Avoid These 3 Costly Forklift Battery Charging Mistakes

October 11, 2018

Warehouse forklifts are a key part of many distribution centers—helping to carry large loads of product from place to place efficiently. Nowadays, warehouse forklifts typically use an electric powertrain to supply their motive power—largely because of their environmental-friendliness and the fact that they don’t give off the dangerous fumes, such as carbon monoxide, that gas powertrains do.

Using electric powertrains for your motive power fleet offers several advantages for safety and environmental impacts—but there are still challenges to operating and maintaining a motive power fleet with electric powertrains. Specifically, charging the industrial batteries that power your forklifts.

What many laypeople don’t realize is just how easy it is to make severe mistakes when charging a forklift battery—and how much those mistakes can cost. What are the biggest forklift battery charging mistakes you should avoid, and how can you prevent them?

Forklift Battery Charging Mistake #1: Frequently “Topping Off” the Battery’s Charge

The basic mistake that even many professionals make is that they try to keep their electric forklift batteries topped off at all times. They may do this because they want to be sure they can always get a full shift out of their forklifts. However, doing this can shorten the useful life of their warehouse forklift’s batteries.

Forklift batteries have a limited number of times that they can withstand going through a “charging cycle.” For most industrial batteries, this number is around 1,500 charging cycles. If you charge a forklift battery once a day, that’s a little over four years of useful life (a little over five and a half years if your warehouse is inactive on weekends). Putting batteries through a charge at every opportunity drastically reduces this useful life—driving up your cost of ownership because you’ll be replacing batteries more frequently.

The best solution to prolong forklift battery life is to charge them only once they’re at somewhere between a 20% and 30% charge. This helps to ensure that you get the best use out of the battery without risking letting it completely drain—which can cause a host of other problems such as the battery becoming sulfated and losing performance.

Forklift Battery Charging Mistake #2: Forgetting to Water the Battery

The lead acid batteries used in electric forklifts need to be supplied with water regularly to keep them operating at peak efficiency. This is because the water is used as a part of the liquid electrolyte fluid the battery needs for its operation. The electrolyte fluid contains both sulfuric acid and water, but only the water is consumed by the battery—so it isn’t necessary to keep adding sulfuric acid.

A dehydrated electric forklift battery can become heavily damaged—losing performance or even becoming inoperable. So, it’s important to routinely check the water levels in your batteries.

How frequently should this check be done, and when should an industrial battery be filled with water?

In a hot region like Florida, battery water can deplete much faster than in a colder climate. So, it’s probably best to check your electric forklift batteries on a weekly or bi-weekly basis as part of your warehouse maintenance plan. If the water or electrolyte level is below the tops of the battery’s plates, it needs to be refilled with more water.

Distilled water is ideal for filling lead acid batteries because tap water has minerals that can damage the forklift battery. Also, the water should be added after charging the battery to full, although it’s still best to check the water level before charging.

A related issue to this is the overfilling of batteries. Adding too much water can dilute the electrolyte solution or even make the electric forklift battery overflow—causing damage.

Forklift Battery Charging Mistake #3: Mismatching Charger and Battery Voltages

If your motive power fleet uses a variety of different forklifts, there may be a few industrial batteries that have different voltages from the ones you use for the rest of your forklifts. One common mistake that occurs is that some forklift operators may connect their battery to a charger with an inappropriate charging voltage.

This can cause an adverse reaction with the electrolytic fluid that damages the battery and leaves it inoperable—especially if the voltage of the charger significantly exceeds what the battery was made for.

To prevent damage, it’s important to verify that you’re using the right industrial battery chargers for your forklift batteries.

If you aren’t using variable voltage battery chargers, be sure that all forklift battery charging stations have their voltages clearly marked where forklift operators can see them. Also, if you have specific assets that require a different voltage charger from the rest of your fleet, set aside a specific “parking space” or bay for those assets near the appropriate-voltage chargers to minimize the risk of a mix-up.

As an aside, some forklift operators, seeking to save time and trouble on charging their electric forklift batteries, may try to hook up the charger to the forklift instead of detaching the battery and hooking it up. This should be avoided, as it can cause damage to your warehouse forklifts.

What Can These Forklift Battery Charging Mistakes Cost You?

The mistakes listed above can all cost you:

  • Money. Maintaining a motive power fleet isn’t cheap on the best of days. However, when your forklift batteries are dying faster than they need to, those expenses go up considerably.
  • Time. When forklift batteries become inoperable, the forklifts they go to cannot be used. Even with a supply of spare forklift batteries, the need to switch out underperforming, damaged batteries more frequently can reduce the amount of time your forklifts spend moving cargo and generating value for your warehouse.
  • Employee Safety. Lead acid electric forklift batteries can be dangerous for employees to handle if they aren’t properly charged and maintained. Spilled electrolytic fluid can cause burns if a battery is overfilled or charged improperly. Also, forklifts with malfunctioning batteries may not operate properly, increasing the risk of injury for employees in your warehouse.

Need help finding the right battery charging equipment (and forklift batteries) to fill your motive power needs? Contact the experts at Southern States Motive Power to learn more about how you can improve the safety, efficiency, and productivity of your warehouse forklifts.

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