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Strides in battery handling

22 June 2015

According to John Lawton, director of marketing at EnerSys, Battery and lift truck suppliers have made great strides in recent years to ensure battery handling – including charging and changing – procedures are carried out quickly, efficiently and above all safely.

Most lift trucks now incorporate a battery compartment with side access and rollers in the floor while charging facilities have battery beds at the same height. The truck drives alongside a charging position, the depleted battery is rolled out and a fully charged replacement rolled back in.

For larger vehicles with heavier and bigger batteries, the truck can incorporate mechanical assistance such as magnetic arm to move the battery into position. A special cart, ideally a specially designed battery change cart which typically also incorporates powered rollers and magnetic arms, can be used to transfer the battery if the truck cannot approach the charging station.

The move away from manual handling to semi- or fully-automated battery handling systems was driven by increasingly stringent manual handling regulations. These, and other health and safety legislation, have forced operators to reassess their operations. In particular the manual handling regulations called for operators to remove manual handling processes wherever possible. Although it is not mandatory to provide battery handling equipment to comply with current legislation, progressive operators recognise the resulting safety, reliability and performance benefits often make the investment worthwhile.
Many operators now choose to install dedicated areas where batteries can be charged and changed safely. These are ideally designed with a compact layout, efficient truck movement pathways, and safe parking zones. Tasks such as battery and charger management, battery changing and battery service should ideally be managed by dedicated operatives. If this proves impractical then fully-trained experienced drivers can carry out many of these functions while still significantly reducing any potential risks and hazards. Safety barriers can be installed to restrict access to non-authorised personnel and vehicles.
Good planning minimises truck movements and time spent in charging areas which is safer for operators, pedestrians and bystanders. Ideally the charging stations are arranged along aisles with the outer face towards the truck operating area. The inner face is configured for pedestrian access which removes potential points of contact between moving trucks and staff responsible for managing the installation so that routine checks and maintenance can be carried out safely.

Whatever system is used the installation of equipment is important. Safe routing of DC cables on the chargers and the batteries will avoid damage and stop them becoming trip hazards. 

Another safety consideration is the small risk of arcing during disconnection or connection when changing batteries. The latest-generation chargers incorporate circuitry and features including "Late Make, Early Break” plugs to minimise this risk. Ventilation systems remove gasses produced but these can be uneconomic in smaller warehouses or when charging stations are dispersed throughout larger sites. Batteries with "low gassing” can represent an ideal alternative.