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Forklift Battery Room

A Checklist on How to Evaluate and Elevate Forklift Efficiency

Dec. 28, 2022
Forklift power represents half of the annual cost of owning and maintaining a forklift fleet.

For the busy facility leaders who keep our e-commerce, manufacturing and distribution humming along, their equipment’s battery power is usually the last thing on their minds. That is, until it fails.

The challenge is that more facilities than ever are qualifying as multi-shift, high productivity, high-velocity facilities. The critical equipment that keeps materials and products moving includes forklifts, reach trucks, robots (AMRs) and more—and the requirements we place on this equipment grows by the day.

But what happens when the battery systems powering this equipment fails?

In my experience, facility leaders are frustrated when this occurs. They don’t understand why forklift batteries fail, why they fail much sooner than expected, or how to realistically improve at maintenance and upkeep. Unlike a forklift or similar piece of large equipment, which can be visibly inspected for damage or wear, a battery is a black box, tucked away inside the equipment.

How do you inspect a battery? How do you choose the right size or technology in the first place? How do you know you’re making the best possible choice for your particular applications, environments and sustainability goals?

These questions may seem in-the-weeds, and perhaps even irrelevant to the long list of more pressing concerns facing your daily facility management. But consider this: Data shows us that forklift power represents a staggering 50% of the annual cost of owning and maintaining your forklift fleet. It’s also a driving factor for episodes of downtime because when the power goes out and a replacement isn’t readily available, the equipment is obviously out of commission, too.

What you do or don’t do to evaluate, optimize and manage your forklift power is directly contributing to your profits and losses in a significant way. If you’re interested in digging into your current usage and practices, this checklist of questions and prompts will get you started. I recommend gathering your team together and walking through them one by one.

1. How did you select your forklift battery source? How long ago did you make that decision, and how long is your agreement or contract in place? What factors contributed to that decision? Often it may be unknown how you ended up with the power source you are using. Change in personnel, or perhaps because it has always been done that way, are frequent scenarios. Businesses evolve, as does technology, which is why it is important to evaluate your current needs.

2. Did you consider the total cost of ownership over the lifetime of the battery? Was a higher upfront cost preferred to gain the lowest total cost of ownership by having reduced maintenance? Or was a lower upfront cost preferred even though it may have aggregated to a higher total cost of ownership? The answer to this will drive your product choice as some have a much higher upfront cost but have a lower total cost of ownership over the lifetime of the product.

3. Have you had to replace some or all of your forklift batteries? If so, how long did each one last? Do you record that data in a systematic way, compare it with your warranties, facility practices and usage? Do you make future buying decisions with that information in mind? This data is valuable to your facility as it is what develops the blueprint of your power profile, ensures that you have the uptime you require, and have properly budgeted for power cost profile.

4. What is the primary application you require forklift power to support? In other words, how exactly are your forklifts used, for how many hours per day, by how many team members, and for what tasks? What are your shift schedules and break schedules? Did you have a conversation with your battery provider about your specific plans for application? Knowing this helps to develop the usage profile of your equipment, which directly translates to daily throughput requirements for your power source as well as establishment of the viable life of your power source in the application.

5. Are you running a large volume of equipment, and are you running multiple shifts with heavy usage? Do your forklift batteries see high discharge currents? What is the Ah/h throughput? Do you understand how battery sizes and duty cycles differ? High discharge currents, heavy duty cycle, and many other factors play into the overall decision on what power source to utilize. This is why it is so critical to understand these components.

6. What is the ambient temperature and seasonality of your facilities? If you have multiple facility locations nationwide, how do climate changes affect your facilities region to region? Have you accounted for these differences in your forklift battery selection? A facility with high ambient temperatures and high usage requires different considerations from a lower ambient temperature facility with high usage. The same thought process should also be used in low temperature applications.

7. How exactly are you assessing and evaluating the state of your forklift power? What is your process, how often is it carried out, and who is responsible for reporting on it? Ensuring you are staying in communication with your power provider will allow for you to catch any potential issues before they become larger issues.

8. Is it easy to get your forklift operators to comply with required standards and other requests for use? What methods have you used for communicating new expectations and how would you enact changes in your forklift/forklift power usage in the future? Believe it or not, culture does drive decisions on what power source to select for a given application.

9. Do you have a sense of the resources available to assist you in evaluating and optimizing your forklift power? Have you considered assessing partners for potential future support? If it is not evident, there is a lot to consider to ensure you have the best solution.

With this checklist in hand, you and your team can begin the process of evaluating where you currently stand with optimizing your forklift uptime and your forklift power performance. You’ll then have a roadmap to start to make upgrades and procedural changes to elevate your practices.

The combination of technology, power management and strong maintenance program makes it possible to see batteries actually outliving and outlasting the equipment they power. That translates to serious cost savings and increased uptime in the long term.

Michael Galyen is regional vice-president at Concentric, a provider of DC power management and on-site maintenance for the material handling and critical power industries.

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