to all the positive plates while the other is connected to the negative plates. Sitting between the two posts on this cell is one of Crown's V-Force Float Assemblies, one of their two in-house systems (the other is a barbed style valve and looks a bit different). If you don't have a watering system there will just be a cap here that you can look down through to see your battery level. A flashlight can be a good addition to your battery tools to make sure you get a good look.
The bottom of the float is actually your target level for when you're watering a battery, because you want the plates to be fully submerged after you've finished a charge. If you don't water to this level you're exposing the working surface of the battery to corrosion and oxidation that being covered would protect it from. And yes it sounds funny to be protecting something from corrosion when you're bathing it in battery acid, but "exposed" corrosion is the "wrong" kind for a battery!
First you saw a battery in need of help, then one that had been well looked after, and finally we get to one that is actually new!
This is a brand new 48V battery for a brand new Toyota truck. Like before this has got some cable management keeping things in place; it really can be this simple. A few zip-ties to guide the cable and a bit of tape is a solid start. A little harder to see is the shrink-tubing around the cable ends in the connector to reinforce the connection. The factory does it this way because the connector is the most handled part of the battery, constantly being yanked on for charging and hooking back to the truck. There's actually a lot of ways to reinforce these connections and can be a REALLY good thing to look at if your operators are less than gentle with connectors.
Different types of handles, clamps, connectors, cable roving, sheathes, and shrink tubing are all available to reduce the need to replace your battery cables or ends. If you're used to seeing line items like "Connector Housing SB350" on your invoices, it might be a sign that your operators are playing a little rough with your battery components.
Your CSS Rep can either help you directly or put you in touch with our Service Department to explore what might work for you. This might be different connectors, charger stands, cable pogos, or any number of other things that might simplify some of your battery related life.
Batteries aren't just what makes your forklift go, they're also an important part of how it works. Most battery units have less of a back-end than comparable gas units; this is because the battery itself acts as part of the counterweight. This is also why your forklift's dataplate lists a minimum battery weight on it, because that battery weight was used to calculate lift capacity.
Especially if you're a 2-3 shift business running a fleet of forklifts being able to get batteries in and out of your machines is an important consideration. If you're a single shift, occasional user this will never come up, but given the charge/rest/use cycle we talked about before, being able to swap batteries is a huge thing to think about. Do you have space to lay out a battery room where machines can drive up to roll batteries in and out? Do you have enough batteries you need battery charge racking? Do you need a crane, or will a couple of battery trays do the job? We can help you decide and implement the right solution for your needs.
Beyond that is your truck fleet itself. Maybe you've got a mixed bag of things bought at different times from different suppliers. Maybe you have a unified fleet from a single brand. Either way there's probably stuff going on under your battery you haven't thought of that can help or hinder your battery operations. Below are a few examples.
Like many things about material handling equipment, batteries aren't short on upgrade potential. I'll give a short run-down on some of the most common below, along with a few more pictures.
Below are a few examples of things for batteries that we wanted to show you but didn't really fit elsewhere.
This... abomination came in a while ago from a customer. They were complaining that the truck would drive only very slowly, had problems turning, and wouldn't lift or sideshift. As soon as it came in we knew what the problem was, but did some diagnosis to really nail down the cause of the problems. Hooking the truck up to a good battery from our stock suddenly let the forklift drive, steer, lift, tilt, and sideshift all at once! Behold, a battery problem!
This battery is not original, by any stretch of the word. It was apparently purchased locally from a vendor that is "reconditioning" batteries (we have some strong thoughts on this...). Looking closely you can see cells that are different sizes, different heights, and even different types of battery (some cells are the double-connector of opportunity charge and some are regular cells). The "T" connections had to be cobbled together by melting regular inter-cell connectors together, and there's obvious corrosion all over. There's also evidence of corrosion inside the cells as well, with some of the posts being pushed up by sediment collecting at the bottom. This causes shorting within the cell and basically guarantees the cell is dead as it becomes unable to hold a charge (let alone the safety risks of the short).
Less obvious, but we could tell from the cell markings themselves that these cells are even from different battery makers! All told there are at least 3-4 different batteries that have been bashed together to build this thing. To top it off the battery cables were so stiff that you could hold them out at a 90 degree angle without any drooping. They're supposed to be kind of flexible, not hard and brittle, and we suspect the cable has been over-heated repeatedly during charging so there's some doubts about the right charger being in use too.
You may also note that there's a lot of space between the front and back of the battery and the rest of the truck. This battery is in fact nearly 500lbs/227kg lighter than required by the manufacturers safety specifications. This means that nothing on the dataplate can be considered accurate for lifting or load specifications. And that's to say nothing of how unsafe something that heavy would be sliding around inside the body of the truck. Tip-overs, spills, injuries and even fatalities wouldn't be a question of "if" with this battery, but a question of "when."
This customer's CSS Rep had to tell them that not only was their battery shot (if it could ever have been considered "good"), but also inappropriate for their truck and that they'd need to get a battery with the correct specifications. In the meantime this truck is unusable both from a technical/usability standpoint and from a safety standpoint.
Please folks: if you don't know about something Get In Contact with us. We'd love to help you and your business find the right products for the right work. A little knowledge is actually worse than none, so call the experts and get our trained, knowledgeable, and experienced team working for you!
So that's a bit about batteries! Bit of an info dump, but after our first horror entry we knew we needed to say a few things about what is becoming the dominant form of motive power in the world of forklifts. As always if you have any questions or comments you can Get In Contact with us for more details.