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Battery Refill System Boosts Fork Lift Uptime

Thu, 08/12/2004 - 7:39am
Atlas Cold Storage is a two-warehouse facility incorporating 402,350 sq. ft. of storage space in Hatfield, PA, 30 miles north of Philadelphia. Nationally branded makers of ice cream and other frozen food products warehouse their foods at Atlas until they are ready for shipment to retail outlets. Atlas' freezers are maintained at a constant temperature of -18 degrees Fahrenheit; loading docks and other areas remain about 35 degrees Fahrenheit. In spring and summer when the consumption of ice cream and other cold foods begins to rise, the two warehouses load and unload up to 100 trucks or more per day. The company employs a staff of 175, approximately 116 of whom operate 38 battery-powered forklift trucks, 36 pallet trucks and 9 RC lifts 24 hours per day in three eight-hour shifts.

With the constant activity and millions of dollars worth of frozen foods being handled daily, it's hard to believe that the seemingly mundane task of keeping the forklift batteries watered was once a concern to maintenance supervisor Paul Worman. "Our system for watering batteries was slow," he says. "Like most battery-maintenance crews, we filled our 36v batteries one cell at a time. And to avoid spilling battery acid, we had to be careful not to overfill. That slowed us down even further. It used to take us five minutes or more to fill each battery once every other week."

That may not sound like much, but when you're filling 76 batteries (two per forklift), one cell at a time, more than 1,200 cells in all, the process took most of one day. In addition, Worman filled the batteries with expensive distilled water. "Between the expense of the water, the time it took to water the batteries and the care we had to take in order not to experience boil overs, our system didn't make much sense," he says.

To improve it, Worman tried a single-point watering system from Philadelphia Scientific, Montgomeryville, PA. The system features water injectors that snap on to each battery cell and are connected to one another with corrosion-resistant plastic tubing with a water input fitting. To fill the batteries, a hose is attached to the input fitting and a ball valve is turned. Water flows through the plastic tubing and, simultaneously, into each of the cells. Within 15 seconds, a battery is filled, without spillage. And peering into cells to determine the level is not necessary. Each injector has its own level-sensing valve enclosed in a protective housing that fills each cell to the required level.

To ensure water purity, the company uses tap water that is purified with a deionizer, also from Philadelphia Scientific. Unlike filters, which only remove particles, the deionizer is an ion-exchange medium that electrostatically removes dissolved impurities. The purity is comparable to distilled water.

"The battery watering system saves us several hours every two weeks," says Worman. As for cost savings, Philadelphia Scientific says that for many customers, the labor savings alone will pay for the system in 12 months or less. The company has developed an ROI calculator to help customers figure their own savings.

But while cost savings are important, Worman focuses most readily on the time savings of the watering system. "It's hard to imagine going back," he says, "to watering the batteries one cell at a time."     

Philadelphia Scientific

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