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Fast and Opportunity Charging.. Are The Promised Benefits Too Good To Be True?

June 13, 2017

No alternative power concept (to conventional changing and charging of batteries) has impacted the battery exchange industry more severely than the onset of Fast and Opportunity Charging. By my rough estimates, it has supplanted anywhere from 35-50% of the potential market for battery changing equipment. As is common with any new technology, the concept of Fast / Opportunity charging was applied often, and sometimes in inappropriate situations.

In one recent situation, the Distribution Centers of a national retailer discovered that increases in operational throughput and a resulting increase operating intensity, caused their Fast / Opportunity charge approach to fall short of supplying the power required by the operation. Battery maintenance and care was compromised as the DC strove to meet increasing demands for fork truck utilization.  Bottom line was that they couldn’t supply enough power to their trucks to meet their growing daily operational requirements.  They are currently planning to reinstall a conventional battery exchange system to accommodate the increased power demand.

Another Distribution Center struggled with operator discipline in its Opportunity Charge process. Its situation required it to utilize a high percentage of temporary fork truck operators at peak seasons.   It proved nearly impossible to get these temporary workers to consistently plug in the batteries when the truck had down time.  The Distribution Center manager was quoted “we have 40 rental fork trucks with 40 rental truck drivers during the holiday build-up and we cannot get the rental drivers to consistently plug the batteries in”.  This Distribution Center is also planning to return to conventional battery exchange.

Below are some of the observations I have made regarding Fast and Opportunity Charging as applied to Distribution Centers in North America.

  • Increased DC throughput has invalidated the concept for many companies. And, having just got the concept approved and justified, DC managers are in a quandary about how to supply the additionally required power to their operations.
  • Numerous companies are returning to conventional change and charge battery operations as their DC throughput has risen. Many DC managers have “bit the bullet” and returned to conventional battery changing. Many others have introduced a “hybrid” system – changing some batteries while charging others opportunistically.
  • Operator discipline has proven to be a significant barrier to its effective implementation. This may in fact be the most significant inhibitor of the Fast / Opportunity charge concept. It is the most frequently cited reason for the concept to falter. They find they just cannot get the fork lift operators to plug them in.
  • Battery life (measured either by time or cycles) is compromised significantly, adding to the cost of the concept. Battery lives are reported to drop by 2 years or 40% even with adequate battery maintenance.
  • Maintenance of batteries is compromised, further lessening battery life. With compromised maintenance, they are left with up to 60% lower life and an invalidated warranty.
  • Batteries and chargers are specialized for this application, and significantly more expensive. 25% premiums for batteries and up to 200% premiums for chargers are reported.
  • The most expensive and most critical warehouse asset – the fork lift truck – is being underutilized. If the throughput demands of the DC require it, keeping trucks working 95% of the time is optimal and possible with conventional battery exchange and charge.

There remain numerous Distribution Center operations with intermittent load requirements that efficiently utilize Fast or Opportunity Charging. Fork Truck idle time still needs to be in excess of 25-50% for the concept to be viable without compromising battery life and health.  These concepts have just not proven to be as universally applicable as was once hoped.

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Hydrogen Fuel Cells For Motive Power – Is The Tide Turning?

May 3, 2017

No new technology for the powering of warehouse vehicles has been hyped as much as Hydrogen Fuel Cells. A number of high profile start-ups have sold initial installations to a number of high profile customers, all with significant Government subsidies.

The promise of the technology is compelling.   Apparently zero emissions of anything except water, easy fill-up, and effective in cold environments. But roll out of the technology in actual operations has been far from smooth.

In the article below, one major player in Hydrogen Fuel Cells, Daimler – Mercedes Benz, has made the decision to scale back its development of Hydrogen Fuel Cells in favor of competing technologies.

We have heard similar stories coming out of our customer base – the Distribution Center operations of major manufacturers and retailers. One large B2B retailer has quietly halted its expansion of Hydrogen fuel cells in its distribution centers, as has one prominent grocer. Rumors are emerging of other early adopters of the technology wavering. And this is before the new Federal Administration decides whether to continue the substantial subsidies for fuel cells.

We have heard from our customers that Hydrogen infrastructure costs are anywhere from 3 to 7 times what the supplier advertises. One hydrogen early adopter claimed that the $100,000 that was estimated by the supplier for the fuel depot ballooned to $700,000 upon implementation.

Other issues reportedly include difficulty in keeping the fork lifts (and hydrogen fuel cells) running. Suppliers are required to keep full time maintenance staff on site to repair units that go down.

We have heard from a number of Hydrogen early adopters that without the Government subsidies, the implementation of Hydrogen Fuel Cells would have been economically unjustifiable. So the million dollar question is, will the Government continue to subsidize this visionary, but in many ways problematic motive power technology. Are Hydrogen Fuel Cells this decade’s Amazon.com? Where years of unprofitable scale building are rewarded with ultimate profitability and market dominance? Or will economic and operational realities limit its growth and impact?   It will be fascinating to watch it all unfold!

Daimler scales back hydrogen fuel cell development.

 

 

Washing Your Forklift Batteries More Than Just Clean

January 31, 2017

The obvious benefit of regularly washing your industrial forklift batteries is that they are aesthetically clean. It is however, hard to place a value on that cleanliness.

But there are other, less obvious, more valuable, benefits to regularly washing your batteries. These include longer battery life, better battery performance, and even better performance of your fork truck fleets.  How is it possible that this one discipline could have so many benefits?

I am going to cover what I have learned from talking to scores of customers and dealers on the subject of battery washing. I am also going to cite studies that have been done on battery washing.  Please feel free to respond with your experiences, whether they be similar to mine, or different.

Longer Battery Life

In the course of their use, industrial batteries leak electrolyte, especially when they are overwatered. This acidic mixture builds up on the tops of the batteries and can drip down the sides of the batteries and onto equipment and floors. If this acid is allowed to remain on the batteries, it acts as a conductor, and begins to discharge the battery even while it sits in the charging stand. One study measured voltages of this power trickle between 14 and 34 volts across the tops of batteries.  This same study measured a drop to just 2.3 volts after a battery is washed.

It is well established that high temperature is a key inhibitor of battery life. One study showed that washing batteries reduced battery temperature by an average of 4 degrees.  Lower battery temperature leads to longer battery life.  A nice side benefit of battery washing.

Finally, acid on the batteries corrodes the terminals and reduces their effective lives. It is estimated that regular battery washing may add as much as 50% to the useful lives of your battery fleet.  One study showed that required replacement of contact tips was reduced by 40% with regular battery washing.  This same study recorded that regular washing added an average of 2 years to the lives of the batteries in their fleet.  In this battery fleet, 75% of the downtime incidents were related to corrosion issues.

Protection of Fork Trucks

Batteries used while they exhibit external corrosion from acid build-up can damage fork lift electronics. Directly, transference of dried battery acid can cause shorts in the trucks electrical systems.  Indirectly, tarnished terminals prevent batteries from fully charging, and undercharged batteries can damage fork truck components and electrical systems.  One study showed that regular battery washing reduced fork lift maintenance issues due to battery acid corrosion to “almost zero”.

Protection of Warehouse Workers

The dried electrolyte on the surface of batteries can readily cause chemical burns to bare skin. Regular washing of your batteries will limit this surface electrolyte, keeping your workers safe. As a new guy in the industry, I ruined 2 pair of pants before I realized that the white stuff was not good for me or my clothes.

Once You Decide To Wash — How To Implement?

Once you are convinced of the benefits, both hard dollar and soft, of instituting a regular battery washing regimen, the question turns to how to implement this initiative? Knowing the extensive and punitive OSHA and EPA regulations on the handling, shipping and disposal of hazardous fluids, it is highly beneficial to utilize a closed loop system.  This sort of process, employs a Water Treatment and Recirculation System.  This system, labeled WRS for Water Recirculating System by Sackett, cleans and filters the water.  This removes contaminants as well as balances the pH levels of the water, allowing for its immediate reuse.  The system minimizes the need to dispose of contaminated water, which can run $2-3 or more per gallon to dispose of as wastewater.  There is some controversy here as some municipalities further restrict neutralized waste water from being discharged into the sewage system.  If you find yourself in this situation, you may need a water treatment system which removes the heavy metals and other contaminants from the water.

Many of our customers rely on their trusted battery dealer to perform regular washings of batteries in their facility. The huge advantage there is that the DC does not usually have to worry about wastewater disposal, or trouble its employees with the messiness of the battery wash operation.

A Washer Or a Rinser?

One of the hard truths of battery “washing” is that automatic washing systems — anyone’s automatic washing systems – are in fact, battery rinsers. Caked on battery acid will not be removed in automatic washer systems.   Sackett provides a power scrub brush as part of the system, acknowledging to the user that manual scrubbing is usually necessary to remove dried acid build-up.  Numerous customers have asked if it is possible to develop an effective “dishwasher type” automatic battery wash system.  The answer is YES but you would not be willing to pay for it.

A Thank You To Our Customers and Partners

October 5, 2016

trobertsThis is my first “Battery Exchange” blog post. In this first post, I want to acknowledge and thank those who have helped me acclimate to this new sector of the Material Handling Industry.  I joined Sackett Systems, Inc., one of the founding members of the Battery Exchange industry segment, as Vice President of Sales and Marketing, 15 months ago.  Most of my previous Material Handling Industry experience was in the Airport Equipment sector.  While I was able to draw many parallels from this past experience, my first year here was one of profound learning about our particular segment – Electric fork trucks, the batteries that power them, and the equipment that services them.

I have benefited greatly from the generous and patient guidance of our dealer partners and customers during my first year in this position.  You have taught me about the intricacies of the Lead Acid Battery, as well as the history of the electric fork truck and batteries in North American distribution centers.  You have enlightened me on the competitive landscape of this industry segment, both direct battery exchange equipment suppliers, as well as those looming alternative technologies which promise, or threaten, to reshape it.   You have also shared with me just what levels of service and support you expect from your suppliers of Battery Exchange Equipment.

My main purpose of starting this blog is to continue, broaden, and maybe even deepen, the conversations that we have been having regarding this challenging and fascinating business we share.  I mean this blog to be an interaction between you and I, and among us all, with the purpose of learning and growing our businesses.  So, with each post I make, I hope to receive back your comments, thoughts, corrections, or disagreements.

I look forward to continuing our conversations, and to hearing back from you on the topics I present.

Sackett Holiday Hours

December 24, 2015

Happy Holidays from Sackett Systems Inc.
Holiday hours:
December 24th – Closed at 11:00am central time.
December 25th – Closed

October 8th Sackett Systems will be gath

October 7, 2015

October 8th Sackett Systems will be gathering for an Employee Appreciation Luncheon. Sackett will celebrate, with a pizza party, our past accomplishments as well as the opportunities that lie ahead.

We ask for your patience during the hours of 11:00a.m. – 12:30p.m. Central Time when our employees will be away from there desks. We will return your messages as soon as possible.

Sackett Announces New Director of Dealer

August 6, 2015

Sackett Announces New Director of Dealer Sales.

http://ow.ly/Qqtuq

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