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Lift Truck Tips: Batteries take more heat in cold storage

Disciplined battery management in the warehouse can be undermined in the freezer, where shorter runtimes often lead to abuse.

It seems unlikely that lift truck fleet managers would rush to buy an electric car. The thought of bringing a big battery into their personal lives is probably not very appealing given the headaches batteries cause at work. It’s true that optimal battery performance requires strict discipline on the part of anyone who uses, charges or handles them. It’s also true that giving a battery proper time to cool off is low on the list of priorities when compared to maintaining throughput. But the two objectives can live together, even in cold storage applications where the strain on batteries and their effective management is more pronounced.

Because cold environments sap a battery’s run time, each is often depleted before the end of a shift, providing four to five hours of run time as opposed to the eight you might expect in an ambient environment. Because of this, many more cold fleets find themselves all but abandoning ideal run, charge and cool cycles in favor of getting the job done.

“In ambient environments, probably 90% of customers have well-managed battery inventories,” says Brian Faust, general manager for Douglas Battery. “When they try to adapt those same practices to cold areas, it doesn’t work. They end up needing more batteries and struggle as the worker’s rhythm is disrupted. Probably 50% of customers in cold storage have it managed correctly.”

Because cold applications are more commonly multi-shift, a single misstep in the ideal battery charge cycle sends a cascading effect through the fleet. A poorly charged battery results in a premature swap, which eats time and compels an operator to further battery abuse. Faust says a good first step is to ensure operators run batteries as long as they can, despite the desire to perform the inevitable mid-shift swap, which can be most convenient for them.

“After that, the No. 1 offense is not allowing batteries to get a full recharge and then cool off,” Faust says. “If they are short-cycling batteries and not fully charging or equalizing weekly, they’ll see shorter and shorter run times and are just cutting themselves short.”

If the costs to routinely replace and manage an unnecessarily large pool of batteries is still out of hand, Faust says it might be necessary to create a dedicated pool for cold storage only. As long as each battery is fully charged, Faust says there should be no problem with cross-mixing battery inventory between cold and ambient environments. But if the mismanagement in the cold application begins to sap the effectiveness of the ambient fleet, it could be time to separate the two. Faust says batteries purpose-built for cold environments can run up to 20% longer than conventional lead-acid batteries, but they are not compatible with ambient temperatures.

However they get a handle on battery costs, fleet managers are likely to find a few adjustments can produce big savings, maybe even enough to afford an electric car.

Article Topics

Lift Truck Tips
Cold Storage
Douglas Battery
Lift Truck Tips
Lift Trucks
   All topics

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About the Author

Josh Bond
Josh Bond was Senior Editor for Modern through July 2020, and was formerly Modern’s lift truck columnist and associate editor. He has a degree in Journalism from Keene State College and has studied business management at Franklin Pierce University.
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