July 20, 2017

New lithium-ion batteries adaptable to all forklift types, manufacturer says

Romeo Power says flexible configuration could speed adoption of lithium-ion batteries in material handling.

By Toby Gooley

Romeo Power thinks it has built a better mousetrap for lithium-ion battery packs.

The Vernon, Calif.-based startup said earlier this week it has developed the Thunder Pack-C, which it calls the first lithium-ion (l-i) battery pack designed to be adapted for any electric forklift make or model currently being sold in the United States. The lithium-ion battery, which the company will manufacture in California, is expected to begin shipping in December.

"If you look at the 24 different configurations available in the U.S. market today, only about 20 percent are being served by existing lithium-ion battery packs," Michael Patterson, Romeo's founder and CEO, said in an interview. "There's nothing now that will work for everything."

Patterson said the configurable design will speed adoption of lithium-ion batteries in the forklift market and help l-i take a large portion of the market away from lead-acid batteries.

The company's engineers used computer-aided design (CAD) modeling to layer designs for all 24 types of battery compartments and trays over each other and "come up with a model of what the battery pack should look like," said Porter Harris, the company's co-founder and its chief technology officer. The batteries' 10 kw power modules can be configured in different ways to match the lift truck and how it's being used, he said.

Forklift manufacturers put batteries and any other add-ons that are not integral to the truck through a stringent, lengthy, model-by-model testing and approval process before they will allow another company's product to be used on their equipment. According to Patterson, a number of major lift truck makers are currently testing Romeo's batteries. Power Designers USA LLC, the Madison, Wis.-based manufacturer of chargers and other battery management products, has endorsed Romeo's batteries and is providing the optional chargers buyers can order with the batteries.

Romeo said its top executives, engineers, and designers came from Space Exploration Technologies Corp., Tesla Inc., Samsung Electronics, and Amazon.com Inc. As a result, Romeo can incorporate innovations from those companies' industries into industrial battery development. Romeo also designs batteries for electric vehicles, industrial storage, and portable electronic devices.

Lithium-ion battery providers say the product offers such advantages as longer life, longer run times, fast recharging times, little or no requirement for maintenance, and zero emissions. But while there is a great deal of interest among forklift fleet operators, many continue to hang back. That's largely because the initial cost of l-i batteries is higher than that of traditional lead-acid batteries, which is one reason why most of the l-i forklift batteries in service now are being used in pallet jacks. In addition, lift truck makers are still testing various manufacturers' l-i batteries and have not yet approved them for use in many forklift models.

What's more, battery makers must allay users' concerns about lithium-ion's safety, particularly the potential for overheating, by designing effective thermal management technology into their products.

Romeo has applied for certification from the safety testing and standards organization Underwriters Laboratory (UL). Competitor Flux Power Inc. introduced the first UL-listed lithium-ion battery for walkie pallet trucks for the U.S. market in 2016.

About the Author

Toby Gooley
Contributing Editor
Contributing Editor Toby Gooley is a freelance writer and editor specializing in supply chain, logistics, material handling, and international trade. She previously was Senior Editor at DC VELOCITY and Editor of DCV's sister publication, CSCMP's Supply Chain Quarterly. Prior to joining AGiLE Business Media in 2007, she spent 20 years at Logistics Management magazine as Managing Editor and Senior Editor covering international trade and transportation. Prior to that she was an export traffic manager for 10 years. She holds a B.A. in Asian Studies from Cornell University.

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