Imagine you’re on an NYC train headed to work and then the train just stops! There you are with hundreds of people wondering what’s going on…and if one subway line grinds to a halt, then thousands of people will be late for thousands of jobs or appointments or meetings, with effects cascading across the city. This currently happens every day, since New York City's subway system has descended into crisis mode.
If you're not in New York City, you may be wondering why this has any relevance to you--but from a warehouse uptime perspective, there are valuable lessons to be learned.
Let's start with the reason the subway system is facing so many issues. Decision makers neglected necessary maintenance and failed to upgrade equipment, instead prioritizing more visible projects like station makeovers, which were not nearly as crucial in terms of uptime. For example, an investigative article points out that the subway’s budget for repairs was cut even as the system continued to run on 1930s signal technology. The problem is that the NYC subway is a sophisticated system—and if the individual parts are not taken care of, the whole subway begins to suffer.
Just like the subway system keeps New York City running, your forklift power is crucial to the uptime of your entire warehouse and your business. It is the little power train engine of each forklift. The problem? Many execs at production plants and distribution centers think of forklift power as an afterthought or static battery, rather than the complex, dynamic process it is. Neglecting forklift power inhibits the velocity of your facility, and over time can cause you to spend a lot of money playing catch-up to eliminate dreaded downtime or an inefficient set of processes.
So, how can you be sure you have the best system in place to maintain your batteries and keep your plant up and running?
We broke down the 4 ways to care for a power system, along with the advantages and disadvantages of each. Read on!
1. Hire Internal Personnel
This option is pretty self-explanatory. You hire personnel within your company to maintain your forklift batteries. So, what are the pluses and minuses?
- Billing Perks: When you have a dedicated staff or team member to tend to your equipment needs, you don’t have to deal with outside billing, which can be costly and time-consuming.
- Dedicated Staff: Having dedicated personnel ensures you have reliable, invested workers who have your plant’s (and your machinery’s) best interest in mind. Plus, this gives you easy access, should you need a direct line to forklift information or access.
- Lack of Knowledge: Without proper, ongoing engineering support, forklift maintenance workers can easily—and significantly—decrease the lifespan of your forklift batteries. Many people don’t realize that battery maintenance requires a great deal of electrical and chemical knowledge; if your handlers aren’t completely up-to-speed, your forklift battery life can be shortened by 2-3 years. Some companies do have engineering leads who oversee this process, but typically, employees on the ground aren’t as well-versed.
- Haphazard Maintenance: Since internal personnel typically oversee the forklift fleet as well as handling service, maintenance is often delayed or pushed to prioritize other urgent issues, or is scheduled when other employees are willing to accommodate it.
- Unnecessary Cost: That uneven service in the bullet above? It could lead to a much shorter battery lifespan and be costlier in the long run. After all, power can be up to 50% of the total cost of your fleet.
2. Outsource to a Forklift Company
Forklift companies often offer battery maintenance as part of their overall service. How does this compare to other options?
- One-Stop Shopping: When you rely on a forklift company to handle all of your machinery needs, you’re dealing with one point of contact for everything. Think about how much easier it is to shop for all of your products at a big box retailer, as opposed to a grocery store, clothing store, and entertainment store separately. The same applies to your equipment needs.
- Billing Familiarity: When your account is already in the billing system, you can more easily handle recurring money matters. Money has to pass through fewer hands, and information is saved for easy reference, saving you time and frustration.
- Expertise: Most forklift companies are experts in forklifts, not in batteries and power. While a forklift is a mechanical thing, a battery is electric and chemical, which involves a very different science and discipline.
- “Tyranny of the Urgent”: This set-up tends to prioritize urgent needs instead of the routine. For example, if a forklift isn’t running, that’s the forklift company’s priority because that’s their main business. Routine battery watering and PMs may get delayed, even though this will greatly shorten the battery’s lifespan.
- Different Picture Thinking: Forklift companies don’t usually think in terms of power systems— just truck by truck, battery by battery.
3. Outsourcing to a Battery Company
This scenario has the company you buy your batteries from maintaining your power. Let’s break down the good and the bad:
- Subject Expertise: Working with a battery company ensures you’ll be dealing with folks who are familiar with and dedicated to the operation of your forklift batteries.
- Product Specialists: Because power can make up 50% of the cost of your total forklift fleet, having specialists who are solely dedicated to and focused on thinking about forklift power to make sure every battery is running properly, is critical.
- Quality Time: Outsourcing allows you to better allocate resources within the company so you can focus on your business (and not on batteries!)
- One-Track Thinking: When the focus is on batteries and not the whole power system, it’s possible your partner isn’t thinking strategically beyond keeping the battery working. These inefficiencies can lead to wasted time and money, or more batteries than you need.
4. Hiring a Power Management Company
- Systematic Approach: If you are a multi-shift, high-velocity facility, power management companies can help you manage your batteries as they are: a power system. This brings strategic thinking that will positively affect your plant’s uptime. For example, if you're running 20 forklifts, they’ll understand how those 20 trucks flow through the facility and how that power usage is applied to the peak trucks versus the lower-use trucks. They can build power systems to accommodate your company’s unique circumstances and modify them dynamically as things change.
- Data Delivery: The more data you have, the easier it is to refine and improve your power system. When you partner with a power management company, they’ll leverage data to actively refine your operations—a win-win.
- Niche Experts: Beyond product specialists, you’ll have access to experts like application engineers who can better provide you the services and specialized knowledge you need to run your machinery more effectively. Some of the recent technology trends in thin plate pure lead, lithium and hydrogen fuel cells may already be incorporated into their thinking.
- Saves Money: A tailored power system often reduces batteries, with a focus on getting the full life out of the ones you have. This means more efficiency and savings!
- Better Business: Outsourcing allows you to better allocate your resources within the company, which helps save time and money.
- Another Contact: Since a power management company is focused on power, it means an additional billing contact.
If you’re interested in learning more about how a power management option can work strategically for your high-velocity facility, we at ABT would be happy to answer any questions. Please get in touch!