How to Choose the Right Forklift Battery
Choosing industrial batteries can be complicated — there are just so many options that it can be difficult to decide which factors are most important: Ah capacity, chemistry, charging speed, cycle life, brand, price, etc. If you already know what to expect of your battery, go ahead and select lithium forklift batteries using the tool above to see available options.
Read this guide if you’d like to learn which requirements of your material handling operations are crucial for choosing the right forklift battery.
I. Start with the make and model of your forklifts and lift truck specs
Your choice of power source for the equipment is defined primarily by the forklift’s technical specifications. As the users of diesel- or propane-powered Class 4 and 5 sit-down forklifts continue to convert to Class 1 electric, more than half of lift trucks today are battery-powered. Durable, high-capacity Li-ion batteries have become available for even the most demanding applications handling heavy and bulky loads like steel, lumber, paper, and beverages.
The following are the main specs you need to look at to select lithium forklift batteries:
There are several standard types of battery by voltage (12V, 24V, 36V, 48V, 72V, 80V) and different capacity options (from 100Ah to 1000Ah and higher) available for various lift trucks models.
For example, a 24V 210Ah battery is typically used in 4,000-pound pallet jacks, and 80V 1050Ah would fit a counterbalanced sit-down forklift to handle loads up to 20K pounds.
The dimensions of a forklift’s battery compartment are often unique, so it is crucial to find a perfect and precise fit. Besides different battery sizes, it is also important to consider the cable connector type and its location on the battery and a truck.
Some OEM manufacturers (e.g. Combilift, AisleMaster) have two battery compartments of different sizes. The CUSTOM Series lithium battery is a good example of how a battery is engineered to meet certain equipment’s unique specs.
Different forklifts have different recommended battery weight requirements that you should consider to select lithium forklift batteries. An additional counterweight is added to a battery to balance the total forklift weight intended for use in applications with heavy loads.
Lithium types of battery are best suited for Class I, II, and III forklifts and other off-road electric vehicles, like sweepers and scrubbers, tugs, golf carts, etc. The reasons? Triple the lifespan of lead-acid technology, excellent safety, minimal maintenance, stable operation at low or high temperatures, and high energy capacity in kWh.
LFP (Lithium Iron Phosphate) and NMC (Lithium-Manganese-Cobalt-Oxide) batteries are both used in electric forklifts. The recent tests of lithium battery types at Sandia Laboratories show that LFP batteries will actually last longer and are more reliable than NMC.
NMC and NCA (Lithium-Cobalt-Nickel-Oxide) types of lithium batteries are more commonly used in passenger EVs and electronics due to their lower overall weight and higher energy density per kilogram. NMC industrial batteries are used by some OEM manufacturers (Kalmar, for example) in construction equipment like cranes and excavators.
Until recently, lead-acid batteries have been widely used in all forklift types. TPPL is the newer version of such batteries. It has higher efficiency and higher charging speed but only compared to traditional flooded lead-acid technology or sealed lead-acid batteries, like absorbent glass mat (AGM).
In most cases, lithium-ion batteries are a much more economical and efficient choice for industrial applications than any lead-acid battery, including AGM or TPPL batteries.
A Controller Area Network (CAN bus) allows microcontrollers and devices to communicate with each other’s applications without a host computer. Not all battery brands are fully integrated with all forklift models through the CAN bus. There are different kinds of batteries with an external Battery Discharge Indicator (BDI), which provides the operator with visual and audio signals of the battery’s state of charge and readiness to work.
At OneCharge, we make both options and are ready to develop a CAN option with any lift truck make and model.
II. Factor in the details of your material handling equipment application and your company policies
The battery’s performance must fit the actual use of the forklift or lift truck. Sometimes the same trucks are used in different ways (handling different loads, for example) in the same facility. In this case, you may need different types of batteries for them. Your corporate policies and standards may also be in play.
The heavier the load, the higher the lift, and the longer the route, the more battery capacity you will require to last the whole day. Take into consideration the average and maximum weight of the load, travel distance, height of the lift, and ramps. The most demanding applications, such as paper and packaging or food and beverage, where load weight can reach 15—20 thousand pounds, will require an 80V POWER Series lithium battery with up to 1050Ah capacity.
As with the load weight, the size of the pallet, or the shape of the load that needs to be moved, using heavy forklift attachments will require more “gas in the tank” — higher battery capacity. A hydraulic paper clamp is a good example of an attachment for which you need to plan some extra power.
Will a forklift operate in a cooler or freezer? For low-temperature operations, you’ll probably need to choose a forklift battery equipped with additional insulation and heating elements, like the FROST Series lithium battery.
Single battery operation eliminates the need to replace a dead battery with a fresh one during the workday. In most cases, this is only possible with the opportunity charging of a Li-ion battery during breaks, when it is convenient for the operator and does not disrupt the production process. Several 15-minute breaks during the day are enough to keep the lithium battery at over 40% charge. This is a recommended charging mode that provides top performance for a forklift and helps extend the battery’s useful life.
Lead-acid types of battery require 8 hours of charging and 8 hours of cooling after every 8 hours of work. That is why 2—3 replacement lead-acid batteries per truck are usually needed to last through a working day with 2 shifts or more.
A Li-ion battery charges from zero to full in under 2 hours and offers flexible opportunity charging. This means that the battery can go on charge at any moment and for any period of time, with no need for a cool-down period, and be ready to work immediately.
Most LFP batteries charge at a 0.5—1.5C charging rate, i.e. they can store 0.5 to 1.5 of their Ah/h capacity in one hour. Some NMC lithium batteries offer an even faster charging rate (3–5C), but the benefit is unclear, since charging a lithium battery from zero to full does not happen often.
Flexible “quick-hit” opportunity charging translates into increased uptime, which is important for high-intensity operations.
Fleet management data is primarily used to track maintenance, improve safety compliance, and maximize equipment utilization. Battery management system (BMS) data can significantly enrich or replace data from other sources with detailed info on power consumption, the timing of charging and idle events, battery technical parameters, etc.
Easy data access and the user interface are becoming the most important factors when choosing a battery.
Li-ion batteries are the safest option for industrial forklifts. They don’t have any of the issues of lead-acid technology, such as corrosion and sulfating, and do not emit any pollutants. They eliminate the risk of accidents associated with the daily replacement of heavy batteries. This benefit is crucial in industries such as food and beverage, medical supplies, electronics, etc. With Li-ion electric forklift batteries, you do not need a specially ventilated room for charging.
Many companies set their own goals to reduce their carbon footprint and minimize energy consumption.
Li-ion technology consumes up to 30% less electricity for charging than a lead-acid battery does; this can be a significant contribution to reaching those sustainability and safety milestones.
III. Evaluate the battery price and future maintenance costs
A Li-ion battery does not require daily maintenance.
Lead-acid batteries need to be watered, cleaned after occasional acid spills, and equalized (applying special charging mode to equalize cells charge) regularly. Labor and external service costs tend to increase as lead-acid power units age, decreasing uptime and constantly increasing operational costs.
A lead-acid battery cannot last through two or three shifts (with aging, they often can’t keep sufficient charge through a single eight-hour shift). That is why the users of these batteries have to swap them with a fresh replacement battery every day, paying for extra replacement power units, their maintenance, additional equipment to load and unload batteries, and extra man-hours.
The purchase price of a lead-acid power unit plus charger is lower than a lithium package. However, to select lithium forklift batteries you need to take into account – besides lithium battery price – the increase in uptime provided by single battery operation and the flexible opportunity charging schedule, the 3-fold increase in the battery’s useful life, and lower maintenance costs.
Calculations clearly demonstrate that a lithium-ion battery saves up to 40% in 2—4 years on the total cost of ownership compared to a lead-acid battery.
Among lithium batteries, the LFP lithium battery type is a more economical and efficient choice than NMC lithium batteries.
In most cases, it makes economic sense to switch to Li-ion, even if you operate a small fleet or a single forklift.
All lithium batteries have a longer lifespan than any lead-acid power pack. Lead-acid batteries lifespan is 1,000—1,500 cycles or less. Lithium-ion lasts at least 3,000 cycles.
TPPL lead-acid batteries have a longer lifespan than conventional liquid-filled or sealed AGM batteries, but they can’t even come close to a lithium-ion technology in this aspect.
Within lithium, LFP batteries demonstrate a longer cycle life than NMC. LFP forklift batteries last 3000 cycles or more, which is 2—3 times more than lead-acid.
Compact Li-ion forklift battery chargers can be conveniently located around the facility for opportunity charging during breaks and lunches.
Lead-acid batteries require massive charging stations and need to be charged in a ventilated charging room to avoid risks of contamination associated with acid spills and fumes during charging. Eliminating a dedicated battery room and bringing back this space to profitable use usually make a big difference for the bottom line.
Often, it makes sense to buy a new charger with the switch from lead-acid to lithium battery, but in some cases, an existing charger can be upgraded and reprogrammed to be used with the new electric forklift batteries.
VI. How to choose a battery with a focus on brand and vendor
Selecting and procuring the right battery can take a lot of effort and time. Your supplier will need to provide professional information on what type of battery set-up is optimal, and what the trade-offs and must-haves are for your specific equipment and operation. This will determine your forklift battery price.
A plug-n-play solution is more than just easy installation and set-up. It includes due diligence in battery configuration for a specific task and application, connection protocols like CAN bus integration, safety features, etc.
You’d want to have the batteries delivered just in time when your new or existing forklifts are ready to start. On the other hand, if you select lithium forklift batteries that are available and rush the order, you may discover that a lift truck or your material handling operations are incompatible with the batteries you got.
The availability of forklift battery support and service in your area affects how quickly you resolve your equipment issues.
Is your vendor ready to do everything possible in the first 24 hours to make sure your equipment works, no matter what? Ask former customers and OEM dealers for their recommendations and experience with the battery brand you plan to purchase.
Forklift battery product quality is defined by a multitude of factors: perfect fit to the application is the most important.
Product quality is mainly defined by how closely a battery can meet the requirements of operations. The right capacity, cables, charging speed set-up, protection from weather and or incorrect treatment by inexperienced forklift operators, etc. — all these determine the quality of battery performance in the field, not the numbers and images from a spec sheet.