Managers of vehicle fleets within warehouses and industrial sites are faced with a number of power source options including diesel, petrol and LP Gas, but there is one power source that still dominates the sector – battery electric. Peter Atack, Product & Technical Manager of GNB Industrial Power, explains why battery power remains the number one choice for users of forklift trucks and other materials handling equipment.
"Traction batteries have been providing a clean, quiet, reliable power source for over 150 years and recent advancements in technology mean batteries are now offering larger capacities and increased operating times. Any advantages that fossil fuels had in terms of operational benefits are rapidly being eroded and are more than out-weighed by other financial and environmental benefits of batteries.
"By their very nature, battery powered trucks are more reliable than their internal combustion engine counterparts. There are no gearboxes to transmit power to the wheels and they have fewer moving parts subject to malfunction and wear. Most vehicle engineers will testify that the more technology put into engines, the more things there are to go wrong! Many will sing the praises of older engine designs in which they could simply open the bonnet and fix whatever had broken. However, in electric vehicles power flows through a simple controller to the electric motor and then to the wheels, and because there are fewer moving parts with less mechanical stress, they are more reliable and have a longer operational life. They will also be cheaper to maintain in terms of staff time and replacement parts.
"Of course, in many working environments, electric power is the only viable power source. The lack of polluting and contaminating fumes, considerably lower noise outputs, and minimum vibration means a safer and more pleasant working environment for both the driver and other staff in the vicinity. The food and pharmaceutical industries are just two sectors that, governed by regulation and practical considerations, rely on emission-free materials handling equipment.
"The macro-environment is also another area that benefits from the use of electric vehicles. Although at present, the power used to supply electricity in the UK is largely from fossil fuels, the reality is that a modern power plant is burning fuel more efficiently (and transforming it to electrical energy) than an internal combustion engine. Environmentally aware businesses already have the option of buying their electricity from renewable sources and with increasing European and global pressure, the proportion of environmentally sound power will increase. This, together with the rise in oil prices, makes battery power even more economically viable.
"Another factor for UK businesses is the lack of available space and the resulting rise in property prices. Modern warehouses in particular are designed with narrow aisles and electric powered materials handling equipment offer a flexible and manoeuvrable option.
"Increasing overtime and seasonal peaks also mean that vehicles may be required round the clock. This is no longer a problem for modern traction batteries and the charging and Power Management Systems designed to support them. Battery Management Systems, such as the ‘2100.net’, ensure that a fully charged battery is always available and users are able to use the computer systems to assess the state of their batteries. This ensures maximum performance from the battery as well as an optimum product life. GNB Industrial Power can offer its customers multi-tier charging systems that optimise floor space and increase safety within the charger room.
"We can also offer customers a complete power solution. For example, the ‘Liberator’ battery concept offers a completely maintenance free option. When used in combination with high frequency chargers it is possible to achieve up to 200 cycles between maintenance intervals as well as saving up to 19.3% on CO² emissions. Batteries that offer high power outputs for rapid-draw applications, as well as sustained operations, are also available. If the battery and charger fleet is maintained by GNB Service Technicians customers will always have batteries that are providing optimum performance and a correct maintenance regime can also help extend the overall life. Developments in battery technology, including gel and orbital wound technology, mean that batteries can be truly ‘fit & forget’. Even traditional ‘flooded’ batteries are benefiting from increasing power, as well as topping up systems like ‘Aquajet’ that reduce the water replacement procedure from around 20 minutes per battery to around 20 seconds.
"Overall, not only is battery power the best solution for today’s users of traction handling equipment, but it is likely to remain so for the foreseeable future," concludes Peter.