Fast Charging For Forklifts

by Scott McLeod

What is Fast Charge Technology?

Fast Charge technology provides electric forklift owners with the capability to charge their industrial forklift
batteries in a span of time that is roughly 75% less than the time it takes using conventional charging methods.

In the past it would take approximately (8) continuous hours ( without interruption ) to recharge a forklift battery.

With Fast Charging, it takes approximately (2) hours and this (2) hour time frame can be broken up into smaller segments such that a forklift operator can opportunity charge throughout the day, ie (15) minutes during coffee break, a half hour at lunch and so on.

Opportunity charging has always been considered harmful to industrial batteries, however this is not the case with Fast Charging. Instead, opportunity charging is what Fast Charging is all about and it will have little or no negative impact on the life of the battery provided that the proper battery and charger is used in the process.

Who needs Fast Charging and what are the Benefits?

There are many forklift users that operate multiple shifts, ie (2) or (3) shift operations, (5),(6), or (7) days per week. These companies would often need (1) or (2) replacement batteries per forklift in order for the lift truck to continue operating around the clock and to give normal lead acid batteries a chance to fully charge ( 8 hrs ) and to fully cool down after the charging process ( an additional (8) hours ).
With Fast Charging, only (1) battery, (1) truck and (1) charger is required.

In addition to saving on spare batteries, which typically cost in excess of $5,000 each, the need for a battery changing area is virtually eliminated as well as the battery changing equipment and battery storage stands not to mention the time that is required to water, clean and charge all of those spare batteries.

It is important to be clear on one important fact….batteries are like fuel tanks. Once the fuel or active material in the battery is consumed, the battery will need to be replaced. This means that if you have been used to running multiple shifts and using spare batteries then you are likely to consume the truck battery more quickly when compared to a single shift operation. So, instead of realizing a battery life of 5 to 10 years it may be with fast charging that your battery life is less because you are now consuming the active material at a faster rate. Once the active material is gone, it’s gone and so you may need to purchase another battery sooner than you have in the past. Many people are under the false impression that they can simply eliminate the cost of any additional batteries over a typical 5 year period. This may or may not be the case. It all depends on how quickly you burn the fuel so to speak and how well matched your battery size, energy drain and charging practices are to each other.

On another note, if a client has a large fleet, this technology can eliminate the need for a dedicated battery maintenance person which will result in a significant yearly expense reduction.

Also, the time required to change a battery safely can be eliminated resulting in higher productivity and safety for the operator. Batteries weigh in excess of 2,000 lbs and if not handled correctly there can be battery and truck damage or someone can be seriously injured. The activity of changing batteries can also attract employee gatherings which may result in unproductive social time.

In another scenario, there are many forklift users that operate liquid propane gas ( LPG ) forklifts and they can’t afford to be without the ability to load / unload a trailer or container should their day extend beyond normal working hours. These companies would sometimes hesitate to buy an electric forklift due to the risk of not being able to keep their business functioning should they find themselves in this position.

With LPG forklifts, an operator has the luxury of being able to change an LPG cylinder when it’s empty and within 5 minutes he’s back up and running again. Using conventional charging technology for electric forklift trucks, the operator would be down for (4) to (8) hours waiting for the battery to regain a normal state of charge. Fast Charging removes this risk.

If your company is environmentally conscious and if you take advantage of “Green Technology” whenever possible, Fast Charging is worth serious consideration. Converting from internal combustion to electric forklifts is one major step forward in this direction. If you have already converted to electric but operate using spare batteries, then eliminating the spare batteries is another step forward.

Please reference “Electric Forklifts vs Propane Forklifts vs Diesel Forklifts” or “Why Electric Forklifts” for a more detailed list of benefits that can be realized from operating electric forklift trucks.

Fast Charging Considerations

As with all technology there are certain limitations and / or issues that need to be carefully considered.

  • The capital cost of acquiring Fast Charging batteries and chargers is much higher than conventional forklift batteries and chargers, ie the charger is approximately 4 times more expensive and the battery is approximately 1.5 times the cost of a standard lead acid battery. However, if you take into account the cost of spare batteries and the time required to change and maintain them, this additional upfront cost could result in cost savings and productivity gains down the road.
  • The design of the Fast Charging system is critical for success, ie the right battery and charger has to be selected after a very careful assessment of you current forklift usage and the resulting battery energy consumed over a given span of time. It is likely that after a Fast Charging system is installed there will need to be some adjustments to have everything operating at peak efficiency which is why finding a local supplier that you can count on is key.
  • Your company culture has to be the right fit for the technology…. ie the timing of when to charge, how to charge and how to properly maintain the battery has to be a priority in your organization with clear lines of responsibility. The operators, supervisors and management team all have to take ownership of the program if it is to succeed.
  • Fast Charge chargers draw more current ( amperage ) than standard chargers and for this reason it would be important to make sure your facility has enough power available, especially if you need multiple chargers to satisfy a large fleet size.
  • If you are a current electric forklift user, your existing batteries may or may not work with a Fast Charge charger or they may need to be converted. Only your Fast Charge supplier can advise you on what is required. Forklift batteries designed specifically for Fast Charge typically have upgraded cables and double inter-cell connectors so that they can withstand the higher amperage delivery from the charger. The forklift also requires some minor conversion work to accept the necessary cabling for charging.
  • If during the process of converting to Fast Charge you end up with surplus conventional batteries and chargers, there is a market to dispose of this equipment which will free up cash and offset some of the conversion costs.
  • Fast Charging may mean that the battery consumes more or less water depending on the system used. Installing a single point watering system will help speed up the process of watering forklift batteries and it will lessen the operator’s exposure to harmful acid and potentially explosive fumes. For example, a 48 volt battery has 24 cell caps that need to be watered and this watering time could be used for much more productive activities. Frankly, with or without Fast Charge, single point watering systems should really be installed on all industrial forklift batteries, especially those that need to be removed from the chassis for access.
  • Fast Charge battery warranties may be less depending on the application and the manufacturer involved. Finding a supplier that will achieve a fast charge rate, without raising the temperature of the battery beyond it’s design during the charging process, is the ultimate goal as high heat is often partially responsible for short battery life. Battery warranties typically only cover defects in workmanship…they do not guarantee that you will achieve a certain life as that life can only be determined by how quickly you consume the active material in the battery or by how well you maintain and treat the battery over it’s life.
  • Before making a commitment to convert to Fast Charge technology it would be important to visit a company who is currently using a Fast Charge system, ideally in a similar business.
  • Local back up support would be critical to achieve a smooth installation. Make sure you feel comfortable with the supplier and make sure you have a contract in place that guarantees results after installation.

Posted in: Electric Forklifts