Ultimate Forklift Battery Maintenance and Safety Guide

Ultimate Forklift Battery Maintenance and Safety Guide

When properly serviced, a forklift battery can provide up to 2,000 charges over a lifespan lasting anywhere from 5 – 15 years. As an investment that runs anywhere from $3,000 - $6,000, it makes sense to devote the time and effort needed to maintain your industrial battery and protect your investment. But what, exactly, does this entail? Let’s take a look at how you can protect your forklift battery from unnecessary damage and wear:

Understanding Battery Charge Cycles:

Forklift battery care begins with a firm understanding of what it means when we refer to a battery charge cycle. You see, forklift batteries are generally rated for a limited number of charges, so understanding what constitutes a charge is an important step towards maximizing your investment. A charge cycle is “used” up anytime a battery is charged, regardless of its state of discharge or how long the battery is charged.

Since there is a hard limit on the number of charges available for each battery, you need to take care not to needlessly waste charges. As a general rule of thumb, you should never charge your battery unless it’s at least 70% discharged without letting it go past 80% before recharging. Sticking to this guideline means that you need to avoid automatically charging your battery at the end of the day or a shift. Unlike a cell phone or laptop battery, overcharging an industrial battery causes damage and reduces its ability to accept a charge in the future.

The goal here is to maximize the energy extracted per charge since there’s a limited number of charges available during each battery’s effective life. At the same time, take special care to avoid completing depleting your forklift battery, as a depleted battery can take up to 72 hours of continuous charging to fully charge.

Recommended Charging Procedures:

It’s important to follow a proper charging procedure to get the most out of your electric forklift battery and ensure the safety of you and your fellow employees. In addition to making sure only trained individuals are involved in the charging process and following manufacturer’s recommendations, we recommend the following:

  • Take your electric forklift to a separate, temperature controlled area that is well-ventilated for charging;
  • Properly position your forklift, apply the parking brake and turn off the forklift;
  • Put on your personal protective equipment such as rubber gloves, a protective apron, safety glasses and/or a safety mask;
  • Conduct a quick visual inspection the battery to check for any obvious signs of wear or damage;
  • Check the battery’s water level prior to plugging in or charging the forklift but DO NOT water the battery until after applying a full charge;
  • Plug the charger into the battery. Make sure to connect the charging port into the battery and never plug it directly into the forklift;
  • Allow approximately 8 hours for the battery to cooldown and return to operating temperatures;
  • If needed, add distilled water to the battery until the plates are covered by approximately ¼”;
  • Reconnect the battery and return the forklift to service.

Battery Upkeep and Maintenance:

Beyond following the proper charging procedures, there are a number of maintenance tasks that need to be consistently performed to maximize the lifespan of your forklift battery. These include:

  • Watering the battery – since the charging process increases the temperature of the electrolyte, it common for water vapour and hydrogen gas to form via evaporation and vent out of the battery caps. As this occurs, the electrolyte’s concentration raises above the ideal level of approximately 37% sulfuric acid, which is why it’s important to water your battery on a weekly basis as needed. Just make sure you do not overwater your battery or water it before charging as this will cause the battery to boil over. In this situation, adding more water will result in an under concentrated electrolyte solution and your battery will need to be serviced by a battery maintenance professional to rectify this issue.
  • Need professional help with battery maintenance? Contact Lucas today! Our forklift battery experts have years of experience in the industry and will ensure that both your battery and forklift are in peak condition.
  • Equalizing charges – variations between plates, chemical processes and uneven charging/discharging rates gradually results in a process known as sulfation. As the battery plates discharge, the lead within the plates reacts with the sulfur in the battery acid, resulting in the formation of lead sulfate which gradually builds up on the plates. As the plates are drained of lead – the active component that allows the plates to take and keep a charge – their capacity is slowly reduced. Fortunately, this process is relatively easy to reverse through a process known as equalization charges. While you’ll need to perform an equalizing charge every 5 – 10 cycles, you can use a hydrometer to measure the specific gravity of the electrolyte solution to determine if an equalizing charge is necessary (the ideal specific gravity of a cell is 1.285). To reduce the rate of sulfation, make sure to discharge your battery to at least 70% prior to charging, always allow the battery to fully recharge and avoid leaving the battery in a state of discharge for long periods of time.
  • Cleaning your battery – as previously mentioned, it’s possible for batteries to expel or leak water vapour, hydrogen gas and/or electrolyte under regular operating conditions. To avoid issues with corrosion, rust and accumulated electrolyte, you need to keep your battery clean. Before cleaning the battery case, make sure the battery is completely disconnected and moved to an area where it can be cleaned. Wherever accumulations of electrolyte are found, use a neutralizing agent before wiping them away with a clean rag.

Battery Do and Do Not Checklist:

The following is a list of things to avoid with your battery that will not only help protect your investment, but also ensure your workplace is safe for all employees:

  • Always install a properly equipped eye washing station near your forklift charging and watering station;
  • Never store your industrial battery where it will be exposed to direct sunlight, dust or moisture;
  • Always wear personal protective equipment (PPE) such as safety googles or full-face shield, gloves, and rubber apron;
  • Never tamper or otherwise modify the battery vent plugs;
  • Always ensure proper ventilation is present in your charging room;
  • Never over or under tighten the terminal bolts as this could cause the terminal to break or result in a fire due to a loose contact;
  • Always keep your charger cables off of the floor;
  • Never rest metal objects on the battery as this may cause a short-circuit;
  • Always turn the charger off before connecting or disconnecting it to the battery;
  • Never allow sources of sparks, flames or other ignition sources anywhere near the battery while charging or discharging.

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