Installing Chargers Properly

An industrial battery charger is a combination of transformers, heat-sinks and electronic circuit boards that may weigh 300 lbs. or more. This somewhat environmentally sensitive collection of parts is usually contained in a vented sheet-metal cabinet of only modest strength and resiliency. The effect of "gentle" nudges from the forklifts that visit these battery chargers daily show just how susceptible to physical damage the charger can be.

Step One in properly installing a battery charger: Find a safe place for it. The proper environment is an area that does not subject the charger to unusually high temperatures, high humidity or airborne particles (see manufacturer’s guidelines). Ideally, the charger should be positioned so that it can’t be bumped by any part of a forklift. This usually means an elevated wall mounting, or shelf.

Elevating a charger is a good idea, and it is particularly easy to use an elevated charger that has an auto control (auto start/stop)— the operator does not need to reach an on/off knob or switch on the unit. It should be obvious that any method used to hold the charger up out of harm’s way should be secure enough to prevent costly accidents from falling 300 lb. cabinets. The charger should always be anchored to its platform, which in turn should be anchored securely against tip-over. Chargers have been known to come down off the shelf as a result of cables pulled by lift trucks on the move.

Also please note: Just because an elevated automatic charger does not need to be manually started after plugging in the battery, doesn’t mean that the charger can be completely out of sight. The operator should be able to visually verify the status of the charger— both to ensure that charging has actually started, and to check that charging has been completed. The charger’s ammeter or digital current readout should be plainly visible to the operator to allow verification of proper output. This, as well as other considerations (safety, particularly) may require good lighting of the area. Be aware that to safely interrupt a charge in progress (hopefully not a common occurrence— the charger should be allowed to shut down on its own at the end of a complete charge), one must press a "stop" switch on the charger to prevent a possibly hazardous arc at the connector. Access to the stop switch, therefore, should not be difficult.

In many plants, individual charger stations end up boxed in by pallets and such, making it necessary to execute a precision approach in order to get the lift truck close enough to plug in. The temptation is to equip the charger with longer than standard cables to snake over and through boxes and allow the truck to remain at some distance from the charger. For the reasons outlined above, not being within sight of the charger is a bad arrangement. Also, long cables are not efficient at the low voltages and high currents that chargers produce, and such cables are subject to damage from lift truck traffic. Long cables are heavy, and if a long length of unsupported cable puts weight on mated connectors (using today’s popular universal-style spring-loaded connectors known as "SB"), contact tips may twist out of their ideal position— causing heating and eventual connector failure.

Avoid positioning chargers in congested areas so as to keep cables relatively short, and check out cable retractor accessories that support and pull cables back to the charger.

"Wiring in" a charger should be handled in the same way any piece of industrial electric equipment is installed: by a qualified electrician who consults manufacturer’s guidelines on proper hook-up. Safe insulation, proper switchboxes and proper grounding are all important. In many cases, the battery charger can be set up to accept one of several common AC voltages (such as 208, 240 or 480 volts). If your electrician is at all uncertain about the voltage for which the charger is currently set, contact the supplier of your battery charger. Qualified charger dealers are well-versed in the equipment they sell, and should have no problem clearing up any mystery (Make it a point to obtain used battery chargers only from experienced charger technicians who can assure you of proper charger operation as well as voltage requirements).

Remember what I said earlier about Step One in proper charger installation? I think I’ve just amended that by pointing out that you have to take steps even earlier to ensure that you end up with the proper charger. Keep an eye on this column for continuing advise, and make sure you have a knowledgeable source for your equipment. That’s a start.

For more information, contact Arcon Equipment Inc. (440) 232-1422.