Tackling Waste In The Battery Room

All businesses want to be “lean and mean.” That is, they want to minimize waste in the operation of their business.

In the world of warehouse management, one sector that has been ignored in the battle against waste is the battery room.

No doubt, many of you believe that battery room activity is subordinate to the main purpose of a warehouse –- storing and distributing products. Waste that may occur in the battery room is relatively insignificant to the total operations of a warehouse.

The truth of the matter is that battery room waste can have a major affect on the entire warehouse.

One major way to eliminate or manage waste is to be able to measure it. There is an old adage in business that says, “You can’t improve or change what you have not measured.” Feedback and where you stand in the continuous process of improving can only be achieved by knowing where you have been, where you are now and where you need to be. Measuring progress is how you do this.

The process of achieving improvement in reducing waste in the battery room is based on four steps:

·      Identify the waste and create a plan to combat it.
·      Execute the plan.
·      Measure performance.
·      Evaluate performance and make adjustments.

If you properly study the battery room, you will discover that six of the eight types of waste reside there.

·      Transportation. A look at battery room activity is sure to reveal that there are unnecessary trips there to change batteries because of inadequate data on the charge state of the battery being used.
·      Inventory. Many warehouses make the mistake of purchasing more batteries and chargers than are actually needed.
·      Motion. Many activities that occur in the battery room including watering require more movement than is necessary.
·      People. On many occasions your warehouse just may have too many people involved in the watering and charging of batteries when many of them can be used in other sections of the warehouse where personnel is needed.
·      Waiting. It certainly is a waste of an employee’s time and thus money to the warehouse when that employee has to wait to charge or water a battery.
·      Defects. An employee selecting the wrong battery can lead to a shorter battery life that costs money for the warehouse; too much or too little watering of the battery can shorten a battery’s life and could cause a dangerous condition because of electrolyte boil overs.

Studies have already shown that waste in the battery room can cost large warehouses and distribution centers hundreds of thousands of dollars a year; smaller warehouses with as few as 10 to 20 forklift trucks can be wasting as much as tens of thousands of dollars because of waste in the battery room.

In order to tackle the problem of waste in the battery room, warehouse managers need to understand six basic elements of battery maintenance and use. They include:

·      Charging. Batteries need to be fully charged to ensure that the electrolyte is properly mixed. One should not disconnect charger cables from the battery during the charge because the connectors could be damaged and an explosion condition could occur. Allowing batteries to cool down before re-using because excessive heat shortens battery life. A rule of thumb in the industry is that a minimum of eight hours is necessary to cool down a battery.
·      Discharging. Batteries have to be fully discharged. Incomplete discharge increases the number of cycles and decreases operator productivity. Over-discharging can cause permanent battery damage.
·      Cycling. If a battery is under-cycled, then it could create corrosion even when batteries are not in use causing the waste of cycles. Over-cycling, which gives batteries inadequate time to cool down, results in corrosion because of increased heat and that shortens battery life and reduces the number of cycles of the battery.
·      Watering. If a battery is under-watered, then its lead plates are exposed to air and that causes the plates to sulfate and lose capacity. If a battery is over-watered, then capacity is reduced. In fact, there can be a 3 percent capacity loss with each electrolyte boil over. Moreover, batteries should be watered with de-ionized or distilled water because dissolved minerals in most tap water can cause battery damage and that reduces battery life.
·      Cables and connectors. It is suggested that broken cables be repaired. Short circuits are a fire and safety issue. Repair broken connectors because intermittent contact can damage chargers and create dangerous arcing.
·      Washing. Regular washing reduces short circuits across the surface of the battery and that reduces energy loss and tray corrosion.

In order to eliminate waste in the battery room, warehouse managers need to focus on rotation, rightsizing and watering.

(Next time: Battery Rotation)