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Like most others, the material handling industry has been converting to lithium-ion batteries. In fact, in some pallet jacks and some electric forklifts lithium-ion batteries are now the standard. There are many advantages to switching entire fleets to lithium-ion batteries. From increasing productivity and reducing downtime to increasing safety handling and space utilization, lithium-ion batteries are now a preferred option for many operations.

Jungheinrich forklift

Integration to Lithium-Ion Batteries

As technology improves and warehouse automation efficiencies become increasingly important for a company’s bottom line, integration to lithium-ion batteries in forklifts is changing the operations significantly. Lithium-ion batteries offer consistent performance, elimination of battery changes during high-volume shifts, faster charging periods, reduced maintenance costs, and zero emissions. Lithium-ion batteries maintain power even when the battery is running low, allowing for greater run times. There are proven energy savings and reduction in overhead expenses, with a lithium-ion battery lasting longer than other batteries. With advanced industry standards, electric forklifts work efficiently with the same productivity as outdoor models.

What is the difference between a lithium battery and a lithium-ion battery?

A lithium-ion battery is a secondary cell that is rechargeable and uses lithium compounds as active material. A lithium battery is a primary cell type that is not rechargeable and uses lithium in its pure metallic form. The lithium-ion battery is now recommended for use in forklifts because of its outstanding performance features.

What are the initial implications that must be considered when going with a battery change?

Actual production requirements, size, and the number of forklifts in operation are key elements to determining whether a switch to lithium-ion batteries is a good business decision. Smaller production output and fewer forklifts may be a deterrent to making a change. For a medium- to large-sized operation running multiple shifts, lithium-ion forklift batteries are an excellent option.

Why is a lithium-ion battery safe for a forklift operation?

Many automated warehouses are integrating to lithium-ion batteries because they are much safer than the lead-acid batteries that have been used in operating a forklift. Because they are completely sealed, there is no need to open the battery compartment on the forklift. The result is less potential for electrolyte spills or toxic fumes and therefore safe for the operator and the warehouse environment. Unlike with lead-acid batteries, the operator doesn’t need the protective personal equipment, and that reduces costs and ensures warehouse safety. Also, the lithium-ion batteries do not overheat, which is also conducive to a safe environment.

Do lithium-ion forklift batteries need ventilation?

It is always a good practice to have a proper ventilation system in any warehouse or distribution center environment. However, a lithium-ion battery does not emit any substance that might be harmful to the air quality. The result is zero emissions. This type of battery can also withstand a variety of temperatures in the warehouse, from heated areas to freezers.

What is the process for charging a lithium-ion forklift battery?

Once the forklift is parked, turned off and not carrying products, the operator dismounts from the forklift. Once the operator ensures the charger is off, it can be plugged in and turned on. It takes only an hour for the battery to recharge. Also, it can be charged in thirty-minute spurts, called opportunity charging, during operator breaks. This proves to be a better solution than conventional charging of a lead-acid battery which uses a low current and takes about eight to ten hours to charge. Plus it takes six to eight hours to cool before it can be used again.

How much does a lithium-ion forklift battery cost?

The average price for a lithium-ion forklift battery is between $17K and $20K which is about two to three times more than a similar lead-acid battery. If there are multiple forklifts in operation at any given time, then the cost savings and efficiency will outweigh the initial cost.

How long until a return on investment is realized?

The return on investment can be achieved within 36 months if used 3,000 hours per year. Lithium-ion forklift batteries are 40% more energy-efficient than lead-acid batteries and 88% more efficient than diesel. Because opportunity charging is a great solution, it also helps reduce downtime and increase the performance of a fleet. Lithium-ion forklift batteries last four times longer than lead-acid batteries, resulting in increased efficiency.

What is needed to charge a lithium-ion battery?

A new charging structure that is decentralized with high-output charging will need to be installed near where the forklifts will be operating. The voltage and output of the lithium-ion battery should match the voltage and output of the battery being replaced. Because a lithium-ion battery can run up to eight hours without recharging, the process of replacing a battery is reduced during high-volume output shifts. There is also less maintenance required and less space needed to store lithium-ion batteries.

Is training required for operators using a lithium-ion battery forklift?

Especially if the operators are used to changing lead-acid batteries, some education will be required to adjust to a new process. The charging and maintenance processes for lithium-ion batteries can be easier than other batteries. However, because of the differences in the new method, training is required. Because of the capacity for opportunity charging, using a different type battery will also affect how operators use their lunch or break downtime.

How does the weight difference between a lithium-ion battery and a lead-acid battery affect the forklift operation?

There are minimum requirements for retrofitting a lithium-ion battery to a forklift. These batteries weigh much less than a lead-acid battery. Typically the weight of the battery is calculated in the weight of the forklift in order to counterbalance the load of product. A ballast weight will need to be added to match the replaced battery. Or, the forklift’s data plate can be revised to accommodate the new lifting and hauling capacity. This synchronizing of high performance with the lift truck and charger will result in optimal energy efficiency.

What is the lifespan of a lithium-ion battery?

A lithium-ion battery will produce up to 10,000 hours of power and 200,000 miles of service. This averages to about a five-year lifespan of expected use. There are some manufacturers that offer a ten-year warranty on its lithium-ion batteries. As with lead-acid batteries, lithium-ion batteries require appropriate disposal. Currently there aren’t as many recycling centers for lithium-ion batteries as there are with lead-acid batteries but in the future those should increase. The lesser amount of maintenance requirements and a longer service life are solutions that guarantee reliable output every day, all day. Operations will be more efficient and more productive.

Technician working on forklift battery

Is there any downside to switching to lithium-ion batteries?

The initial cost is higher and a higher electrical current will be needed for the quick charging of the lithium-ion batteries. However, after the initial setup of the infrastructure needed, it will result in lower monthly energy costs. These batteries can also present risks or hazards if not handled properly when disposal is necessary. The U.S. Department of Transportation monitors all handling, transferring, documenting, and disposal of this type of forklift battery. The information needed is easily obtained by going to the DOT website.

What maintenance options are required for lithium-ion batteries?

There are simple maintenance suggestions for using a lithium-ion battery. It is best not to leave the batteries unused for long periods of time. If unused for six months or more, the charge amount should be checked and then disposed of if appropriate. It is best to routinely check the charge status. Following the directions in the manual provided is key to safely use the battery. Equalization charges and watering systems are not needed. Since the battery is sealed, there are no serviceable parts inside to check or adjust. If damaged, it is best not to attempt to recharge the battery. If the battery’s run time is producing lower than 80% or it takes longer to charge, then it is time to replace it.

Are there storage requirements for lithium-ion batteries?

It is best not to store a lithium-ion forklift battery when fully charged. The charge should be reduced to at least 50% before storage. It is recommended that a battery is stored separately from the forklift. Storage temperature should be dry and dark between 41 and 68 degrees Fahrenheit. Keep the battery terminals from touching, cover them and do not place them in contact with any metals or other battery terminals. It is suggested to separate batteries by age and type. A battery storage cabinet is best for providing insulation and fire prevention.

What are some other factors to consider when selecting a lithium-ion battery?

Reduced maintenance costs, quieter operation on the warehouse floor, and utilization of less floor space are some of the additional benefits of switching to lithium-ion batteries. Some of the battery packages available today are excellent and because of the high performance, a return on investment will be realized in a short period of time. Lead-acid batteries use energy while discharging, charging, or sitting idle which results in energy loss and higher electricity costs.

Darr Equipment Company is a fourth generation, family-owned and operated, service first, industrial equipment supplier specializing in providing customized solutions to meet our clients’ specific goals. It is our mission to provide the industry’s best equipment and services. Darr has been in business for over 70 years because of our dedication and commitment to servicing our customers. With over 200 service technicians and nearly 200 service vehicles available 24 hours a day across Texas and Oklahoma, we’re equipped to answering your service needs quickly and efficiently. Our technicians undergo extensive factory training to ensure they can handle any problems you encounter and provide repair solutions in the shop or at your site. Our experts can assist in determining whether a switch to lithium-ion batteries is the correct move for a particular warehouse operation.

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