Extend Forklift Battery Life With an Effective Battery Watering System

by Ryan Lynch | Fri, Aug 20, 2021

effective-battery-watering-systemHow optimized is your business's use of forklifts in its material handling operations? Are you using every available method and technology to make sure you are getting maximum value out of these battery powered vehicles?

A battery watering system is one of those important investments, one which can transform forklift operations for the better. By turning battery watering into a quick and automatic process, such a solution can deliver precision and efficiency, and even optimize total cost of ownership by increasing battery life.

Whether at a smaller organization wary of investing in new technology or a large company having their staff (or a vendor's technician) take care of batteries by hand, many businesses have not yet invested in an up-to-date automatic battery watering system. These organizations, as well as those using outdated legacy technology, have significant opportunity for improvement in their battery management practices.

To decide where your company fits into this picture, you can take an in-depth look at what an optimal battery watering system does, compare and contrast the features and practices that lead to good battery watering and calculate the effects of such a system on total cost of ownership. You may find battery watering is the missing piece in more effective material handling operations.

What is a battery watering system and how does it work?

The first thing to know about battery watering is that it's an essential part of using lead acid batteries. As long as you plan to operate a forklift fleet powered by these industrial batteries, you will need to consider your watering requirements.

Battery watering is just as essential to continued operation of the batteries as charging, and the two processes are closely related. After charging batteries and verifying they are fully charged by reading their open circuit voltage, employees check electrolyte levels and add battery water if needed. Letting a battery go too long between waterings can seriously diminish the asset's usable lifespan.

A single point watering system introduces a new level of precision into the battery watering process. This stops watering from becoming a potential cause of slowdowns, employee risk or other consequences. Perhaps the best way to start considering automated battery watering systems is to see what the manual alternative can bring.

Manual battery watering brings inefficiencies

It's not uncommon for facility operators to assign battery watering as a manual task for employees. This is far from an optimized method, however, and comes with a selection of risks. Breaking this process down further, a few issues stand out:

  • It's hard to make manual battery watering a priority: Tasking material handling employees with battery watering on top of their primary duties can be a mistake. After all, these workers are mainly being judged on their main roles, meaning battery watering often gets handled at the end of the shift or in spare moments. This non-specialist approach brings an elevated risk of human error.

  • Battery watering issues come with many added complications: Lead acid batteries are potential sources of risk. The electrolyte contained within these cells can cause harm to employees' skin or clothing, and can damage facility floors if it spills. Furthermore, incorrect watering practices — such as adding water at the wrong time — can shorten battery lifespan. Due to the relatively high cost of batteries, this is a major financial liability.

  • Old, compromised technology has its own issues: Simply having a battery watering system for employees to use doesn't necessarily mean a company has sidestepped the issues with these processes. If a legacy system has worn down over time, flaws such as a lack of pressure in a water bladder can cause filling mistakes. A battery watering system also does not automatically counteract the issues with non-specialist employees being assigned watering as one of their many duties.

After a careful look at the problems that can accompany manual and in-house battery watering practices, it's easy to see the room for improvement. Installing a modernized automatic battery watering system is one direct way to counteract the issues. Companies can also take this a step further by working with a power service provider on a fully featured battery management system.

Modern battery watering system traits and practices

Rather than adding distilled water to a battery with a watering gun, companies with a more focused approach to maintaining their power systems can instead upgrade to a single-point watering (SPW) system.

When using SPW, multiple battery cells can be connected at once, adding a degree of automation and efficiency to the watering process. The employees overseeing this system, whether they are internal staff members or part of a power-as-a-service program, must make sure they are watering for the correct interval to fill the batteries without overfilling them.

The following are a few traits of the way modern battery watering works:

  • Battery watering as part of the charging cycle: When an organization has a single point watering system in place, it's easier to put battery watering into its correct place in an efficient power management workflow. Batteries should always be fully charged before watering begins. Companies with effective, standardized charging strategies can move smoothly into watering, using their battery monitoring systems to detect a low electrolyte level and never letting batteries go too long without watering.

  • Customizing battery watering for the company's needs: Introducing more automation into the battery watering workflow does not mean this process is now considered "set and forget." The personnel in charge of power management should verify their water supply levels and intervals to make sure their practices are suited for the temperature in the workspace, as well as their chosen charging methods and battery status.

  • Applying safe and responsible work practices: Due to the risks of working with lead acid batteries, including battery acid burns, the personnel behind a modern watering system should make sure they are always outfitted in the correct PPE. This includes eye protection, gloves and potentially steel-toed shoes, to guard feet against discharged water in case of an overfilling and overflowing issue.

A specialized approach to battery watering, with personnel filling batteries via an SPW solution and observing carefully managed work practices, draws a contrast with the inconsistency and inefficiency of highly manual processes.

One important point to keep in mind is that companies don't have to build their forklift battery watering capabilities in-house. Watering is included as part of the services in a battery management program purchased as a service. These solutions allow experts to handle an organization's power requirements and leave material handling employees extra free time to perform their own value-adding work.

How do you select the best battery watering system?

There's more than one type of battery watering system available, even when you narrow the search down to SPW technologies. Some use a float valve, while others operate on a level-sensing valve model with no moving parts.

The common thread between these solutions is that they represent a functional improvement over the heavily manual practice of an employee adding distilled water to individual batteries through a funnel. It's best to pair these watering systems with the other hallmarks of a highly automated and modernized power management system, including charging and battery monitoring technologies.

SPW Considerations

If your business decides to use a modern battery watering system in its battery room, there are several options to think about. By thinking these traits through, you can end up with a watering approach that suits the battery hardware your forklifts use, as well as the place power management fulfills in your materials handling workflow.

  • Connection type: Choosing between connections is a way to make sure your battery watering system is perfectly suited to the environment it will be used in. For example, while a standard water injector is quicker to install than other solutions, a spider-type injector allows for more tubing flexibility for tight conditions.

  • Speed of filling: One of the primary reasons to work with a modern battery watering system is the fact that these assets can add speed to the watering process. A modern injector-type solution can fill a battery in 15 seconds, allowing employees to be on hand and monitor the whole process without slowing down their day, and it's fast enough for just-in-time watering when an extra battery is needed immediately.

  • Shutoff method: Some battery watering systems operate by a float valve method. This means a buoyant piece within the asset rises on the electrolyte and stops the flow when it reaches a specific water level. More recently developed battery watering options can use level-sensing valves which shut off automatically by detecting electrolyte level. These solutions don't have moving parts, so they may prove less likely to stick.

  • Suitability for battery types: When purchasing a battery watering system, it's important to note what types and sizes of lead acid batteries the asset works with. Some are designed to fill any type of battery to its specific level, while others may require specific parts to make sure they are working correctly with your specific batteries.

Other traits of battery watering systems include the resilience of their construction and the size of the equipment. When you select your solution carefully, it can last for years and fit neatly into the overall battery charging workflow.

Watering systems as part of a power management program

There's a further step your business can take, and that involves taking battery watering entirely out of your own internal team's hands. A managed power program incorporates every element of managing forklift batteries, from the selection of batteries to the everyday upkeep of the assets, including charging and watering.

The advantages of taking this approach to forklift battery watering can go even further than those associated with purchasing a modern battery watering system for your own material handling personnel to operate, and include the following:

  • Expert attention for battery watering issues: When the person tasked with all aspects of battery management, including battery watering, is solely there to take care of batteries, the tasks are completed to high standards without the need for additional training. Rather than adding power management as an extra duty for an employee, there will be a technician with the expertise and experience to charge, water and maintain the batteries effectively.

  • Compatible, cohesive technology: Working with a power management program means having all the equipment chosen to match your forklift fleet's requirements and to work together. The battery watering system deployed will be selected to suit the batteries in use, as well as to match the workflows to keep your forklift equipment operating at peak efficiency.

  • Troubleshooting capability: The technicians deployed to carry out power management programs aren't just experts at keeping the strategies running under ideal conditions. These personnel are also trained in the best practices of battery maintenance and emergency repairs, ensuring any and all issues with battery watering systems or related equipment are detected quickly and dealt with comprehensively.

In simplest terms, the difference between these models — buying your own battery watering system and acquiring one through a power management program — comes down to the division of responsibilities. In both cases, your organization is making a significant upgrade, getting access to the latest technology and smoothing the battery management workflow. The latter is a more comprehensive approach, one that moves power management out of your hands.

Selecting a power management program does not show a lack of confidence in your material handling employees by taking battery watering away from them. Rather, it demonstrates that an ideal approach to highly specific duties comes from personnel whose main job description involves completing those tasks. And it lets your team get refocused on their core job.

Whatever the size of your forklift fleet and battery charging operations, the equipment and practices involved should be dealt with in an optimal manner, with the benefits being felt everywhere from efficiency to total cost of ownership.

How does a battery watering system lower your total cost of ownership?

To consider the true advantages of a battery watering system for your bottom line, you have to think of the consequences that come with giving these solutions inadequate time and attention. Many organizations struggle with battery watering, potentially unaware that there is a better approach available.

Consequences of poor battery watering

By looking in detail at the issues afflicting companies with unsuitable battery watering systems, you can better appreciate how efficient and budget-friendly a modernized and automated version of these solutions can be.

  • Battery cell damage from improper watering: One of the quickest ways to shorten a lead acid battery's lifespan is to neglect watering, add the wrong amount of water or add it at the wrong time, such as when a battery is not charged. When battery watering is being handled by a simple method such as a non-specialized employee with a funnel watering by hand, the chances of encountering these issues increase.

  • Risk to employees and damage to property: Overfilling a battery isn't just an error that can cut down on productivity — it's also a workplace hazard. The electrolyte used to water batteries can be harmful to skin, clothing and even the floors of work areas. Making a simple human error such as adding water to a new battery that hasn't yet been cycled can cause an overflow, as can not paying attention during the full duration of the filling process. Modern battery watering systems, with their automatic shut-off capabilities, dramatically reduce this risk.

  • Worn or damaged battery watering systems can cause unanticipated problems: Companies that have aging battery watering systems may find themselves with a false sense of security. Because they are not watering the batteries by hand, employees at these organizations may assume they are immune to the most serious problems regarding watering. However, even a minor problem with legacy equipment — a worn bladder tank, a small leak or a general lack of pressure — can cause unpredictable performance and the risk that comes along.

While these issues are daunting, there is good news: They can all be counteracted by equipping your company with the latest battery watering system assets, as well as expert personnel who know how to use the technology, whether they are your own workers or technicians serving as part of a power management program.

The cure for battery cost woes

It's easy to see the value of battery watering systems when you consider the resolutions to companies' primary battery watering dilemmas in terms of total cost of ownership. Batteries are a significant investment, so improvements to their everyday use can have an outsized effect on the bottom line in material handling and beyond.

  • A more precise approach to watering: The simplest way to maximize total cost of ownership is to make the assets last longer, drawing every bit of usable life span out of your batteries. This is the effect of precision battery watering executed in tandem with battery monitoring and charging systems that ensure the cells are only watered when they are in the proper state. The automated SPW tools then deliver the correct level of fill every time.

  • Countermeasures against risk and liability: Taking a more methodical approach to battery watering means deploying the best available technology, in the hands of employees who know what they're doing. This combination is beneficial for those employees themselves, as well as the equipment and the environment around them. An avoidable accident can be more than costly, it can be devastating to workers, so taking steps to minimize risk is only logical.

  • Smooth operations via reliable technology: Using the latest battery watering system hardware, maintained to high standards, is a boost to power management to workflows, with effects that can be felt throughout the material handling department. When employees can have faith that batteries will be charged and watered correctly, on a precise schedule, they can deploy a right-sized battery strategy with less need to buy hardware, while also getting longer life from the assets they do buy. The effect on the bottom line will naturally be positive.

Organizations that haven't yet upgraded their battery watering systems may have numerous reasons for their decision — inertia, lack of awareness of the problem, underestimation of the costs associated with better battery upkeep. Overcoming this hesitancy can lead to financial windfalls in the near and long terms.

Power management's role in better forklift operations

When practices such as battery monitoring are dealt with as part of an effective power management program, the effects aren't just felt in the costs of the batteries themselves. The overall efficiency of material handling can rise accordingly.

Operating a forklift fleet for peak effectiveness means minimizing interruptions and downtime. The vehicles must have a reliable, available power source ready to go. When that energy is being provided by a carefully planned power management strategy, with tasks such as battery watering and charging being handled in a timely manner, those vehicles can keep running with a minimum of added cost.

Arranging forklift fleet power through the Concentric Engineered Power Systems and managed power program is a way to right-size and optimize your facility's battery needs, all as part of a single monthly fee. Everything from selecting the right batteries, chargers and watering systems to operating that equipment from day to day is in the hands of trained technicians.

Battery watering is a perfect example of a process that is best handled by these experts, whose job is to manage power. With their training in the best practices of battery watering, technicians can determine the ideal fill time for your batteries, based on the work environment and usage patterns, then carefully oversee every filling to ensure your batteries are dealt with optimally.

Time to commit to better battery watering system use

Whether as part of the power management program or for use by your own team, modern battery watering systems have an important role to play in forklift operations today. There's no bad time to reconsider your approach, make an assessment and commit to an upgrade. Indeed, if your current solutions are not up to industry standards, the potential for better returns is significant.

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