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Using Better Forklift Battery Watering Practices to Extend Equipment Life

Forklift battery technology has made some impressive strides -- modern lift truck batteries are much more efficient and reliable than their older counterparts, and they offer a better return on investment. However, proper maintenance schedules are essential for getting the most out of each unit.

Fortunately, recent advances in battery handling equipment can make maintaining the fleet remarkably quick, simple, and cost-effective. This is especially true for battery watering practices, which are crucial for maximizing battery life spans and avoiding early replacements.

The High Costs of Improper Lift Truck Battery Watering Habits

Operations that own their fleets outright (rather than leasing or renting) can expect to spend hundreds or even thousands of dollars on batteries -- up to 30 percent of the total cost of some smaller lift trucks. With proper maintenance, batteries provide around 2000 charge/discharge cycles, lasting most facilities five years or more. Improper watering techniques reduce battery capacity and lifespan, potentially costing the facility thousands of dollars in lost performance and replacement fees.

When under-watered, battery plates are exposed to air, causing oxidation, sulfation and capacity loss. Under-watered batteries lose years of operating time, with declining power output along the way. Over-watering is just as costly; when batteries charge, the acid/water electrolyte mixture expands.

If too much water is in the cell, the electrolytes boil over, corroding battery trays and endangering workers. Even if the acid spill is contained, the loss of electrolytes damages the battery's capacity significantly, and every time a battery boils over, it can lose three percent of its total capacity. That leads to more frequent change-outs and lost productivity. If an associate makes $30/hour and spends 20 minutes per shift watering a battery, that's a $10 loss every shift in addition to lost revenue from the idle lift truck. The most direct way to get more value without risking battery performance is to speed up watering tasks, and a variety of battery watering devices are available for this simple improvement.

Advanced Technology for Better Lift Truck Battery Management

Fortunately, over- and under-watering are easy to prevent with modern battery handling equipment. Computerized battery management systems are especially helpful; these software packages maintain detailed electronic records on watering schedules, removing the element of guesswork and alerting operators to required maintenance before it is too late. They're automatically optimized for the facility, and in addition to battery watering reminders, they're helpful for organizing change-out schedules and automating other essential tasks.

The most comprehensive solution for larger fleets is an integrated watering system, which automatically and simultaneously waters multiple batteries. As part of a complete battery room installation, integrated watering systems communicate with battery chargers, monitoring the cycle and adding water after charging in accordance with OSHA recommendations.

Another way to speed up watering is to use powered portable watering carts, carrying water to the battery to optimize productivity. When paired with a compact, easy-to-target water gun, these systems allow for faster battery watering anywhere in the facility. Because impurities and minerals in hard water corrode battery cells, leading to shorter operating spans, water deionizing systems should always be used to extend battery life.

Evaluate Your Facility's Watering Practices for Peak Efficiency

Industry experts estimate that 70 percent of battery users still water their lift truck batteries by hand, and many don't actively manage their battery watering practices. These operational inefficiencies lead to early battery replacements and serious productive inefficiencies -- in other words, while the problem can be easy to ignore, it costs serious money.

Implementing a standard watering procedure for a facility can help ensure long, productive life spans for forklift batteries. With a comprehensive management system and new technologies, operations can realize the greatest possible returns on battery fleet investments.


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