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Power Talks Ep. 10: The Benefits of Lithium-Ion-Powered Forklifts

Resonant Link
June 17, 2024

In episode 10 of our Power Talks interview series, Jason Bratton, General Manager of EP North America, talks to host Kevin Lawton of The New Warehouse about the shift to lithium-ion-powered forklifts, including why businesses are transitioning and what they are saying before and after the switch. 

Bratton covers the trends accelerating the adoption of lithium-ion forklift batteries, and how warehouse operators can take advantage of all of the benefits of lithium-ion.

This episode of the Power Talks interview series was filmed live from Resonant Link's booth at MODEX 2024. Subscribe to receive email updates when new videos are released. You'll get actionable insights from logistics and warehouse technology leaders on how to solve labor, equipment, space, and other logistics challenges.

Click play to listen to Bratton’s interview or continue reading to get the interview highlights.

Lithium-ion forklift batteries have continued to grow in popularity because of their higher energy density, longer lifetime, lighter weight, no maintenance needs, and ability to be quickly recharged. In addition, today’s lithium-ion batteries are 89% cheaper than they were in 2010, so cost barriers to using lithium-ion batteries are much lower than they were in the past. While lithium-ion batteries are still more expensive than traditional lead acid forklift batteries, they have a higher return on investment. Compared to lead-acid batteries that might last 1,500 cycles if they’re well maintained, lithium forklift batteries last between 2,000 and 3,000 cycles, a 50-100% increase over lead acid.

Because of the increased use of lithium-ion forklift batteries, companies have been able to use electric forklifts in more places without all of the maintenance needed for traditional lead acid batteries. This has yielded additional performance, cost, and environmental benefits, with operations shedding extra equipment, time needed to swap and maintain batteries, and associated costs to improve operational efficiency. 

At this year’s MODEX, a lot of companies were looking to buy lithium-ion forklift batteries and there were a lot of new manufacturers. As Bratton says, prices have come down and the return on investment is much better understood, further driving lithium-ion battery growth.

A Seamless Switch, with Hidden Benefits

When asked about the biggest surprises he hears from customers, one of the first things Bratton says is how easy and seamless the switch to lithium is. He also describes the operator reactions to lithium and “hidden benefits” of switching to lithium-ion forklift batteries, such as eliminating extra vibrations and heat the operators would endure from driving lead-acid-powered forklifts.

Opportunity Charging Saves Time and Money

Since lithium-ion forklift batteries allow for opportunity charging, or charging trucks throughout shifts, it makes it possible for one battery to power a forklift for multiple shifts without needing to be swapped out. Opportunity charging greatly reduces labor and equipment costs by increasing vehicle uptime since vehicles don’t have to travel to battery swapping rooms, take the time to have their batteries swapped or charged, and then drive back to get back to work. 

Companies can also use less equipment to run their operations when compared to using lead acid batteries and battery swapping. This is because increased vehicle uptime means they need fewer vehicles to do the same work, and no extra batteries are needed because batteries are never removed from trucks to be charged; they’re simply recharged at planned stops during their shifts, like breaks and loading docks while they’re waiting to load or unload goods.

Maintenance Free Batteries

Almost best of all, with lithium-ion forklift batteries, companies don’t have to worry about all of the extra steps needed to maintain lead acid batteries, including watering and equalizing. Lithium-ion-batteries are meant to be quickly and frequently recharged, whereas lead acid batteries require frequent, typically weekly, maintenance that requires trained technicians and takes batteries out of operation while they’re being maintained.

A Lithium-Powered Future

Bratton is seeing people trust lithium more and more. They are using it for more applications and they understand its benefits. And lithium adoption is a key step in enabling multi-shift, 24/7 and fully autonomous operations to meet customer demand and drive efficiency.

EP North America is investing heavily in autonomous technology, whether it’s a cobot or a fully autonomous unit. And their customers are engaged in the process. For example, their customers have been looking at their portfolio and asking, “which of these units can you make autonomous?”, as opposed to questioning the need for automation. Because the use cases for automation have expanded greatly and customers see the potential of integrating automation throughout their facilities and workflows, it’s likely that lithium-ion forklift battery use will continue to grow right alongside the use of autonomous forklifts and other industrial automation. 

For now, anyone who’s interested in autonomous floor pallet movers, stacking equipment, and fully autonomous forklifts, among other already automated models, can reach out to EP North America for more information and to inquire about lead times.

Ready For More?

To hear more from Bratton, watch the full interview.

You can also learn more about how to get the most from your motive power batteries and overcome common challenges with automation.

And if you missed Power Talks Episode 9 with Chris Lingamfelter of Robot Advisors, watch the replay. You’ll learn about the top trends in robotics and automation, and what to watch in the logistics and warehousing space.

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