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The truth about Lithium-ION forklifts

Lithium-ION forklifts

The forklift market is shrouded by myths about Lithium-ION forklifts. Linde Material Handling Australia’s Allan Spackman and Greg Wood – seasoned technical experts – set the record straight.

To make the right decision when purchasing a forklift, you need to be apprised of the facts. Yet despite the interest in – and increasing prevalence of – Lithium-ION battery forklifts, myths about them still abound.

Allan Spackman and Greg Wood, Technical Solutions Managers at Linde Material Handling Australia, say many people still shy away from Lithium-ION forklifts because they’ve been misled by one or more of the Lithium-ION myths currently in circulation.

Allan, Greg and the whole Linde team, are here to correct the record.

“Lithium-ION can’t handle heavy lifting”

The notion that electric power means less power is an old one. It’s also flatly untrue. “When it comes to lifting heavy loads, the key factors are hydraulic capacity and motor power,” Allan says.

The source of the power is irrelevant so long as you can get enough of it. “For electric forklifts, it doesn’t matter whether the power comes from lead acid or Lithium-ION batteries,” he says. “Most manufacturers have developed high-capacity electric machines that can handle the same loads that their internal combustion counterparts can.”

In fact, from an engineering perspective, the light weight of Lithium-ION batteries can be an advantage.

A forklift’s battery plays an important role as part of the counterweight in forklifts, helping to prevent them tipping over, and aiding lifting ability.

“With lead, you’re restricted to what can fit in the battery compartment,” Allan notes. “But because lithium is lighter, you can include ballast in the battery and place that ballast higher or lower in the battery box, changing the machine’s centre of gravity and making it lift heavier loads slightly more comfortably than a lead-acid truck would.”

“Lithium-ION forklifts are less efficient and cost more”

Not so, says Greg Wood.

“Lithium-ION batteries have a higher degree of efficiency and voltage stability,” Greg says. “In practice this means less energy losses and higher power delivery over the hours the machines are used.”

This higher efficiency causes less heat development and energy losses inside the battery when charging, which translates directly to reduced CO2 emissions and cost-savings. “Less power from the wall socket is wasted and and you save money,” as Greg puts it.

“Transitioning to Lithium-ION is too complex”

While transitioning a forklift fleet to Lithium-ION can be complex in certain circumstances, this fear is often overstated, Allan says.

“A common worry among businesses is that they have insufficient electrical infrastructure,” he says. “It is true that if you want to transition to a fast-charge setup, you will indeed require bigger power outlets, larger cables, and potentially changes to the switchboard or incoming mains.”

But for companies for whom superfast charging is not a priority, the transition can be a smooth one.

“If you’re simply looking for more efficient or slightly faster charging than lead-acid, a standard lithium charger – that often takes the same power outlet as the lead-acid charger it’s replacing – will still charge quicker,” Allan says. “With lithium, you’re able to opportunity charge – which you can’t or shouldn’t do with lead acid batteries – so straight away you have more flexibility in your operations without having to alter on-site infrastructure.”

When it comes to the forklifts themselves, there’s nothing particularly complex about the transition, either.

Companies considering making the switch from lead-acid to Lithium-ION should ask four key questions.
Companies considering making the switch from lead-acid to Lithium-ION should ask four key questions.

“Most manufacturers can retrofit aftermarket Lithium-ION batteries into trucks, or if it’s time for replacement, you can get a new machine built from scratch with factory lithium,” Allan says.

In other words, it’s much the same routine you’d follow when replacing a traditional battery or truck.

Asking the right questions

Companies considering making the switch from lead-acid to Lithium-ION should ask four key questions, Greg says.

“First, ask whether you have enough opportunities throughout the day to intermittently charge the batteries?” he says. “That’s key because the ability to intermittently charge is one of the primary benefits of Lithium–ION.

“Second, ask yourself whether your infrastructure is suitable; if it’s not you’ll need to factor in the costs and benefits of those infrastructural adjustments.

“Third, simply ask whether the transition will actually save you money. Just because there’s a lot of untruths out there regarding Lithium-ION, that doesn’t mean it’s the right choice for everyone. Every operation is unique.

“Finally, if there’s not an obvious ROI after surface examination, question why not. What timeframe are you using to assess a viable ROI? Are you factoring in sustainability considerations – like reducing your carbon footprint?”

Holistic analysis

Forklifts don’t operate in isolation, and so the cost-benefit equation for assessing Lithium-ION forklifts must take place in the context of their overall effect on operations.

For example, lead-acid batteries must be drained completely and then recharged in one uninterrupted eight-hour block. For some operations, this doesn’t disrupt workflow. But for companies that operate around the clock, the ability to opportunity-charge a Lithium-ION battery whenever it’s not being used removes a significant time constraint.

“On-the-go charging also means you don’t need to change the battery, saving labour costs,” Greg says.

Furthermore, the flexibility of Lithium-ION means it can complement other environmental or cost-saving practices. “If processes allow, you have the flexibility to charge your trucks when the sun is shining, if you have solar panels, or when energy prices are lower”.

“Some users might find that, when they dig a bit deeper in their analysis, the medium- to long-term savings justify what is a slightly higher initial expenditure,” Allan says. “For others, there won’t be a compelling case to transition – at least for now.

“What’s important is that the purchase decision is based on asking the right questions and knowing the right facts, not on easily disproven industry myths.”

For more information on Linde Material Handling, click here

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