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Introduction

Toyota Material Handling Europe (TMHE), the global leader in material handling solutions, presented at CeMAT 2011 their newest product range and services, among them, the lithium-ion powered BT Reach Truck for use in cold stores (down to -30ºC). The state-of-the-art lithium-ion battery solution was supplied by LiTHIUM BALANCE. The lithium ion power drive allows for cost and energy savings, longer operating hours and improved performance.

Cold store is by far the most demanding sector of the supply chain, as both operators and machines face cold temperatures and a harsh working environment. TMHE is a major supplier to the European “cold chain”, supplying some of Europe’s largest cold store distribution companies. One of these companies is SuperGros (SG), the largest wholesaler in the Danish grocery retail market. SG has a total turnover of approximately EUR 2,3 billion/year and employs at present 1150 employees. SG supplies everyday goods to the biggest Danish supermarkets, chain stores, independent grocers and convenience stores.

SG has a large inventory of counterbalanced trucks, stackers, reach trucks, order picking trucks and other types of warehouse trucks and specialist vehicles. Their goals is efficiency and optimum cost of operations. However the extreme, low temperatures have a negative effect on truck performance as the traditional Lead/Acid (L/A) batteries have reduced charge and discharge performance at low temperatures. The batteries have to be changed frequently and the cost of maintenance is high.

Significant resources are bound up in the replacement battery packs, personnel and equipment servicing the trucks and packs. Shifting to lithium-ion was aimed at addressing these issues and enabling better economy and efficiency of operations.

Huge benefit for the Customer

Sune Kristiansen, Logistic & Operations Manager at SuperGros, is a happy man. The new lithium-ion battery technology is revolutionising his distribution centre’s efforts to optimise operations and reduce costs. “There is no doubt in my mind the economical benefits are huge. With lithium only for the battery change (i.e. the absence of it), we are saving 36 minutes per truck per day (6 changes of 6 minutes). Moreover, we do not need to purchase replacement battery packs. In this way we can save 50% on the initial battery investment.”

The significantly longer cycle life of a lithium-ion battery pack allows for even more savings. Li-ion can outlive a L/A battery by 3-5 times. Every reach truck is equipped with 2 L/A packs – one in operation, the other charging. Considering that Li-ion pack can deliver 3-5 more cycles than an L/A, a single lithium-ion pack delivers energy corresponding to multiple L/A packs during its long life. This, multiplied by the total number of trucks in a huge distribution centre like SuperGros, makes the potential positive impact on savings and operation effectiveness impressive.

The list of benefits does not stop here. Shah Mahmood Mirzad, an experienced truck operator at SuperGros was selected to be the test driver of the BT lithium ion truck: “What I like about it is the ease of use”, says Mahmood. “I do not need to change battery, which takes lots of pressure off my shoulders. With the new battery – when fully charged – I can drive almost 9h, whereas with the L/A the range was between 4-5h. We also introduced the routine to opportunity charge the battery during breaks and now we are able to operate the machine non-stop, i.e. for three shifts.” In terms of measurable benefits, Mahmood highlights rise in production capacity, time and money savings because no battery change, one battery per truck policy and no need for maintenance of the lithium ion batteries. A TMHE Study shows that 1€ spent on maintenance often means spending up to 10€ on damages (Ref. Jonas Tornerfelt, VP Product Planning, TMHE, *).

Jakob Arvidson, from TMHE Product Management and Innovation, sees great prospects for the new battery technology. “We constantly look for possibilities to increase productivity of our machines. To do that, we must apply new batteries. Therefore we are currently testing lithium ion in a cold store facility in Denmark. The cold store is the heaviest application for us.” According to Jakob, the current experience with lithium trucks in Denmark shows that Toyota can increase the productivity of their machines significantly while preserving constant performance throughout the whole shift. Another important benefit is the energy savings. “With lithium solution we can reduce energy costs by 20% which is also good news for the environment.”(*)

The Solution

The objective of the lithium-ion cold store initiative was to design a battery pack for a Toyota BT Reach Truck that would allow multi shift operation and avoid battery changes. The overall objective was to realise cost savings related to operations, reduce battery cost (no maintenance, no replacement packs), and to optimise the fleet usage (one pack per truck policy, opportunity charging possible).

The designed solution was based on the Battery Management System (BMS) from LiTHIUM BALANCE as the reach truck’s battery interface. One of the key advantages of the LiTHIUM BALANCE BMS is that it is cell-type and chemistry agnostic. In other words, the battery interface allows for full flexibility in terms of choice of lithium-ion chemistries, types of cells and battery suppliers. In this way the battery becomes a commodity. The flexibility gives independence and security to truck manufacturer and the end-customer as both can choose the best battery currently available on the market for their application (i.e. best technical and economical fit). With a flexible and standard BMS-truck interface, battery multi-sourcing becomes possible without compromising safety, reliability and performance of the trucks. The standardised interface reduces the risks of technical issues; it ensures constant performance and reliability; facilitates service and support; and allows for extended warranty of the pack.

Considering the longevity and better performance of the lithium-ion batteries, it has become possible for the truck manufacturers to supply total solutions, i.e. trucks equipped with a native battery pack. By doing this, the OEMs have a golden opportunity to grasp new markets and increase turnover and revenue.

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