In conversation: lithium & the future of forkliftsby Grace Kneafsey
Lithium-Ion batteries (referred to as Li-On) are commonplace in household electronic goods. Lightweight and low maintenance with a good battery life, they dominate our pockets. They're also the driving force behind many commercial electric vehicles (including Tesla).
And now, they are lauded by many as the future of the forklift industry. ?
Li-On batteries generally last longer between charges, are quicker and easier to charge, and require far less maintenance than their lead acid counterparts. ? Indeed, batteries don't need to be swapped out but can be charged during operational breaks. For some businesses, charging rooms have now been repurposed as productive space.
These clear efficiencies become particularly relevant for those industries like warehousing where maximising operational time (and therefore minimising charging & down time) can be critical. ⌛
There's also the 'clean' aspect ♻️ - Li-On batteries come without the dangerous spillage risk of lead acid as well as the energy savings.
For many small businesses looking to invest in new equipment, this is the first time they're faced with the new technology as an option. We spoke to Ian Patterson, MD of 4LT Ltd, about some of the practical questions.
⏰ My business isn't a 24 hour warehousing operation - there's ample time for charging at the moment. Would I still benefit from lithium?
Lithium can definitely be cost effective for smaller applications. The clear benefit is the lifespan of the Li-On batteries, lasting 5 to 6 times longer than their lead counterparts. That's where you get the value for money.
A lot of issues with lead battery forklifts come from bad maintenance or charging issues. The new technology has dispensed with this: there's next to no maintenance and the batteries are developed with sporadic charging in mind.
If we want to compare with gas & diesel, there's huge savings to be made. I was recently working with a customer who was spending around £1200 a year on fuel for their average truck (around 1000 hours) - the money to be saved on running costs was huge.
? How different are Li-On trucks operationally? Is there more training to do? I've heard they are extremely lightweight.
Like their lead battery counterparts, Li-On trucks are programmable, making them very safe, particularly in tight spaces. There's no additional training required here - as simple as getting out of one truck and into another.
Yes, Li-On are lighter. Counterweights are filled and are the same size, if not a little smaller. Overall, this has the effect of increasing the range and operating ability of the trucks.
? I have generally always bought used trucks. Can you get trucks refurbished to take Li-On? How do you see the used market adapting?
Yes - existing forklifts can be repurposed to run on lithium batteries. Although, it must be said that the current market for the separate Li-On batteries is an expensive option.
Li-On trucks have a long lifespan, and that's not just the batteries. As there's so little maintenance required or swapping out of batteries, the body of the trucks will remain in far better condition. This will clearly impact the used market, with trucks being in use for longer and remaining in better condition.
It's worth saying something about cost here. There's an impression that Li-On trucks are very expensive (twice as much as a lead battery truck for example). But that's not the case across the whole market. It's important to shop around and speak to dealerships.
EP Equipment, for example, offer Li-On trucks with similar warranties to some of the large European brands at very competitive prices - in some cases cheaper than a new gas/diesel truck.
Over time, costs (for batteries, and for trucks themselves) will continue to come down, and of course there will be more Li-On entering the used market.
?️ What about disposing of Li-On batteries?
There's 15-20 years in a lithium battery. So there's not the same requirements for regular disposal as with lead (as well as not needing to be handled and swapped).
As with all battery disposal, researching & ensuring they are disposed of safely and properly is important. Many envisage that Li-On trucks may be returned to manufacturers to be repurposed (given the longevity of the truck bodies) when batteries are finished!
? Closing thoughts
Li-On hits all the right notes on energy saving & energy efficiency, which is of the utmost importance currently.
Practical examples of lithium in use are great. I work with transport companies who are getting 16 hours out of their trucks without the charging facilities or spare batteries they needed before. Just a short charge in the shift break.
Have more questions? Get in touch!
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