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Forklift Batteries Maintenance - Make Your Battery Last: Part 1

Filed under: Forklift Maintenance & Upkeep

“Make Your Battery Last” is a two part series to educate you on the basics of forklift battery maintenance. In part one, we will discuss charging and maintaining a forklift battery and then continue through to part two, covering cleaning and safety with a quick summary to finish off.

forklift battery

A few fun facts before we begin:

  • Each charge takes a cycle out of a battery. Most new batteries start with 1500 cycles prior to the end of its usable battery life.
  • A battery charged once each working day (300 per year) will last 5 years (1500 cycles). Opportunity charging (mentioned below) can reduce the life by over half.
  •  “Remember, the battery is the fuel tank of the forklift. Look after it and it will look after you.” 

Battery maintenance is an extremely forgotten yet important factor; as knowing a little about forklift maintenance will go a long way. It’s a major factor that contributes to costs, safety and the forklift’s life. A significant percentage of forklifts are powered electronically; with the batteries in these machines being very expensive. Therefore proper maintenance and care is necessary to lengthen the life span of your forklift and its battery. The key benefits your business will experience from being involved in a battery maintenance schedule include:

  • Decreasing expenses
  • Improved safety
  • Greater performance
  • Extended life span

Re charging/charging

Forklift batteries are designed for long life; given the significant usage levels they are put under. Even though they are designed for a long life, it is up to the user to ensure that proper charging occurs so the battery performs as it was designed to. Constant neglect and bad treatment will only end in increased expenses.

Do’s

  • Every five to ten charge cycles, you should select equalise/weekend charge option. Each battery benefits from this by keeping the cell voltages even and in line.
  • It is recommended in most applications that you charge a battery at the end of each 8hr shift or if it is discharged more than 30%.
  • Always charge a battery in a well ventilated area

Don’t

  • Don’t over-discharge (discharge beyond 80%) the battery. This will significantly reduce the life expectancy of the battery.
  • Don’t let a discharged battery sit there for extended periods. This will promote hard sulphation and significantly reduce the run time and life of the battery.
  • Do not opportunity charge (i.e. charging during lunch breaks) Remember, each charge costs a cycle. If you charge your battery twice a day you will still get your 1500 cycles, but the will be used up in 2.5 years instead of 5.
  • Never interrupt a charge cycle if it is unnecessary. It is suggested that once a charge has started, it be allowed to finish. 

Fluid Levels

Simple self maintenance can be great for gaining general knowledge about your forklift battery, not to mention increased life time and savings. When dealing with fluid levels of a forklift battery there are a few things you need to keep in mind:

  • Check water levels and top up appropriately every 10 or so charges for the first few years. If it is a reconditioned battery you may need to do this every 5 charges. If the battery needs to be toped up, only do a sufficient amount to cover the plastic element protector by roughly ¼ of an inch. The additional space is needed for expansion while gassing at the end of the charge.
  • Most batteries now have Single Point Watering kits fitted. These must also be topped up at the end of charge, never before.
  • Top up battery with clean water after charging only. Never top it up before beginning a charge.
  • Check two or three pilot cells every 5 or so charges to check that the fluid level is above the perforated plastic element protector after charge.
  • Never over fill as it will cause overflow on the next charge. An acid loss will inevitably shorten overall running time, can cause overheating and will require a shop service to rectify.

We hope you have grasped the basics and benefits of forklift battery maintenance and can now put some simple measures in place. If you have any questions or comments about forklift batteries please leave them below.

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Next entry: Forklift Batteries Maintenance - Extending Your Battery’s Life: Part 2

Previous entry: Used Forklifts Tips - How To Avoid Buying A Lemon Part 4: Sealing the Deal

27 comments

   
This is all well anf good, but where is the battery on a fork and how do i get to it to check the levels in it.?

Harry
November 17, 2012 - 3:11 am

Hi Harry, good question.

When looking for a battery in an Internal combustion forklift, you will normally locate it in the engine compartment on a tray that is fixed to the side of the frame next to the engine.

The operators manual supplied with the forklift will also have a section explaining where to locate the battery. This may also have a diagram.

The battery for an electric forklift can be located in a number of different areas depending on the type of machine in question.

For example:

Counterbalance: Battery is usually located in the same area that an internal combustion forklift has its engine. Lift the cover to which the operators seat is mounted and you shall locate the battery. Inspection is carried out with battery in place.

Pallet Truck:The battery is located between the tynes and the operator. The battery can have its own attached cover or the pallet truck may have its own battery compartment cover. This will need to be opened to locate your battery. Inspection is carried out with battery in place.

Stock-picker: Battery is located in chassis behind mast and is visible when looking at lift truck from the side. The battery is usually on rollers and can be extracted from the side of the machine utilising specified roller beds (optional supply) for maintenance and repairs.

Reach Truck:There are two locations where you would normally find the battery in a reach truck. A sit down moving mast reach truck will generally have its battery located behind the mast under the dash of the truck. There is a mechanism to reach the battery forward for maintenance and repairs. This is covered in the lift truck operators manual.

A stand up reach truck will have it battery located the same as the stock-picker battery. This is also accessed via the side of the truck for maintenance and repairs.

Batteries without single point watering:

Batteries not fitted with single point watering require each individual cell to be topped up with distilled water either utilising a funnel or watering can. This is a time consuming job. They should only be topped up after a full charge has occurred. Never top up a battery whilst it is partially or fully discharged as this will result in overfilling and acid spillage when next charged. Only top the battery cells up so the water level is approximately 20mm above the internal battery plates or spillage can occur during charge.

If the battery is fitted with a single point watering kit, you will need to connect the watering gun to the fill connection on the battery and pull the trigger. Watch the flow indicator on the gun until it stops or nearly stops. Watering is completed. Once again, only fill after a full charge has been completed otherwise there is risk of acid spillage from overfilling.   

AAL Admin
November 21, 2012 - 1:44 pm

Some sound advice….........and some not so sound.

It is a common misconception that electric forklift batteries should ‘only’ be filled ‘after’ a charge. This is a worrying training response and a method being taught by forklift instructors today but is largely incorrect and misleading. The usual reasoning given by instructors for ‘only’ topping up the electrolyte levels ‘after’ charging is ‘because of overflowing’ and ‘corrosion’. I believe this ‘overfilling’ originally stemmed from poor instruction and from misleading advice from HSE sources and needs addressing.

Absolutely nothing wrong with topping up before a charge if correctly trained in doing it…….in fact, I would absolutely recommend it for various reasons- none more so than the damage that can be caused to an expensive battery pack through charging when plates are ‘dry’. Yet operators are being taught to do just that!!!

It would be far more beneficial to give an operator the correct training and advise than to just generalise about ‘overflowing’ and ‘corrosion’ and leave it at that.  In my opinion that sort of advise is lazy and misleading………and is costing employers thousands in replacement battery packs due to dry cell damage.

Give the operator the correct training and advice from the start and allow him/her to do his/her job.

The ‘overflowing’ is a natural occurrence during a charge and should be managed better through imparting knowledge of such through adequate training. It is an expected chemical reaction for the levels to increase during a charge, so teach it! If an operator is made aware of this during training and acts accordingly then topping up before a charge, which should be done to prevent the charging of dry plates, is no problem whatsoever. Surely instructing them on this would take no longer than instructing them to ‘only top up after a charge’? Lazy way of instructing and following incorrect procedures.

The correct process is to check the electrolyte levels before charging. ‘IF’ the levels have fallen below the top of the plates then top up until the electrolyte is at the level of the top of the plates…...and no more. If you overfill, then suck it back out. Plenty of devises on the market to do just that. Simple. Then put it on charge. Once charged, check the levels again.  Use a hydrometer before going on to dilute the charge. ‘IF’ the levels are not at 4 mm above the top of the plates then top up again. Simple really.

Relying upon the lazy mans explanation of ‘only top up after a charge’ is an internet sensation and is creating a generation of ill informed and lazy instructors and ill equipped operators. 
 
   

Bob
May 20, 2013 - 8:33 am

Hi Bob,

Welcome to our blog. In a perfect world, we would all like operators to be educated enough to know what level to top up a battery prior to charge.

Battery and forklift companies have spent many years and billions of dollars educating end users including operators on the merits and times for topping up flooded lead acid batteries. Aids have been introduced to help limit incorrect topping up, although these are not perfect, they are considerably better.

To those willing to lead the charge in the education of the operators, may I offer the following brief layman information to help you get started on your quest?

The operator would need to be trained in the following:

Make and model of battery:
Each manufacturers flooded lead acid battery utilises the same or similar technology. This does not mean that they react the same during charge.

Flat or Tubular positive plate:
The construction of each of these technologies can have different absorption and expulsion rates as well as considerably different tidal effect during charge. The operator would need to determine what technology battery he/she is about to top up.

Make, model, current & technology of charger:
Is the charger transformer, IGBT, DVDT, HF, Rapid, DC Current, AC current fluctuations etc. Knowledge in this area can help determine the tidal effect of electrolyte in the battery during charge.

Percentage of antimony in the plate manufacture:
The percentage of antimony used in manufacturing affects the gassing rate and tidal effect of the battery during charge. Manufacturers use different percentages in different brands trying to minimise the water loss during the gassing stage. Others use a higher antimony percentage resulting in higher water loss and higher tidal effect.

Element heights:
Each height range of cells may (and many do) have different top of element to top of jar heights. The operator will need to know to what level he could top each height cell.

Element absorption & expulsion rate:
Each plate within one cell may absorb electrolyte during discharge and expel electrolyte charge at different rates. This means the level topped up in one cell may be too much or too little for the cell next to it in the battery pack. The operator would need to experiment with each battery to determine how much to top up each cell to ensure the correct level is obtained at charge termination.

Actual Depth of Discharge:
Ignoring the battery discharge indicator (as it is ONLY an indicator), the operator would need to be familiar with a multi meter and hydrometer for measurement of the electrolyte density and the voltage at the time of wanting to place on charge.
The amount of electrolyte required to be added to each cell will alter depending on the level of discharge.

Battery condition:
Battery condition, age, temperature will also determine electrolyte levels. The operator would require schooling on chemical reactions relating to these matters.

The operator would also be required to be familiar with the effects of sulphation. Sulphation build up on the plates will determine the amount of time the battery is charging at full current and the amount of time it stays in finish rate. This has an effect of electrolyte levels. A heavily sulphated battery will short charge due to the resistance caused by the sulphate build up. The battery will not fully charge and there could be excessive electrolyte trapped within the plates. Should the sulphated battery be charged after top up and then allowed to enter an equalise charge, top up charge, pulse charge, float charge, the trapped electrolyte will be released as the sulphates are broken down and the battery has a real potential to overflow (this is a regular occurrence even with topping up aids).
The loss of positive and/or negative material from the plates will also affect the level required to top up prior to charge.

Time & Money:
Once the operator is fully versed with the above requirements, he must ensure that there is enough time in his shift to allocate manual topping up. Each cell requires the caps to be opened to allow a visual of the elements and the separators. A suitable nonconductive decanting device is then needed to add the required amount of water to each cell.

If the battery is 80V 775AH and the cells require a top up of 80ml to 360ml randomly. Allow approximately 25 minutes to carry out the top up. There are 15 machines at this site; each having a second shift battery a total of 30 batteries of this type is on this site. 30 x 25 = 750 minutes. This is 12.5 hours of topping up each week or as required. Multiply the 12.5 hrs by an internal rate of say $60.00p/h = $750.00. Now multiply the $750.00 by 52 (amount of weeks in a year) = $39,000.00.
Unfortunately, I feel manual pre charging topping up of batteries would cost the industry billions more per year than a minimal amount of battery loss due to inadequate watering.

Aids, Accessories and Management:
Each new Lift Truck delivered is commissioned by a representative of the Lift Truck Company, commissioning includes training of all staff relevant to Lift Truck duties. The training supplied with Electric Lift Trucks includes basic battery maintenance, and management. Topping up is covered in this training.

Each individual is instructed to top up after charge and the reasons apart from above are listed below.

·      This is the fastest, safest and most efficient time to top up.
·      It is usually in the morning so the largest amount of staff is on site so the labour impact is negligible.
·      There is natural light allowing the operator to easily notice if there is a problem with his battery.
·      There are supervisors on site to make a decision if there is an issue with the battery.
·      It could be deemed “unsafe” attempting a manual top up of a flat battery at 2.00am in the morning with poor artificial light.
·      Single Point Watering is standard on almost every Electric Lift Truck.
·      Watering can be completed in 5 minutes.
·      There is negligible OH&S risk.

Adaptalift Hyster recommends installation of Automated Watering utilising AquaBat for their larger partners.

AquaBat automatically waters your lift truck batteries at the correct time to the correct level.
There is no chance of under or overwatering unless you have no water supply to the battery room.
Battery management monitors are also promoted allowing AALH and/or the customer to remotely manage their Motive Power from anywhere in the world.

Couple this with our market leading ForkTrack system and there is virtually no possibility of incorrect truck operation and/or battery management issues not being identified, costed, and solved.

AAL Admin
May 20, 2013 - 5:51 pm

  AFTER FULLY CHARGE do you leave battery to cool or you start working straight away

mariogatt
February 19, 2014 - 10:28 am

Haha you told him and rightly so. I am an instructor and have taught this everywhere i have been. Not because i am lazy but because on forklift training courses our main issue is teaching people to drive forklift truck. We are not battery engineers!!! and we are not training battery engineers. As ALL ADMIN says the SAFEST thing to do is what we teach. This eliminates and problems occuring or even more so ACCIDENTS. The cost to a company of some new batteries every 2 to 3 years is far less than the MORAL OBLIGATION they have to keep their staff safe or the financial cost on someone being injured with a heft compensation claim or even death on their hands now ask yourself WHO WOULD WANT THAT!!!!! BATTERIES ARE DANGEROUS FACT!!!! we teach something that dont carry much risk, except maybe a battery having to be replaced!   

John Mackenzie
March 04, 2014 - 8:30 am

Hi Mariogatt,

We’d recommend allowing the battery to cool down before resuming use.

AAL Admin
March 04, 2014 - 12:20 pm

I’ve been a battery/charger tech for 7 years.  I’m a believer in using a meter when watering.  A cell 2.09 and above can be watered normally. Below 2.09, water enough to cover the moss-plate and check it again later in the week.  One watering per battery per week is enough.  More than that and something’s wrong.  Single point watering systems are your enemy.  When they are scheduled to be tested it is too late. Combined with opportunity charging is a formula for disaster.  Find someone responsible to water your batteries.  It may be a humble line of work and is as important as any part of your manufacturing or warehousing.  Pay them well and hold them to a high standard.   

Chuck
April 09, 2014 - 12:32 pm

Hi, is it possible to permanently damage the forklift batteries in a period of 6 weeks by not topping up with water?

Guil
May 21, 2014 - 11:52 am

Hi Guil,

Yes, it is possible to permanently damage your forklift battery in the short 6 week period you state.

The exposed portion of the positive and negative plates in the battery can oxidize when exposed to air. This renders this portion inert and you lose the capacity these parts of the plates would have provided.

If you operate in a hard application you may notice the battery run time is shorter than it was. If it is a light application you may not notice the difference for a number of years. A light application may still allow the battery to last its expected 1500 cycle life, however, if the application is hard, it is not uncommon to experience premature failure at around 1200 cycles. (Most forklift batteries are rated to 1500 cycles or 5 years. That is 1 charge and discharge per 24hr period for 300 days per year).

AAL Admin
May 21, 2014 - 12:53 pm

How important is it to keep the top of the batteries clean of acid?

George
May 30, 2014 - 7:28 pm

Hi,
What is the best fluid to top up the batteries, tap water or distilled?
When they need the acid refill?
Thanks,

Pedro R.
June 05, 2014 - 1:32 am

hi, I’ve just started driving a electric forklift, is it alright to use good old fashioned tap water when refilling the cells or do you need distilled?
   

Tony
July 09, 2014 - 5:41 pm

Hi George,

Apologies for the delay in replying to your comment. Great question.

It is very important to keep the top of batteries clean. During the charge process, a battery goes through what is called the gassing phase. This is when the battery is mixing the sulphuric acid with the water inside the cell. When this occurs, a fine mist of vapour is emitted from the cell breather. This comes to rest on the top of the cell. If left uncleaned, the build-up will cause tray corrosion, voltage tracking and faster self-discharge. It can also have an effect on the electronics within the truck.

It is best to clean the top of the battery once a month with warm water or a battery cleaner that can be obtained through AALH spare parts. Battery manufacturers also state that failure to keep the top of batteries clean voids warranty.

AAL Admin
July 10, 2014 - 1:52 pm

Hi Pedro and Tony,

Battery manufacturers state distilled water must be used to top up batteries. However, most tap water in Australia can be used without noticeable damage occurring to the battery.

Areas using bore water or with highly mineralised water must used distilled water because these impurities will rapidly diminish battery life.

The best time to top up your battery is after a full charge.
Use the WOW factor. Water On Wednesdays after a complete charge.

AAL Admin
July 10, 2014 - 1:56 pm

I read with interest the comments regarding training in battery care and maintenance and can only agree with John Mackenzie. I am an instructor in the UK and we training in general battery care, maintenance and topping up the cells after charging. If the cells are topped up in this manner on a regular basis, surely they should never be dry enough to cause cell damage. As John says, we are not battery technicians or experts and the time allowed on a training course is only sufficient for basic training in battery care. We are in the business of training operators for safety of themselves and others who may be affected by their actions. On completion of their training course, we have to leave it up to them to continue operating according to their training.

On another note, when the batteries are fully charged, we always training operators to switch the mains power off and leave it for at least 5 minutes before disconnecting the truck from the charger. This is because the batteries give off hydrogen gas during the charging process which is highly explosive and if the truck is disconnected before any remaining gas has dispersed, there is a danger of explosion if there is a spark across points when disconnecting the truck.   

Sandra Lord
July 12, 2014 - 8:34 pm

I’ve been reading up on this. I’m gonna just rant a little here about my workplace.
The forklifts at my work will last for maybe four hours of use. Some jobs require more constant use and as such they will drain much faster requiring a switch to another forklift. Then that one gets abused too. Check this out—

So due to the constant forklift demands at the factory I work at (often two forklifts in use in the packaging area, one in the alternate packaging area, three for shipping, sometimes one for maintenance, one to two for the loaders/dumpers outside, one for the tote maker man, and two for the freezer discharge drivers) we absolutely brutalize our forklifts.
Charge cycles are frequently interrupted for one thing. The worst offender in my opinion is the opportunity charging. We often use a forklift for a few minutes, interrupting a charge (probably since there are few available on a busy day), using it for something inane, and then plugging it back in.
The chargers have little LED displays and you will frequently see “FAULT - battery disconnect. Press STOP before disconnecting.”
At least they seem to automatically equalize when necessary, I guess.
As for maintenance on the battery… that only ever happens when the one or two maintenance guys who even know how to do that wheel their grungy little cart back to the charging area and mess with the battery. I don’t know if they know what they’re doing but I certainly would hope so.

It’s not a terrible place to work but man, they just devastate those forklifts. I am surprised that these machines have lasted as long as they have considering the misuse.
I’m wondering if I should inform the plant manager of this but he’s probably already aware. Hell, I could see them not really doing anything about it and totally understanding why not; we would need nearly an entire fleet of alternate forklifts to allow for swapping when necessary.

You should see the propane forklifts outside too. Rarely maintained, all kinds of problems. Nothing gets fixed unless it’s terrible. We had to drive one that was partly grinding on the damn rims for a month before they replaced the wheel. Again, no choice. As workers we need these things to complete our work. We surely wouldn’t catch hell if we were unable to complete tasks due to lack of working or safe forklifts (since the bosses understand our plight) but it still creates an unnecessary atmosphere of dread and pressure at times.
Stuff that needs doing just doesn’t get done sometimes I guess. More maintenance guys needed maybe? Certainly don’t need more managers.
Frankly I’ve wanted a forklift technician on site at all times, though that’s still a part of the fantasy that we get another eight forklifts or something.
And more chargers.
And a larger building.
And better employees why not.

I’m getting off track. It’s late. I’m probably misrepresenting my workplace a bit with a few bad examples over the last few years.
That misuse of forklift charging stuff is ongoing though. I should print this page off and put it in the manager’s mail slot regardless of how I think they’ll react.
Should send it to shipping too since they’re the defacto forklift lords back there. Those guys sometimes.

Anon
November 02, 2014 - 7:25 pm

   
    Hi can any one let me know how to select a right battery for my forklifts. Almost all manufacturers claim their batteries are the best. Are there any parameters to check before deciding which battery to buy or it is just based on experience?

Karim chappaly
April 08, 2015 - 4:53 am

    Does it help the battery charge to unplug one side of the battery when not using the forklift tractor?                   

Ricky Griffin
September 25, 2015 - 2:25 pm

                       
                      Hello, I was wondering how long after a charge will the battery last until it dies?

Travis
October 06, 2015 - 3:26 am

I’ve been told that when charging a battery to keep the cell caps open. Is this correct?

jim
November 21, 2015 - 6:48 pm

Hello,I work in automobile company in Ghana as an auto electrician and for the first time we received in Toyota electric forkloft it came   for servicing and also to change the tyres and lifting chains,my boss imported the part so it was parked for about one month and days,we tried starting it won’t start,we charged the batteries but still it won’t starts.horn,light,ignition all is working,pls I need solution                    

De-Graft Asare Mantey
December 29, 2015 - 12:31 pm

I charged my battery. It stopped charging after a couple hours and it was charged 50% only. I charged again. It stopped shortly and show me 60% charged. Do you think it is the battery problem or the charger problem?           

Frank
January 14, 2016 - 6:16 am

I have a question about watering.
A friend of mine just bought a small electric forklift for use in his shop. The battery water level is very low - we can’t actually tell how low. The forklift battery life is okay for the type of occasional use he’s using it for.

Is there any risk to filling an almost dry battery in one shot? Or should we fill it in stages?

Thanks

Mark
February 01, 2016 - 11:45 am

                       
                    Our forklift is about 4 years old. We have not maintained it as well as we should. Often with spot charges here and there. Now our battery will sometimes only stay charged for 10-20 minutes. I can watch the battery levels drain down. The only way to make it last is to use the equalizer button.

Does the battery need replacement or is there a way to get it back on track?

Thanks.

Kris
February 04, 2016 - 4:06 am

          I didn’t know you could over-discharge the battery. We usually use ours down to 15% or so before we charge the battery so it would be more efficient when we charged it. We’ll have to keep an eye on our discharge levels so we don’t hurt the battery. http://www.uslift.com/manufacturers.html

Kyle O'Ren
June 16, 2016 - 12:42 am

I was wondering if you could advise me on the Charger for a forklift battery.  How often would the semi packs have to be changed for this?
We changed the semi packs in Jan 2015 and we now had to change them again.  We have been advised that it is due to the main plug not being disconnected from the wall when taking the battery off charge, could this be correct? The main plug is a 3 Phase plug and as far as I understand it would not be good if we keep disconnecting this plug after a charge. My operator switches the charger off on the charger itself and then disconnects the battery but now have been told to disconnect the actual main plug which I find confusing??  Thank you

Natalie
August 20, 2016 - 12:34 am

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