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Banish The Battery Room

June 15, 2005
Rapid-charging technology is replacing battery rooms for lift trucks with decentralized intelligent charging systems.

By the fourth quarter of 2006, Ford Motor Co. plans to have phased-in a battery room replacement at all of its 19 assembly plants in North America. Instead of a room dedicated to charging, storing and exchanging batteries for lift trucks, the plants will have between 85 and 125 fast-charge stations in natural work areas. The Dearborn Truck Plant has 100 fast-charge stations, for instance. The equipment provider is PosiCharge, a business of AeroVironment Inc., Monrovia, Calif.

Ford estimates that the fast-charge vehicle concept is 30% to 50% cheaper to operate than traditional electric or internal combustion lift trucks, says Dearborn, Mich.-based Roger Tenney, Ford's manager of industrial vehicle strategy and engineering.

With the new technology, the distributed charging stations eliminate the need for the constant trips to a battery room. Instead, a fast-charging connection can occur on lunch breaks or when workers have a few minutes of downtime. The lift truck operators simply drive the few feet to the battery station right in their immediate work cell and top off the battery charge. The result is a 75% reduction in the total charging required daily.

Roger Tenney, manager, industrial vehicle strategy and engineering at Ford Motor Co., connects to PosiCharge. Ford's annual savings: $5 million.With the battery room approach operators would have to proceed to the centrally located room where dedicated personal would physically replace the discharged battery with a charged one. In the most extreme cases, users risk waiting up to eight hours for the battery to be charged. Because the batteries no longer need to be exchanged, it is also possible to reduce the number of batteries purchased per vehicle, which reduces disposal problems. PosiCharge says users have reported that fast-charging costs can be as little as 25% of battery-changing costs. Ford's Tenney says rapid-charging technology can have another strategic value in plants transitioning from propane-fueled lift trucks to battery-powered units. "Since the concept requires no battery room, the switch will not affect production floor layouts," Tenney says. To maximize rapid-charging benefits, Tenney recommends an employee training strategy.

He says that the battery-powered emphasis at Ford is also part of a strategy to continuously upgrade the employee work environment. In addition to eliminating emissions such as carbon dioxide and carbon monoxide, noise levels will be reduced.

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