Forklifts may use several different types of batteries. Electric forklifts require the battery to operate, while gas powered forklifts need a battery to start. Over time, these batteries will run down. Electric forklifts will need to be charged periodically, while other types of forklifts will need the battery completely replaced when it runs down. Replacing these batteries is done in much the same manner as a battery on an automobile, so we will focus more on maintaining batteries in electric forklifts.
What Makes Up the Battery?
An electric forklift battery is made up of five different parts. Those who work on an electrical forklift should know these parts to avoid getting shocked or, worse, causing the battery to explode.
- 1. The battery cells – the battery is divided into different cells, each of which contains a set of positive and negative plates. The plate at each end of the cell is negatively charged, and plates alternate throughout the cell. The number of cells determines how many volts the battery produces.
- 2. Separators – each of the positive and negative plates is separated by a separator, which provides the insulation.
- 3. The battery tray – this is the container that holds the battery cells. It’s usually made from steel.
- 4. Electrolyte solution – everything inside each cell is submerged in an electrolyte solution made of sulfuric acid.
- 5. Element – the top of each cell features an element made up of one positive and one negative terminal. The positive plates are all connected to the positive terminal, while the negative plates connect to the negative terminal.
How Can you Select the Best Battery for your Forklift?
One factor in deciding on the best battery for your forklift is to look at its size. Larger forklifts that are rated for lifting larger loads are going to need bigger batteries because they will require more power. Smaller forklifts won’t have as much weight to move because the frames are usually lighter, plus they’re not rated for lifting really heavy loads. Another very important factor when selecting proper battery size for your forklift is weight. In an effort to save money, it may be tempting to purchase a smaller battery. Minimum battery weight is listed on the data tag located on your forklift. It is very important to fit a battery that meets these weight requirements. The battery is factored into the counterweight and crucial to the lifting capacity and safety of the forklift. Make certain you get the correct size battery for your forklift.
Before purchasing a new battery it would be wise to have the battery inspected by a battery technician. Often these batteries can be repaired. It may be a matter of replacing a cell or two. It may just need an acid adjustment. These remedies to not make your battery new again but can in some cases extend the life by a few years.
Be careful when buying off-brand batteries. Yes, they may work in your forklift, but they may also be cheaper for a reason—many off-brand batteries are of a lesser quality and will not last as long as the more expensive brand names. Look for product reviews before you make a purchase.
Tips on Charging the Battery
Maintaining a proper charge on your forklift battery is important. If the battery isn’t properly charged, it will run down much more quickly, and then you’ll end up spending more money on replacement batteries than you should. Here are a few quick tips on charging your batteries to make certain you get the most out of them.
- Recharge your battery when it has about 20 percent power left, not before. Recharging a battery when it has more power may damage the battery and shorten its life.
- You don’t have to charge a battery daily—if it’s not run down, don’t charge it. Most forklift batteries are designed for a certain number of charge cycles (1,500 or more). If the battery doesn’t need to be charged, don’t waste one of these cycles.
- To make sure the battery is performing at its best, use the equalize, weekend, or weekly charge setting (the term varies from brand to brand) once every five to ten recharge cycles. This will help ensure longer battery life. However, don’t use this setting too often or you may damage the battery. You may want to keep a log of when these special charge cycles are done to help with this.
- You’ll also want to keep a log of when water was added to the battery. New batteries will need water added to them once every ten charges for the first couple of years in use. After that, or if you’re using a reconditioned battery, you may need to add water to it after every five charges.
- Add water after the charging cycle, never at the beginning of a cycle.
- Don’t interrupt a charge cycle. Doing so will waste one of your charge cycles, plus it can damage the battery.
- If a battery does run completely down, be sure to recharge it as soon as possible. Don’t let it sit for a long period of time.
Steps on Replacing the Battery
On average, a battery for an electric forklift will last around five years, less if it’s used and recharged a lot. Under ideal conditions a well maintained low usage battery can last as long as 10-12 years. Fortunately, these batteries are fairly easy to find, and most are reasonably priced.
There are a number of signs that your forklift battery is about to expire. Here are a few of the most common:
- It doesn’t hold a charge for long
- It needs recharged several times during the day
- The battery case starts to show corrosion buildup
- The battery begins to smell
- The battery begins to smoke while in use or when charging—replace this battery immediately!
Replacing a forklift battery is not as simple as replacing other batteries. The first issue is that the battery can weigh several thousand pounds. It’s going to take another forklift to move it. It can also be very dangerous as batteries carry high amperage that can be deadly if not handled correctly. In many cases, it’s easiest to simply have a battery technician do the installation. These professionals have been trained in forklift battery replacement and can handle everything.
However, if you’re going to do the replacement yourself, you should first make certain that you keep the top of the battery clear of all metal objects. Otherwise, the battery could short circuit and explode. You should remove any jewelry you’re wearing such as a wedding ring—even that small bit of metal can cause an arc. Even keep the connector cables away until you’re ready to connect it. Keep them out of the way, and make sure they’re not going to get caught under the battery.
Now move the new battery under the hoist using a second forklift. Make certain the hoist hooks are securely connected to the battery’s lifting hole. Lift the battery up, carefully move it into position, and then lower it into the forklift. Connect the connector cables and power up the forklift to make certain it works.