Let’s face it; a battery is one of the more (if not most) costly components in any material handling piece of equipment. Consider that a battery for a forklift can be 25-30% of the purchase price. With that level of investment, it is imperative to take proactive steps to extend the life of your batteries.
We have shared information before on how to maintain batteries. While this post will include some of those tips, you need to care for your batteries on a daily basis to truly extend their life.
Develop a routine
The best plans and procedures are ones implemented on a regular and consistent basis. By taking a few key steps daily, you will recognize potential issues early and know your equipment better.
1. Perform a visual inspection of your batteries. Look at the plugs and terminals for any loose connections or frayed wires. If an immediate repair is not possible, remove the battery from use until it can be repaired.
2. Inspect your battery for sulphation. Sulphation happens when white sulphuric crystals appear on the battery’s lead plates and will impede a battery’s ability to hold a charge. Cleaning is easy with a little water and battery acid neutralizer. Wipe up any dirt, debris, sulphation, or acid spills on and around the battery.
3. Monitor the temperature on and around the battery. Keep a safe operating temperature that does not exceed 45℃ (113℉). Temperatures above this can affect the charge level and if prolonged, shorten the life of the battery. Further, overheated batteries are dangerous to handle, making charging impossible until they have returned to a normal range.
Maximize your charge.
Details matter in battery charging. Too little, too much, too long, or not enough will impact the life of your battery.
4. Watch the level of charge. Do not let the remaining charge in your batteries drop below 30%. If a battery gets too low or completely drains itself of a charge, the recharging time will be substantially longer (think days). Not to mention that if equipment is in use at the time a battery is completely drained, serious damage can result in the electrical components of your machinery.
5. Stop when finished. Overcharging a battery past 100% can be just as damaging long term as letting a charge drop below a safe level. Fully charged is fully charged.
6. Schedule specific times for charging. Your equipment may have different use rates, which means the batteries may have different charging requirements, such as daily vs. every three days. Document what your equipment requires and then create a schedule to ensure each battery is regularly charged. This process will ensure your equipment won’t quit part way through a job.
7. Turn off the charger completely. Take a moment to make sure the entire charging process is completed before removing the battery - including shutting off the charger. Removing a battery too soon can damage both battery and charger.
Maintenance is essential
Beyond inspecting and charging, there are other key steps that must be done regularly to keeping your battery, and by extension your equipment, running at its optimal.
8. Equalize your battery. Every 5-10 charging cycles (based on manufacturer recommendations) your batteries should be equalized. Equalizing is a process of deliberately overcharging a battery to remove sulfate crystals that build up on the plates over time. Note: this should only be done with a charger equipped with an equalizing setting.
9. Maintain proper fluid levels. Make sure there is enough fluid in your batteries to cover the plastic battery element. Refill with distilled water that measures between 5 and 7pH, and is within recommended limits for impurities as impure water can lead to battery damage.
With a little attention and plan of action, you can not only maintain but also extend the life of your battery.