Justifying the cost of upgrading to lithium-ion batteries depends on many factors, including the weight of the loads being moved, the environmental conditions, and the number of continuous shifts the equipment needs to operate.
Costs and efficiencies vary by manufacturer. But in general, lithium-ion batteries offer a lower total cost of ownership than lead acid batteries for relatively high throughput facilities that need multi-shift operations, for cold storage environments, and in facilities that struggle to meet the strict charging schedule of lead acid.
The financial benefits of upgrading
From among the three most popular forklift power solutions, lead acid batteries offer the lowest cost of acquisition. However, in the right application, lithium-ion batteries have the lowest total cost of ownership.
This is because lithium-ion technologies offer important improvements in efficiency and operational expenses.
Compared to flooded lead acid technologies, lithium-ion batteries charge more quickly, last longer, and provide more consistent power. They can be opportunity charged without risk of damaging the battery, require zero maintenance, and can be fully charged in less than an hour. This improved efficiency means operators spend more time on-task.
In cold environments, these efficiencies are even more pronounced. While lithium-ion is relatively unaffected by cold, lead acid technologies increasingly lose capacity, and require more maintenance, as the temperature drops below 68?.
Lithium-ion batteries can reduce a facility’s operational costs in a number of important ways. Compared to flooded lead acid batteries, they charge more quickly and efficiently, and don’t need routine maintenance. This not only means that operators are spending more of their time working, but also that the facility is spending less money on utility bills. For larger fleets, this difference is noticeable.
Because the batteries neither need to be swapped nor emit flammable gas while charging, facilities can be designed so that the charging stations are where they can be most efficiently used. If the process allows for a few minutes of opportunity charging, a charging station can be installed to allow for that. Putting charging stations near break rooms allows operators to quickly transition between work and breaks, reducing their wasted motion.
And, when a lead acid battery has lost capacity and is nearing the end of its use after 1,500 charge cycles, lithium-ion batteries are still good for another 1,500 cycles or even more.
Flooded lead acid batteries pose a number of risks to both operators and the environment. Maintaining these batteries means working with equipment that sometimes weighs thousands of pounds, is filled with corrosive chemicals, and that can emit toxic and even explosive gasses.
Because lithium-ion batteries require no daily upkeep, operators are no longer exposed to the hazards associated with battery maintenance, which include crush injuries, respiratory irritation, eye damage, and more.
And in the medical supply, pharmaceutical, and food and beverage industries, where hygiene and safety are highly regulated, lithium-ion technologies help reduce the incidents of toxic spills and fumes in the environment.
Monitor in real time
In order to run safely, lithium-ion batteries need a way to keep their different cells equally charged. Smaller batteries, like those in laptops, use a battery balancer.
Industrial equipment, however, uses a battery management system (BMS).
A BMS works to keep the battery balanced and also monitors internal and external temperatures, the state of charge, and other key metrics. Importantly, the BMS is part of the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) and can communicate with the outside world.
This allows the operators and managers on-site, and even organizations with many widely distributed facilities, to monitor an entire fleet of batteries in real time.
Motive power considerations
Many factors will go into determining what motive power solution is right for any given project. At Alta Motive Power, we work with you to understand your goals, needs, and use, and we have proprietary modeling software that helps find the right power solution for you.
If your current processes are inefficient and you suspect your motive power is partly to blame but aren’t sure where to even start, ask yourself some fundamental questions.
What are your processes and layout?
Do you currently have a dedicated, functional battery changing room for lead acid, and are you planning a remodel in the near future? If upgrading your motive power is part of a larger remodel, then upgrading to a technology like lithium-ion, that doesn’t require a dedicated battery changing room, can be part of a larger solution that maximizes your floor space and efficiency.
If remodeling isn’t in the plans, then upgrading to a newer lead acid technology like TPPL might be the most cost effective solution. TPPL offers increased efficiencies and requires less maintenance than older lead acid technologies, but still needs periodic equalization charges.
How many shifts do you run?
Running multi-shift operations on lead acid batteries often means working around, and compensating for, the batteries’ inefficiencies. Compared to newer technologies, lead acid takes longer to charge, has a lower depth of discharge, needs regular maintenance, and suffers from battery droop under heavy loads.
In high throughput environments, upgrading to lithium-ion batteries is easily justifiable. They help operators stay on-task, move product more efficiently, can be fully charged in under an hour, and don’t need daily maintenance.
Are your current battery maintenance procedures adequate?
In some facilities, operators take battery maintenance seriously. They understand what to do, are self-motivated, and have the diligence to ensure lead batteries are watered and equalized as needed.
In other facilities, the demands of the business or the inexperience of the operators makes battery maintenance more challenging. Over time, poorly maintained lead acid batteries lose capacity to the point that their service life is lowered.
Maintenance procedures are especially relevant to facilities affected by high turnover rates, where employees often lack the training or dedication to maintain equipment.
Because lithium-ion batteries offer maintenance-free motive power, they remove one of the greatest challenges of lead acid technologies.
What is the industry and environment?
If you lift and move heavy loads, need an emission-free power source, or operate in temperature extremes, lithium-ion batteries are likely a more practical option than lead acid.
The paper, steel, or automotive industries, for example, frequently move loads heavy enough to cause lead acid batteries to suffer droop - a momentary loss of voltage that slows the vehicle. Because of their different internal chemistries, this effect is less pronounced in lithium-ion batteries.
For industries with very strict health standards, such as pharmaceutical, medical, and food and beverage, lithium-ion batteries produce zero emissions and reduce the chance of chemical spills.
Finally, if your equipment frequently operates in either hot or cold conditions, lithium-ion batteries offer important benefits. lead acid batteries lose capacity at low temperatures and suffer from reduced service life if operated at high temperatures. In part because of their different chemistry, and in part because of the on-board battery management system, lithium-ion batteries fare better at temperature extremes.
Are lithium-ion batteries worth the cost?
Very possibly. Lithium-ion batteries have been around for decades, but justifying their costs in slower environments, or when the technology was new, was more challenging.
Today’s market, driven largely by the internet, machine learning, and ecommerce, is more fast-paced and competitive than ever. Many material handling companies need the advantages that lithium-ion provides.
To learn more about matching the right power source to your needs, contact us today!