Just as with forklifts, the traction battery market must learn to live with more flexible customer deals to help them cope with the world’s most serious economic slowdown in 60 years. Battery buyers can deal with the situation in three main ways. They can use the most appropriate batteries, chargers and changers to gain minimum costs. They can go for the most flexible deals that offer a better, more tailored financial proposition for their circumstances and, finally, they can review their forklift fleet to see if a change in the type of forklifts can significantly reduce fork truck numbers.
Switching to a different power source, like LPG, may not be an overall better solution, despite LPG interests warning that new regulations for battery disposal and additional health and safety at work regulations will favour LPG over electric-powered trucks. The fact is, LPG trucks, even when fitted with three-way CATs, are not squeaky clean. They continue to spew out benzene, a carcinogenic agent, although CNG is much less problematic in that respect.
Norco offers flexible deals for its batteries and battery handling equipment to help buyers cope with the credit crunch. Combining the functions of financier and equipment supplier, Norco offers rental, long or short term, ex-rental batteries at well below the cost of new batteries, and they will buy back redundant batteries and swap them with a fleet of new or used replacements.
The market perception is that short-term rental is more costly than purchase but Norco believes the opposite is true. The company says it can offer inexpensive long-term rates with a short-term commitment. This mirrors the growing practice of forklift suppliers offering five-year hire deals with a one-year break clause. Its battery changing arm, Total Battery Management, also builds into its contracts a buy-out option, giving customers the right to cancel the contract without penalty and take ownership of the equipment for its pre-determined residual value.
Battery users can make remarkable savings if they change from lead acid batteries to sealed-gel batteries combined with “intelligent” high-frequency chargers linked to an IT-driven battery management system. Using such maintenance-free batteries from Enersys Hawker Motive Power has meant that Co-op Retail Logistics can extract 20% more work out of the truck batteries each day at its Coventry NDC than would have been possible with a conventional battery system.
CMP’s recent battery innovation based on “copper stretched metal” is another example of how careful battery choice can yield longer life. It incorporates a negative copper expanded metal grid allowing improved performance over other traditional, vented, lead acid batteries.
A good time to review forklift needs is when a long-term hire or lease deal needs renewing. Careful thought has not only implications for fleet numbers but also running costs for electric trucks. A key factor in such a selection process must be the fleet’s productivity in terms of pallets moved per hour, and on this one cannot always rely on truck suppliers to have users’ best interests at heart. Forklift versatility can make a huge difference to the number of trucks needed. One Midlands manufacturer, for example, was told by his forklift supplier that he would need 24 trucks. But by considering and incorporating articulated forklifts into its mixed fleet, he was able to handle the same work load with just 16 trucks.
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