What You Don't Know About Motive Power Can Hurt You

June 1, 2009
Predictive maintenance technology can help avoid huge financial losses caused by premature battery failure.

For material handling professionals overseeing distribution or manufacturing operations, expectations are tougher than ever. Even the most successful and innovative material handling managers are frustrated by the unrelenting need to do more with less. They can't afford to miss opportunities to improve the bottom line and increase productivity.

Though material handling experts are painfully aware of operational and mechanical problems caused by underperforming batteries, financial executives in their organizations often don't understand the negative impact battery problems have on the bottom line. They simply don't realize those costly, unglamorous sources of power for lift trucks can make or break profitability. When batteries are inefficient or failing too soon, throughput falters, costs escalate and electric lift trucks generate more and more cost for the company each day.

And, as battery budgets continue to be slashed, it's more important than ever to get more life and performance out of batteries.

The price of batteries for motive power has risen nearly 90% just in the past couple of years. Nevertheless, many companies continue to overlook battery performance and literally waste millions of dollars through cost overruns, lost productivity and unfulfilled warranties.

There is absolutely no need for this waste when proven predictive maintenance technologies are readily available.

Optimizing Maintenance

Many times, normally functioning batteries contain individual cells that have failed. These bad cells often go undetected until it's too late. Too many DC managers wait for run times to worsen, one cell at a time. Eventually, the entire battery fails and needs to be replaced.

Even batteries that still function are more costly than they need to be. Our studies show that many lift truck batteries in DCs are running at 50% to 60% capacity and must be recharged after four to five hours. Designed to last for at least a full shift during their warranty period, these batteries are underperforming, and facility managers report that average run times have continued to drop over the past few years.

One example of a predictive maintenance technology that monitors battery health to prevent these costly problems is the computerized MCBA capacity test system from Battery Test Equipment Co. The system analyzes, identifies, quantifies and manages discharge tests based on Battery Council International standards. Setup takes 10 minutes, twice a year, per battery, and the computer does the rest. Managers get regular, two-page maintenance reports as well as documentation of cell and battery histories they can use to monitor and manage warranties.

SuperValu in Mechanicsville, Va.; Raley's Supermarkets of Sacramento, Calif.; and Super Store Industries in Lathrop, Calif., have all used the technology to improve utilization of their battery assets.

Jim Wessel, regional facilities director at SuperValu, instituted an automated battery analysis program that incorporated semi-annual capacity load tests.

The program allowed him to identify batteries and individual cells that were in the process of failing. As a result, lift truck run times were extended by three hours per shift, saving more than $2,350 per day in labor costs. That's more than half a million dollars per year.

Dave Altop, maintenance manager at Raley's, was able to exercise battery warranties fully, optimize run times and increase operational productivity using a predictive maintenance program for batteries. Because he had accurate testing documentation at his fingertips, Altop was able to receive more than $140,000 in warranty claims for cells and batteries.

He also takes advantage of cell cannibalizations from spent batteries. Previously, dead batteries were hauled away, good cells and all. “I never actually buy cells anymore,” Altop reports.

“Long life in a battery can only be obtained through a good system of watering, equalizing, proper rotation and charging,” Altop concludes. “With this program in place, and the MCBA to prove it, battery companies honor all my warranties.”

Super Store Industries uses the technology to test every battery regularly. “My tuggers are now getting an extra two to three years of battery life,” says Kevin Selby, facilities manager for Super Store's dry grocery and frozen food division. “That's a 67% increase, straight to the bottom line.” He also reports that equipment maintenance costs have dropped dramatically because low-voltage batteries are addressed before they become problems. “We eliminated 15 minutes of unnecessary daily battery changes for 40 operators, which is 10 hours of gained productivity per day, or 2,500 hours per year,” he adds.

The managers have also used the performance data generated by the technology to plan battery buying more effectively and reduce guesswork. They also operate on fewer batteries today and can identify overheating cells before they fail.

For these professionals, investing in predictive battery maintenance technology was a small price to pay for the ability to optimize the assets that power their lift truck fleets.

Roger Clark is general manager of Battery Test Equipment Co. in Nazareth, Pa. He can be reached at [email protected] or 610-746-9449. The company's Web site is at www.batterytesteq.com.

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