Li-ion Battery Technology Enhances Fleet Effectiveness
By Josh Bond, Senior Editor · April 13, 2020
Modern Materials Handling
Allan Brothers, a century-old vertically integrated fruit company, manages its own farm acreage, growing apples, cherries and wine grapes. With 600 full-time employees and 2,500 workers during peak harvest season, the operation also packages and ships its fruit, along with third-party fruit, to locations across the United States, Canada, Mexico and other countries.
In 2018, as the company prepared to install a new state-of-the-art fruit packing line—which it claims is the biggest in the world—management realized the costs associated with lead acid battery-powered electric lift trucks were adding up. Time spent changing batteries during shifts was costing $56,000 a year and another $7,800 a year in watering maintenance costs. What’s more, the expansion required a new battery room estimated to cost another $440,000.
With a fleet of 30 lift trucks working two shifts, each required a battery change per shift. Forklift drivers also operated the battery-changing crane and watered the batteries. Managers figured maintenance caused 750 minutes of downtime daily. At the same time, the business was deciding on the next lease term for its lift trucks. By equipping its fleet with Li-ion batteries (OneCharge), the company saved on ongoing maintenance costs while reducing the investment needed for the 300,000-square-foot expansion.
Li-ion spared the expense of a battery room and battery changing, but it also improved lift truck efficiency as a result of better battery performance. Managers also valued the enhanced safety, eliminating the need for employees to work with lead acid batteries and improving conditions for the company’s food product lines. The reduced health risks meant lower insurance rates for all 30 lift truck operators, totaling $6,000 in savings per year.
Batteries plugged in overnight are completely charged by the start of a shift at 3 a.m. The fleet also uses opportunity charging during 15-minute breaks and 30-minute lunch breaks. The batteries continue to operate at close to 100% of the original capacity throughout shifts. The company’s lead acid batteries had gradually decreased in power, slowing down by at least 20% over time.
Because Li-ion batteries can run for more than 3,000 cycles, compared to an average of 1,500 for lead acid, Allan Brothers also expects longer battery life. Management says it’s likely the batteries will outlast the current five-year lease term for its lift trucks. When new leases are signed, the company anticipates reduced prices as damage to the trucks from daily battery changes and corrosive acid spills are no longer a factor. The company expects to cut battery costs by 20% to 40% within two years.