Austrian logistics service provider Gebrüder Weiss reviewed its procurement procedure and the total cost of ownership for forklift trucks and associated energy packages by considering vehicles, batteries and battery charging systems separately. As a result of this process, the logistics specialist chose to bring the Battery Charging Systems division of Fronius International GmbH on board in the context of a cooperation agreement.
Whether by road, rail or air – international transport and logistics enterprise Gebrüder Weiss is continually on the move for its customers. Founded in 1823 and with headquarters in Lauterach in Vorarlberg, Gebrüder Weiss GmbH is the oldest Austrian firm in the transport and logistics sector and the largest private forwarding company in Austria. In 2012 the company numbering 6,000 employees achieved a net turnover of 1.15 billion euros. The globally active logistics service provider, whose association with transport services stretches back more than 500 years, is involved in a range of eco-friendly, economic and social initiatives making it a modern-day pioneer in terms of sustainable business.
It goes without saying that a logistics service provider of this size operates a large number of distribution centres for land, air and sea transport in which a sizeable fleet of forklift trucks is at work. For example, around 1,100 – mainly electrically powered – machines are used by the company’s 80 subsidiaries. Around half of these are low-lift pallet trucks, approximately 20% are counterbalance trucks, and warehouse technology, such as high bay or narrow-aisle stackers, accounts for close to 30%. "The forklift trucks at Gebrüder Weiss need to be able to withstand demanding and varied conditions," explains Lukas Strobl of Central Purchasing. "At some sites the vehicles are in use more or less continually, that is up to twenty hours a day, seven days a week. At peak periods in particular the flow of goods must be handled quickly and efficiently. For us, knowing we can rely on our equipment is of key importance. Any breakdowns would be costly and time-consuming."
With so many electric forklift trucks, traction batteries and battery charging systems, it was worth taking a closer look at the total cost of ownership for new or replacement equipment. Even though the traction battery and battery charging system – known as the "energy package" – are only equivalent to 10 to 25% of the total procurement costs, both components have a significant impact on operating costs. This is largely due to increasing energy costs and the high cost of the battery. The energy package affects the dimensioning of the technical infrastructure for new warehouses or logistics centres, such as mains connections, power factor correction measures, space requirements or ventilation systems where batteries are charged.
The forklift provider is frequently the only contact for the purchasing company, since the user often views the forklift truck, traction battery and battery charging system as a single, indivisible entity. This was certainly the case at Gebrüder Weiss. However, the company decided to consider the forklift truck, traction battery and battery charging system as separate elements. Lukas Strobl explains: "Doing business sustainably is part of our quality undertaking. For us intelligent logistics starts with the analysis of the procurement process as a whole, including the procurement of battery charging systems. If the different processes are aligned, everything runs like clockwork and effective use can be made of synergies. This not only helps to save energy, but also reduces CO2 emissions."
In the procurement process for the three separate components, Gebrüder Weiss evaluated all suppliers on the basis of various criteria, such as quality, sales structure and cost. According to Lukas Strobl Fronius "stood out from the competition, mainly due to its technical superiority". For this reason, the company decided to enter into a partnership with the Austrian specialist for the supply of battery charging systems and signed a cooperation agreement to this effect. Lukas Strobl adds: "We view our suppliers as partners and seek to work together on an ongoing basis. In other words, business processes, for example changing vehicle batteries, are evaluated jointly and adjusted if appropriate. Both companies benefit from this continuous development."
The "technical superiority" referred to by Gebrüder Weiss primarily relates to the new "Selectiva" generation of battery charging systems for intralogistics from Fronius, based on the proven "Active Inverter Technology". The key feature of this technology is the Ri charging process with its individual characteristic. "Ri" stands for the effective inner resistance of the battery: a battery-specific value that changes during charging and discharging due to the fluctuating acid concentrations and other effects. What makes the innovative Ri characteristic different and truly groundbreaking is that, by measuring the effective inner resistance, the charging voltage rather than the charging current is specified. This ensures that the charging current is automatically adjusted to remain in line with the effective inner resistance curve of the battery. In each phase of the charging process, the battery only receives the current that it can actually absorb, ensuring that overcharging does not take place.
The benefits are clear to see. The individual Ri charging characteristic means that the newly developed "Selectiva" devices achieve maximum energy efficiency, reduced CO2 emissions and improved service life for costly traction batteries.
In the future, Gebrüder Weiss subsidiaries will not just benefit from the latest battery charging technology. "The emphasis is on continually updating and improving our processes, standardising systems and, of course, reducing the costs associated with charging batteries for electrically powered forklift trucks," Lukas Strobl stresses.