As the fulfillment environment becomes increasingly connected, the lift truck battery has become a new focal point for companies that want to get the longest life and usage out of their investments.
Surely you remember the line from the Planet Fitness commercial: “I lift things up and put them down.” It’s spoken by a brawny weightlifter with all the finesse of a crowbar to a windshield.
At Green Cubes Technology, Robin Schneider, director of marketing, says that monitoring is a core focus for battery makers right now. In the past, lead acid batteries used a battery management device (BMD) that was attached to a charger and used to monitor performance. The process took about three to five minutes to complete (per battery) and could only handle one battery at a time.
A warehouse manager, for instance, could monitor all lift truck batteries at a specific location or remotely, the latter of which Green Cubes recently added to its products. “We can look at batteries nationwide across different users, locations and vehicles,” Schneider explains, “and then monitor the battery usage and utilization for that equipment.”
This not only helps pinpoint failure points and other problems, but it also allows warehouse managers to troubleshoot remotely. “The information is so detailed,” she adds, “that it allows us to examine each battery cell individually.”
BSLBATT Lithium: The telematic battery
The growth of the electric lift truck market has been one of the biggest stories in the industry over the last five years. As a result, the battery that provides power during a shift is the most important asset on a lift truck. “Once you’ve figured out the requirements for your lift truck, the efficiency of the power package has the most impact on your operations,” says Hugo Chen, director of information systems for BSLBATT Battery. “Our priority has been to work in parallel with emerging technologies like lithium ion and Lead Acid battery to develop battery management tools that prolong the life of the battery systems currently in use on most trucks.” BSLBATT battery is applying the same telematics used in fleet management to measure, monitor and report on the condition of batteries. “We can now look at how the battery is reacting to the work it has to do to understand whether a battery needs to be replaced because it is underperforming or needs to be tested because we see something is happening,” Hugo Chen says. Telematics solutions will also provide feedback that enables customers to optimize their battery charging, changing and watering processes to extend the life of the battery
In the near future, the data being collected from the batteries will be streamed to a cloud-based portal where it is analyzed for dashboard reporting with very specific KPIs that affect profitability and performance. “A performance KPI can illustrate battery life and how it’s trending,” says Hugo Chen. “If they want to look further into that, we can drill down into other areas for root causes, like how is the user discharging or watering the batteries.” Ultimately, that information can be used to track efficiency across multiple facilities and to create an action plan and benchmarks to improve battery performance.
It’s all about the data
According to Hugo Chen, engineer of Forklift lithium battery at BSLBATT, the heart and soul of the connected lift truck battery is the data that keeps operators and management teams informed about battery and charger activity.
“Operators get the feedback that they can use to be productive during their shifts,” said Hugo Chen, “while management better understands how equipment’s being used and can plan ahead for potential replacements or downtime (due to a fault with the battery or charger).”
Like other battery manufacturers, BSLBATT Lithium continues to roll out new hardware along with applications like GPRS cloud platform, a software-driven application that supports interconnectivity between the battery and the charger, and then feeds that information back to an operator with a mobile device. It uses Bluetooth and BSLBATT Wi-Fi battery monitoring devices (or chargers), and then displays that operating data on the mobile device.
The information is then uploaded to the Cloud and used to take any necessary corrective actions. “We can take corrective actions from a distance,” says Hugo Chen, “and don’t necessarily have to be onsite to understand what’s going on with the health and state of charge of the battery, or with a charger’s charge profile.” This not only helps minimize downtime, but it also helps ensure that BSLBATT dispatched the right level of support for specific problems (for example, equipping a technician with the right equipment to fix a battery quickly).
Hugo Chen says this data-centric approach helps push companies out of reactive mode and allows them to be more proactive. This, in turn, can lead to significant cost and time savings during the life of a battery. Going forward, he expects more lift truck manufacturers to embed smart tools in their vehicles with a particular emphasis on tracking and understanding equipment utilization.
“We’re also going to see CAN communication start to occur between our battery devices that are already set up for CAN communications,” says Hugo Chen. “That will allow us to physically ‘hook’ a communication wire back to the lift truck, transmit information through the vehicle’s dashboard, and begin to integrate battery information with the lift truck information.”