The modern warehouse runs on batteries, no matter how much of a wired power supply it also includes. Batteries are essential for keeping equipment moving around the warehouse without being tethered to a wall outlet through a long and hazardous power cord. Every battery that powers a piece of equipment in the warehouse environment needs some kind of routine maintenance, even if it’s only occasionally needed. Make sure you’re handling all of the common commercial battery systems found in warehouses of all kinds to prevent fire risks and other hazards.
Why is Maintenance So Important?
As with all the other equipment that’s essential in the warehouse, batteries require regular maintenance. Using up commercial batteries until they fail and need replacement is simply too costly for most facilities. With proper handling, rechargeable batteries go from lasting a few months at a time to offering a lifespan of 5 years or longer. Commercial battery systems can cost thousands of dollars to fully replace, so maintenance just a few times per year can produce significant savings in return.
Keeping batteries well-maintained and in circulation for longer also reduces the consumption of raw resources. While that may not directly affect the daily operation of your warehouse floor, it does generate a positive bump in your company’s eco-friendly reputation. Highlighting that you’ve focused on optimizing battery and energy use in your marketing materials to gain a new reputation within your industry. This is especially useful for warehouses in the logistics and retail industries that can get negative press coverage for their energy consumption and carbon emissions.
Battery maintenance is also a safety issue. Damaged or badly maintained commercial batteries, especially the lithium varieties popularly used today in warehouses, create a distinct fire risk. Warehouses full of flammable materials need routine battery maintenance, even more so than other facilities. If the batteries don’t create a direct safety risk for the warehouse, they can still leak and lead to environmental contamination and the hefty fines that come with them. Proper maintenance helps you catch damaged batteries and have them recycled before they become a problem.
Forklift and Pallet Jack Batteries
The equipment doing the majority of the heavy lifting around the warehouse are the forklifts and powered pallet jacks that move individual units around. Most forklifts today use a battery of some kind, no matter their overall power source. Gas-powered forklifts need a traditional lead-acid battery just for starting, but electric forklifts rely entirely on batteries as their power source. Keeping these batteries working properly will ensure that there are no delays in a day’s work due to a lack of working equipment. Forklift and pallet jack batteries need different forms of maintenance depending on their composition.
Lithium-ion Lift and Jack Batteries
These batteries don’t need watering or in-depth discharging and charging routines to keep them running well. Yet they still need a minor amount of maintenance and, more importantly, visual inspections on a regular basis. Check the battery for signs of damage like swelling, leaking, cracking in the case, or trouble holding a charge on a weekly basis at least. High-traffic warehouses may need a daily inspection program for lithium batteries powering forklifts and pallet jacks. Make sure the batteries are cycled so they are charged before dropping below a 20% power level and not charged again until they drop below 70%. Lithium batteries can be wiped down when dusty or dirty with a rag, but they shouldn’t need it regularly as a lead-acid battery might. Ongoing deposits forming on the outside of a lithium battery case could be an indicator that it’s leaking and needs replacement.
Lead-Acid Forklift Batteries
Lead-acid batteries need far more attention than lithium batteries and on a more regular basis. First, make sure the liquid levels stay high enough by routinely opening the cells and adding deionized water until they’re filled to the correct mark. Always add water after charging and not before since the electrolyte solution expands during charging. Most forklift batteries will need water added at least once a week. Other than that, you’ll need to provide what’s known as an equalizing charge at least once a week to once a month, depending on the use of the battery. This is an intentional and controlled overcharged that ensures the cells in the battery won’t hold uneven levels of charge. Finally, wipe any white deposits that collect on the exterior of the case as needed. These occur due to fluid boil-over during charging and fume formation during use, and they’re not always a sign of damage.
Batteries for Small Handheld Devices
Almost all of the rechargeable batteries used for powering smaller handheld devices in the warehouse are lithium-ion types. These batteries need the same basic maintenance as any larger batteries with the same composition. Ensure they’re being charged correctly and have them inspected for swelling and other signs of damage on a regular basis. It’s best if the batteries can be removed for charging for this reason, but many scanners and tracking devices rely on integrated batteries instead that must be managed through the devices themselves. Don’t miss these integrated batteries since they can pose almost as much of a fire or environmental risk as any other battery.
Generator and Backup Power Supply Batteries
Don’t forget about batteries that are part of the power supply and backup system for the warehouse. Refrigerated or climate-controlled warehouses, in particular, tend to rely on extensive generator and battery systems to ensure power fluctuations don’t risk spoilage or product loss. These batteries need to be checked and tested at least twice a year. If they have open cells, test the electrolytes every three to six months and add water as needed. No matter the type of battery, make sure the cables connecting it to the power system or generator are tightly attached and don’t have any cracking on the insulation. New cables can make the entire power supply system more reliable and safer to operate, so plan to replace them after a few years to prevent damage.
Most generator systems advise running the equipment at least once per month to circulate fluids and help prevent blockages. This also helps top up the charge on the battery in the system while refreshing its electrolyte solution. In general, the batteries used in commercial warehouse generators and backup systems don’t need a lot of maintenance unless they see heavy use. In that case, have them tested for reliability and consider replacing them after the number of hours of use recommended by the manufacturer.
Safe Storage for Batteries Out of Active Use
Batteries that aren’t being actively used for forklift operation or powering handheld scanners still need proper storage to prevent damage. Incorrect handling or storage can lead to many risks, including fume inhalation or buildup, corrosion, chances of explosions or fires, and leaks that escape the containment area. Best practices for storing batteries vary a little between different varieties, but most are handled the same way when they’re out of use.
- Put up NO SMOKING signs that let employees know that there is a fire and explosion hazard in the battery storage area. Make sure there is no equipment that can create sparks in the room, and keep a Class C dry extinguisher for electrical and chemical fires on hand at all times.
- Instruct all employees handling batteries in the storage area or at charging stations to wear eye protection and goggles. This reduces the risk of exposure to acidic or base chemicals from the electrolyte solution in the batteries.
- Add extensive ventilation for any room used to store or charge lead-acid batteries. These batteries constantly release fumes that can build up and become hazardous. Active ventilation may be needed if a large number of batteries are stored in a particularly small space.
- Set up special seismic protective racks in areas where earthquakes may occur. These racks hold the batteries in place and prevent them from being jostled or smashed into each other.
- Install permanent spill containment measures for any area where batteries are stored for long periods of time. The sizing of the containment depends on the number of batteries being stored and their individual volume measurements.
Maintenance of Battery Charging Stations
Battery charging equipment and stations also need maintenance to keep them efficient and safe to operate. If there are any spills or deposits left behind by overflowing lead-acid batteries, clean the material up promptly. Liquids may need to be neutralized with the correct mixture of chemicals, like baking soda and borax, depending on the exact electrolyte composition. Check all wiring on the charging station before charging any batteries. When removing a battery from a charging unit, make sure it is not leaking, swelling, or hot to the touch since these can all indicate a risk of rupture. Keep the room where the batteries charge temperature controlled whenever possible, aiming for a temperature around 77 degrees F for optimal charging speed and capacity.
Calibrate the charging equipment at least once a year if possible. This is handled by a professional service technician, and it’s recommended to keep the charging station running properly without breaking down when it’s needed the most. This kind of maintenance service ensures that any readings on battery health or capacity remain accurate, so you know exactly when it’s time to recondition or replace one of them.
OSHA Requirements for Battery Rooms
All rooms in commercial and industrial settings where batteries are charged and stored are required to have certain safety features. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has developed standards for worker safety in regard to this specific environment because of its particular hazards.
All unsealed battery types, such as those with cells that are regularly topped up with water, must be charged and stored in a well-ventilated room. The regulations also require efforts made to keep spray or fumes from leaving the room and leaking into other areas.
Since strong and corrosive acids are so common in battery rooms, the floors in these rooms must be made of a material that resists their damaging effects. Acid-resistant construction or the addition of an acid-resistant barrier will satisfy these requirements.
If the battery charging or storage area isn’t in its own room or a separate part of the structure, it must be surrounded by bollards, security framing, or other devices to prevent trucks from backing into them. It must also be designed to prevent damage from forklifts and similar equipment.
Set Up for Flushing
Due to the risk of both fire and chemical leaks, the battery storage area must be designed to handle being flushed with water without damage. Floor drains and water-resistant materials are essential for this part of the warehouse, especially if you install automated fire-control sprinklers.
Dealing with Damaged or Depleted Warehouse Batteries
Once batteries reach the end of their working lifespan, no amount of conditioning or overcharging will reset their ability to provide power. Warehouses are demanding environments that can’t handle delays created by waiting for new batteries to arrive. Part of your maintenance program should include checking the dates on batteries and cycling them out of active use if they’re getting old. Identifying damaged or prematurely worn down batteries and replacing them promptly will also keep the workflow going in the warehouse.
Batteries that aren’t needed anymore need to go to a recycling company rather than to the landfill. Not only is it a more eco-friendly choice to recycle them, but it’s almost required by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in the US. All of the batteries used in the warehouse setting, including even smaller packs used on scanners and handheld devices, must be recycled properly by an approved company since they’re considered hazardous waste. Avoid the risk of fines and fees by setting up a simple recycling program with a partner that can handle pickup and disposal.
Battery Recyclers of America has the skills, pickup services, and expertise you need to solve any commercial battery recycling challenges. Choose us to take care of your lithium, lead-acid, and other batteries that have reached the end of their useful lifespan in your facility.