Historically, selecting the right battery and charger combination for a lift truck fleet was accomplished by hand. That is, it was done by manual formulas and quick back-of-the-envelope estimates. While those practices were prone to errors, they were used because more exacting methods were not yet available.
High-frequency chargers weren’t available either, limiting charger choices to “conventional” ferroresonant chargers for most battery types, and Silicon-Controlled Rectifier (SCR) chargers for sealed, Valve Regulated Lead Acid (VRLA) batteries. But with the introduction of high frequency chargers that enable opportunity and fast charging, things got much more complicated – and potentially higher priced.
Potential pitfalls of poor choices
Pairing the wrong battery and charger can negatively impact a facility’s bottom line in several ways. Attempting to opportunity charge a battery with a conventional charging unit can shorten battery life severely – as much as 50% in cases where batteries are also chronically under-watered. Having to replace an entire lift truck battery fleet twice as quickly as anticipated can be a huge hidden cost.
Similarly, selecting a battery and charger combination based on price alone could cost an operation thousands of dollars over time. If it’s not the most efficient option for the application and warehouse environment, a facility could easily rack up battery operating costs that could have been avoided with a better choice.
For example, do you run a multi-shift operation that would run more cost-effectively with an opportunity or fast charging regime? Do you operate on two or fewer shifts, in which case the conventional “8/8/8” charging schedule might be fine? How much time (and money) does your team spend on battery maintenance, and would a virtually maintenance-free battery help you reduce those costs? Is your facility open five or six days or a full seven-day week? What is the average ambient temperature of your facility? What about the incoming power source from your local utility?
Technology to the rescue
All of those factors matter when picking the right battery and charger combination. Fortunately, material handling operations need no longer rely on overly simplified hand calculations to get it right. Today, thanks to advances in battery monitoring equipment and modeling software, there are sophisticated ways to determine the ideal combination for a given situation.
An on-site power assessment, usually conducted by a battery/charger dealer or manufacturer, offers one very effective option. Lift truck batteries are outfitted with sensors that capture operating data, which is then tracked and interpreted by monitoring system software over several weeks. Factors such as amp hour usage, idle time, charging routines and more are analyzed to determine the best battery/charger fit for the operation.
Advanced application and sizing software offers another tailored option. In this case, the battery/charger dealer or manufacturer will ask the facility for a range of information, including battery compartment size in the lift truck, minimum battery weight requirements, the actual lifting applications, the number of shifts, and much more. With this approach a facility can assess their needs virtually and cost-effectively.
The bottom line? Determining the ideal battery and charger combination is complicated and will never be a one-size-fits-all proposition. The good news is that today, there are sophisticated tools available to get the job done with more precision than ever before, which will ultimately help operations boost efficiency and cut operating costs.