Tuning Up the Electric Fleet

Throughout much of this century, the lead-acid motive power battery has remained largely unchanged. Paradoxically, this consistency has regularly inspired aftermarket products that promise performance improvements in the “plain vanilla” forklift battery.

Although it has yet to be shown that battery electrolyte additives, charger gimmicks and many other novel accessories so much as provide a breakeven return on the investment, we will continue to be confronted with glowing “case histories” and quotes from satisfied users of such products currently used at reputable firms. In evaluating this fringe area of aftermarket products (the “performance enhancers”) we have to be wary. Especially since the numbers in the ads sound so good. Besides, if a case history outlined in black and white shows a 20 to 30 percent improvement in electric lift truck fleet run time— it must have some truth to it, right?

Yes, and no. Because there is so much variability in the attention paid to the average lift truck fleet’s charging requirements— you could call it sloppy fleet management— there is always huge room for improvement. If the promoter of a performance- enhancing aftermarket product sends his people in to a given electric fleet installation to set them up to properly use his product, it is likely that all aspects of lift truck battery use will get close scrutiny as well. Attention to proper charging and use of lift truck batteries can have sudden and dramatic effect on overall performance of the formerly neglected electric fleet. It would not be surprising to see “20 to 30 percent” improvement even if the new product was accidentally left out!

Take charge of your electric fleet Keep in mind that there are very few things that battery and charger manufacturers would neglect to add to their products if it would give them a competitive edge. Don’t expect to be successful at reinventing the wheel in this case. Obtain the manuals for your batteries and chargers. Read them. Get all of the benefits claimed in the case histories without investing in the latest revolutionary product itself. Here are some suggestions:

  • Ensure that all batteries are connected to a properly rated charger.

  • Enforce a charging time policy that prevents interruption of the charge before it is complete.

  • Institute a cooling period for batteries that run hot. (A cooling period can benefit most batteries used intensively).

  • Water batteries properly.

  • Assign batteries with the highest capacity to the hardest working departments.

  • Track battery performance effectively by labeling batteries, keeping notes— and seek service at the first sign of a problem.

If the above matches your personal fleet philosophy, and you see no need to police the operation, check these points with your supervisors and truck operators anyway. You may be surprised at what you find. Most plants seem to have a favorite lift truck or two that is never allowed to sit still long enough to get a proper charge. One supervisor decided to have the favorite truck chained and locked to ensure uninterrupted charge time. Extreme, but it worked.

Good Aftermarket Product Ideas Of course, there are aftermarket battery and charger products that I approve of— but these aren’t ones that make wild performance claims. They do make life with batteries easier and provide some cost-efficiencies.

As you read in last month’s column, a single-point battery watering system can be handy to have. If not that, an auto shut-off watering hose nozzle saves a lot of time and improves watering accuracy.

Along with such a nozzle, flip-top cell vent caps speed things up considerably.

Battery watering alarms or indicators are available to provide an often-needed reminder.

Handles added to battery/charger connectors make disconnection easier and save the cables from improper tugging. Color-keyed connectors can be installed to ensure that batteries are connected only to the proper charger.

Upgrading timer controlled chargers to aftermarket computerized auto controls is a very good idea, and could pay off with extended battery life. It certainly prevents “forgot to turn the charger on” mistakes as well as arbitrary charging timer settings.

Also now available are some interesting battery status indicators/recorders that stay with an individual battery and reveal its charge/discharge history. Some operations might be able to make constructive use of such data.

And it wouldn’t be a bad idea to have a periodic class for lift truck operators that includes battery and charger manual information and safety precautions. The more people who feel involved in maintaining efficient fleet operation, the better. Useful suggestions will often come to the table this way.

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