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Battery Maintenance Pioneer Looks Back - and Forward

Thursday, October 30, 2008

MONTGOMERYVILLE, PA – To much of the industrial world, battery maintenance is a mundane, even insignificant, task. But, for Will Jones, battery maintenance is big business – and ripe with opportunity for innovation.

Jones founded one of the battery maintenance industry’s pioneers, Philadelphia Scientific, in 1983 when he began selling the first of many innovations the company would introduce: an inexpensive but reliable battery watering gun of his own design. In the quarter century since then, the company has developed and introduced a full range of battery maintenance products that enhance warehouse and distribution center (DC) profitability. The company’s product line includes a full line of single-point watering systems, watering guns, water tanks and carts, water deionizers, electrolyte indicators, battery managing systems and other accessories.

As the company celebrates its 25th anniversary in 2008, Jones looked back at the company he founded and ahead to changes he believes will revolutionize the industrial battery industry.

“Today’s lead-acid batteries are the highest quality forklift batteries ever made,” Jones said. “But I believe the biggest advances in battery performance in the last 25 years have come from battery maintenance innovations. From an ROI perspective, proper battery maintenance can save a company with a large forklift fleet tens of thousands, even hundreds of thousands, of dollars a year.

“Yet, battery maintenance is an afterthought for most American companies, and they are years behind their European counterparts when it comes to best maintenance practices. In Germany, for example, single-point watering systems are used on about 70 percent of forklift batteries. In the U.S., single-point systems are used on only about 30 percent of batteries. Instead, American forklift operators hand-water their batteries. This typically results in over- or under-watering, which decreases battery life by several months.”

Jones destined to be an engineer
From an early age, Jones seemed destined for a job in engineering. Raised in Wales, United Kingdom, he says he decided on his career direction at the age of 14 when he first saw the famous Menai Bridge in North Wales. The 600-foot-long suspension bridge, completed in 1826, has been called an engineering masterpiece and “one of the greatest wonders of art in the world.”

Jones moved to the United States in 1967 and took a design engineering position with Westinghouse Research Center in Pittsburgh, where he developed batteries for electric vehicles and designed and tested vehicles. While at Westinghouse, he invented a recirculating electrolyte system for advanced nickel-iron batteries that watered the battery, cooled it and removed hydrogen from it all at the same time. One of his later patents applied the same technique to lead-acid batteries and may be ideal for the growing, present-day application called “rapid charging.”

Jones returned to the United Kingdom to work for Chloride, a predecessor to Exide Technologies, but crossed the Atlantic again in 1977, eventually becoming vice president of technology for the Exide Corporation – now Enersys – in America.

In 1983, Jones founded Philadelphia Scientific and began selling his new, robust watering gun. Other accessories and tools soon followed, and the company grew steadily. In 1991, the introduction of the single-point battery watering system – still the company’s top selling product – precipitated a surge in growth, and the company quickly doubled in size. Today, the company has primary facilities in the United States and the United Kingdom and sells its products in North and South America, Europe, Asia, Africa and Australia.

“When warehouse, DC and battery room managers discovered they could water a fleet of batteries in two hours rather than two days, our sales really took off,” Jones recalled. “And there’s still great opportunity for growth – particularly in the U.S. market.”

Changes ahead
Jones points to the 70% of forklift batteries in America that do not utilize single-point watering technology as a sign that there is great potential for the company’s Water Injector System®, the world’s top selling single-point system. Yet, he believes even bigger opportunities await the battery maintenance industry in three areas.

The Internet: “The Internet is old news for most of the business world, but its use as an asset management tool – for a single site or multiple facilities – is just emerging. The potential for cost and labor savings is enormous.”

Rapid- or fast-charging: “Opportunity charging – the ability to charge batteries during breaks, lunch and other opportunities – has brought tremendous efficiencies to the battery charging task. But, rapid charging with high-powered chargers can heat batteries to levels that reduce battery life. We’re working on battery cooling solutions that will make the rapid-charging technology safer and more cost effective.”

“Selling systems rather than widgets”: “Slowly but surely, the American market will catch up with the European market’s greater use of battery maintenance technologies. A systems approach to battery maintenance – including battery watering, battery organizing systems, even service contracts – has the potential to create significant savings in the warehouse/DC environment. Battery maintenance companies increasingly are becoming partners in achieving greater ROI on a company’s industrial assets.”

About Philadelphia Scientific
Since 1983, Montgomeryville, Pa.-based Philadelphia Scientific has brought advanced technology solutions to the industrial battery industry. The company specializes in the research, design, development and manufacturing of industrial batteries, their components and tools. For more information about Philadelphia Scientific, visit the company’s Web site at www.phlsci.com or contact the company at 215/616-0390.

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