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Powered Vehicles: Hidden Cash in the Battery Room

March 1, 2009
When managed as assets rather than costly liabilities, lift truck batteries can unearth buried treasure in an operation.

By Dave Rizzo

In the past, only the most creative fiscal manager would think of looking for hundred-dollar bills inside a lift truck battery.

Things have changed. Today, every penny counts, and corporate managers are scrutinizing every aspect of their operations. By viewing batteries as motive-power assets worthy of careful management, rather than costly burdens, managers are starting to recognize previously untapped cash potential.

Information is Money
Insufficient or inaccurate tracking of battery usage and charging often extracts a high toll from income statements. Considering that one lift truck battery can cost up to five figures, if that battery is unnecessarily replaced because of poor charging practices (such as placing a hand on the battery to see if it is hot or cold) or inaccurate lifespan calculations, it doesn’t take long to leach tens of thousands of dollars from a large-scale operation.

More than ever, corporate managers are demanding a greater accounting of battery usage. And, recent advancements in battery management systems are helping to make this possible. These systems collect and provide information that, when acted on, can improve operational efficiency.

Considering the large number of battery-powered lift trucks, pallet jacks and other material handling equipment operating in most moderately sized warehouses or manufacturing facilities, potential savings can hoist up a P&L statement.

“The biggest savings we have found comes from the usage reports that allow us to purchase fewer batteries,” says Mark Soetaert, director of distribution center maintenance operations for Sears and K-Mart distribution centers. Soetaert uses the EBatt suite of motive-power management systems from Temple, Texas-based MTC.

“Through accurate management of battery inventory, these systems can reduce the standing inventory of batteries from an industry average of two to three batteries per lift truck down to only 1.8 or 1.4, representing a sizable savings for even a small warehousing site,” says Randy Arnold, spokesman for MTC.

“On the maintenance side, it allows us to look at underperforming batteries quickly and accurately, so we can repair or replace the bad ones,” adds Soetaert. “The primary advantage is it tells a maintenance person what batteries to use and when. The batteries are always fully charged and used equally. Since the system regulates the proper use of batteries, no one has to keep track.”

The Science Inside
The science behind high-tech battery management systems is based on the collection of mission-critical data, including asset IDs for each vehicle, battery and operator. The technology also collects start and stop times, reflecting the moments when battery transactions begin and end, and duration (obtained from the hour meter) of battery runtime on the vehicle. Without the aid of technology, managing this vast pool of data would be overwhelming. Battery management systems funnel this data into a relational database, analyze it, and then generate reports that can be viewed on screen, printed, exported to Excel or saved in PDF format.

Corporate managers can generate reports detailing battery, vehicle and charger inventory; transactions by charged battery, charger, date, operator and vehicle; individual run times by battery; and monthly comparisons. Advanced systems offer battery-room reports detailing charger status, battery watering, battery washing, battery equalizing, a “ready” battery listing and even vehicle maintenance.

Optimize for Profits
The optimization of battery assets helps lower operating costs and improves profitability by pinpointing inefficiencies and defining capital asset requirements.

For example, these systems can help cut back on the required number of batteries and chargers by allowing managers to get every ounce of life and performance from each battery. Without a battery management system, these critical assets can fail years ahead of their time. If they last, they could underperform.

Managers can also use these systems to track operator use of motive-power assets. By viewing reports of battery life for each lift truck driver, executives can identify employees who may need refresher training. The ultimate goal is to reduce battery changes or improve lift truck utilization. In

Access to accurate inventory information and usage reports can help reduce the number of batteries required for an operation.

addition, managers who oversee several facilities can evaluate and compare performance for each site.

“If an organization is able to reduce its battery and charger count through the use of a battery management system, then as much as 25% of the energy costs in the battery room can be saved,” says MTC’s Arnold.

As technology continues to advance, and cost control becomes more important, battery management is sure to continue its upward climb through the corporate ranks.

Dave Rizzo is a freelance writer based in Fullerton, Calif.

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