Watering Monitors Assist in Better Maintenance of Forklift Batteries

Forklift batteries and chargers. (Courtesy: Steve at flickr.com)
Forklift batteries and chargers.
(Courtesy: Steve at flickr.com)

A forklift operator cannot tolerate failure of his forklift’s battery. Such an occurrence would be catastrophic because it would mean that the forklift is shutdown for repairs. For a busy warehouse, the shutdown of just one lift could have a major affect on its efficient operation and productivity. If the battery fails on more than one forklift simultaneously, the affects on the warehouse’s business could be a calamity.

Of course, the best way to deal with battery failure is to be certain that it never occurs in the first place. That can be achieved with proper maintenance of the battery. It can also be achieved when a warehouse manager discovers that there may be a better way to assure that maintenance can be done on schedule and when necessary.

To better understand the point; let’s take a look at the issue of properly watering a forklift’s battery.

There are two issues involved in watering forklift batteries:

1.     Determining when a battery needs to be watered.
2.     Watering the battery.

Now in most warehouses today batteries are watered on a set schedule or typically, every week. A set schedule for watering may not be necessary and may actually be a waste of time. That’s because many batteries that are checked don’t need watering when scheduled and others may have needed watering earlier.  Not watering a battery when that specific battery needed watering may have already caused permanent damage to that battery.

Typically, most warehouses check every battery every week. This process can be extremely time consuming. And involves an employee to remove each vent cap and peek inside each cell of a battery to ascertain its electrolyte level.

There are battery monitors available that can do the job an employee has been performing faster. The device attaches to the top of each battery and senses when watering is necessary. These monitors include an electronic probe that accurately measures a battery’s electrolyte levels and an LED that lights up or flashes to indicate that electrolyte levels are too low. The monitors save money, improves a warehouse’s productivity and assures warehouse safety because it reduces the need for a person to be exposed to the acid in the battery.

The proper and timely watering is critical to the maintenance of a battery as well as its longevity and run time. If a battery is overwatered, it can boil over creating a hazardous condition. Moreover, it adversely affects the battery’s life because during boil over sulfates are washed out of the battery and sulfates are necessary for the proper maintenance of the battery’s capacity. For every boil over a battery loses about 3 percent to 5 percent of its capacity and that compares to 15 to 25 minutes of run time. Over time boil overs can decrease the life of a battery by six months or more.

Under watering can occur when a person doesn’t water the battery on schedule or manually waters it and inadvertently neglects a battery or cell. When a battery or cell is skipped during a typical watering routine, it might not get the water it needs for another week and parts of the battery’s positive and negative plates dry and capacity is decreased. When the battery is finally properly watered at the next scheduled time it will not return to its previous rate of performance and the damaged cell may have to be replaced.

The contributing factor of under watering or over watering is that the process is done by hand. In fact, it is believed that 70 percent of industrial batteries in North America are filled by hand.

Watering monitors, also known as single-point watering systems, fit permanently to the top of a battery. It includes valves or level-sensing injectors that are installed into each cell of the battery. There is also tubing that runs through each valve or injector that forms a single, continuous flow path. All the operator needs to do is turn on a water hose and open a master flow valve and the battery is watered in about 15 seconds.

The system actually reduces labor costs and extends the life of the battery. A survey of single-point watering system users found that in an average 100-battery fleet, a warehouse or distribution center could save about $26,000 per year with a return of investment of about 13 months. A warehouse saves on labor costs due to the decrease time spent on watering batteries, saves time due to less frequent battery changes and saves money due to less frequent purchases of batteries. Moreover, the system promotes safety because there is no need for an employee to deal with the inner workings of the battery.

The moral of this story is that warehouse managers need to be aware of new technologies that can be used to make a warehouse operation better.