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How to Increase Forklift Battery Life

by Randall Vernon | Tue, Aug 25, 2015


time_is_money_hour_glass-3For businesses reliant on material handling vehicles, forklifts represent a significant investment. However, the "engines" that run these forklifts are an important investment, too. With the right forklift batteries—and proper maintenance on those batteries—your forklift fleet can run smoothly and efficiently, and avoid major hiccups. Unfortunately, many forklift operators practice bad habits that can decrease the overall lifespans of your batteries.

How to Save Money by Increasing Forklift Battery Life

The key word in that previous sentence is "habit." When it comes to motive power, a watchful eye goes a long way towards ensuring that your business stays on the move. Today we'll discuss five helpful tips for increasing your overall forklift battery life. While these five items will be helpful for anyone working in the material handling industry, they're aimed at operations managers and forklift operators since their habits impact battery usage the most.

1. Remember the Rule of 80%

In an ideal world, operators shouldn't discharge their forklift batteries once they're below 20% capacity. We call it the "Rule of 80%" because that's the percentage that's been discharged from the battery. Also known as "deep discharging," this failure to recharge the battery sooner  causes the weaker cells of the battery to get over-discharged compared to the stronger cells. As this process continues, the weaker cell capacity will continue to decrease over time. Unless there are routine equalizations performed, the weaker cell will fail. Over-discharging also results in hot batteries and hot truck components , which can cause significant damage to the truck (even motor failure). Maintaining proper truck settings is key to preventing deep discharging.

2. Watch Your Water Levels

Battery health is directly related to water levels. Over time, water levels will decrease. When they do, the plates become exposed. Prolonged dryness will compromise the integrity of these plates, and can ultimately lead to irrevocable damage. If you see low water levels, definitely address this, either with your power partner or onsite manager. It’s also important that you only add water from a known clean water source such as city or county water—never use water out of a private source without first having it checked for contaminants. If in doubt, use de-ionized or distilled water.  Also, only add water when the battery is fully charged. Never overfill the battery, either.

3. Charge Batteries per Charging Guidelines Established at Each Customer Site

In fast and opportunity charging, a site survey should first be taken to find out what the truck and battery usage is over several weeks. This way, the proper charger and battery requirements can be specifically designed around your needs. While there are potential savings from using these charging programs, consult your motive power partner before making this transition. If implemented correctly the customer can save a lot of money and reduce downtime time without risking the battery operating life. You shouldn’t attempt to do this on your own without professional help; failure to use the correct charger with the correct charging profile can have detrimental effects on battery life. Fast charging and opportunity charger settings will need to be set so that battery warranty requirements are met per the battery manufacturer requirements. Failure to follow these requirements can void battery warranty. 

4.  Fast Charging Temperature Controls

Fast charging uses high charge rates that may cause the battery to heat up during usage and charging.  Make sure any charger charging above a 25% start rate has temperature sensors installed that can measure battery temperature.

5. Keep an Eye Out for Obvious Issues

While many businesses have partners that handle their battery maintenance, keeping a cautious eye on them yourself allows you to catch problems before they become full-blown. For example, a common culprit causing short battery lifespans is battery sulphation. Battery sulphation is due to prolonged under-charging of the battery. You can easily see this if you measure specific gravity after the battery goes through an equalized charge. If there is a problem with battery sulphation, the chargers can be adjusted to prevent any damage to the battery. Catching it early, and calling in a battery professional to address it, will definitely add life to a battery.

Hopefully these five tips will allow you to extend the lives of your batteries, and lead to a healthier forklift fleet. Most battery problems come from bad habits that can easily be corrected, whether the problems come from employees unaware of the impact of their actions, or mandated attempts to avoid any downtime. Either way, understand that these bad habits will lead to shorter battery life. In the end, that's just more money you'll be spending to keep your operation up and running.

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