Forklifts, Materials Handling, News, Sustainability, Trends

Are lithium-ion forklifts really safe?

lithium forklifts safety

Safety is paramount in any workplace, especially in an environment bustling with heavy machinery. With the rise of lithium-ion forklifts, questions around their safety compared to traditional lead acid batteries have emerged. We discussed these concerns with Allan Spackman and Greg Wood from Linde Material Handling Australia.

Safety in warehouses and distribution centres hinges on both equipment and protocol. As lithium-ion forklifts become more prevalent, it’s essential to understand if they elevate or mitigate risks.

The Weighty Issue of Battery Changes

“I’m passionate about safety,” says Linde’s Allan Spackman. “Traditional battery changes pose a real threat. They weigh a tonne – quite literally in some cases. Using machinery to replace them amplifies the potential for injuries, notably back injuries. With lithium-ion forklifts and the option for frequent plug-ins, we can significantly cut down these hazards. I’m all for eliminating risks where possible.”

Up to Modern Standards?

Allan introduces an interesting analogy to elucidate the differences in safety between lead acid and lithium-ion batteries: “Consider lead acid batteries as motorcycles and lithium-ion as cars. Motorcycles have existed for over a century, and so have lead acid batteries. The idea of riding a high-powered motorcycle with minimal protection is akin to a forklift running on a massive vat of toxic sulfuric acid. If either were to be introduced today, it’s possible they wouldn’t meet contemporary expectations around safety.”

lithium forklifts safety

“By contrast, lithium technology, adhering to modern safety standards, is fundamentally different. Despite some rare incidents that have been blown up in the media, most of us use lithium battery devices daily without a hitch. On the contrary, lead acid battery explosions are far more frequent.

“In terms of safety, lithium is the preferred option.”

Layers of Safety in Lithium-Ion Technology

“Lithium-ion, being denser in energy, comes with multiple safety layers,” says Linde’s Greg Wood. “Initially, individual cells are tested for safe shutdown when punctured. As they are grouped into modules, each is monitored for overcurrent and temperature discrepancies. The all-important Battery Management System is designed to disconnect the battery if things go awry. Further ensuring safety, these modules, encased in a protective tray, are meticulously tested before installation in trucks.”

Allan underscores the importance of the BMS: “Its ability to shut down the battery is paramount. I’ve seen instances where fires have been ignited by lead acid battery shorts. With lithium, deactivating cables when not in use or charging negates such risks.”

Comparing to Other Fuels

“Despite its relative novelty, lithium-ion technology is solidified in warehouses worldwide,” Greg says. “Years of application have cemented its reliability. Combined with enhanced safety features, it distinctly outstrips lead acid in safety credentials.”

As industries evolve, evaluating new technologies through the lens of safety is crucial. Lithium-ion forklifts, backed by rigorous safety protocols and real-world application, present a forward step in securing warehouse operations.

For more information on Linde Material Handling, click here

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