Fast Forklift Charging For Fast-Paced Environments

Corwin Will is the facility manager of The Pampered Chef, a Berkshire Hathaway company, which has benefited from tremendous savings and safety improvements from installing Minit Chargers across four warehouses. The Pampered Chef warehouses face a daily challenge similar to those of all industrial distributors: trying to pick and ship thousands of items a day in the most efficient way possible.

Early Adopters

According to Will, The Pampered Chef’s main facility in Illinois has over 600,000 square feet of space, and combined with an adjacent facility, over 800,000 square feet of space is driven every day in order to get product off the shelves and into the customer’s hands. “Within our facility, we have 6 pick modules and we can ship between 20-30,000 pages a day depending on the time of year,” says Will.

Part of that equation, of course, is the forklift equipment that moves the product around all day long. The facility has a six-high storage system in a 42 foot high building, meaning the top pallet base sits at 30 ft. The company uses double reach extended fork trucks, with 12 trucks total, not including the other ten trucks that have all the Minit rapid-charge systems in them.

“We have had the rapid charge system for going on 11 years. The concept was in its infancy ten years ago when we decided to go with it, and it was a bit of a gamble because it was so new. There was only one company that had that system available. The system went against every industry standard as far as how to charge a forklift battery,” says Will.

The company with that system, then known as Edison Minit-Charge, today operates as ECOtality, Inc. ECOtality has been developing clean transportation solutions for the industrial sector since 1989, with the Minit-Charger® being one of its many products to hit the market. The Minit Charger is a battery fast-charging technology that is designed for on-road electric vehicles, automated guided vehicles, and material handling applications. Minit Chargers can provide a safe charge for an electric lift truck in approximately 15 minutes. The benefit of the system is that electric industrial lift trucks recharge quickly and when it is convenient for workers and their various shifts.

Too Many Batteries, Too Many Changes

Before finding Minit Charger, Will said that they followed the traditional forklift charging system: eight hours of use, eight hours of charging, and an additional eight hours to cool the battery down. The problem with this system is that the batteries sit idle for at least eight hours a day, and aren’t in use for at least 16 hours. Add to this fact that it is necessary to always have a spare battery that you can swap out in case of a charge failure or quicker than normal charge depletion, and it adds up to a lot of equipment laying around and a lot of wasted facility space. When you are running two shifts a day in the same facility, batteries alone take up a lot of time, energy, and space. This doesn’t even take into consideration the safety hazards that go along with changing out batteries that weigh several thousand pounds two and three times a day from each of the forklifts.

“We had to take off the 36 battery caps and put them back on every day,” says Will. “One person got injured while making a battery change. Safety is a big issue in battery changes, and with this system the batteries were going to stay in the trucks: no more moving or lifting them.”  Now, except for a general quarterly maintenance, The Pampered Chef never has to pull the batteries from the trucks – they just plug them in and let them charge as long as they need – which is never eight full hours at a time.

“There is no ROI on safety, unless you look at the history of payouts that happened because of batteries,” says Will. “It isn’t usually very forgiving because it is heavy stuff. There are also burns, etc. Now, we put in the automatic watering system, and except for a general quarterly maintenance, we never have to pull the batteries.”

Now, The Pampered Chef facilities don’t need extra batteries laying around, they don’t spend time swapping them out, and they don’t waste valuable facility space for storing the extra batteries and extra charging stations. In fact, Will has not purchased a traditional forklift battery for the facility in over ten years. “We’ve made the choice since installing the first Minit Charger that whenever we move to a new building, we now add the rapid charge systems instead of bring existing traditional machines with us.”

A Little Charge Goes a Long Way

The facility experiences significantly less down-time and increased safety now that they aren’t swapping batteries out of machines every day. By taking advantage of the Minit Charger’s opportunity charging, they have also eliminated the need for forklifts to sit idly on the sidelines while they recharged from zero. Instead, whenever there is even a handful of minutes of downtime for the forklift, the machine heads to a charging station to get a rapid refuel.

“We have encouraged our employees that when they park a truck, to park it on a charger. Lunch times, break times: the chargers are plugged in. We have a central location where the workers go to charge the machines, buried right where the work happens instead of in a completely separate part of the facility.” There isn’t even a traditional cool down period necessary because the batteries are not getting that hot, unlike traditional batteries.

Will also comments on the extremely low amount of maintenance that they have had to put into the charges, also resulting in less downtime and increased efficiency gains. “The dependability has been unbelievable,” he says. “It’s one thing to have the productivity gains with these batteries, but if you were to have a maintenance nightmare, it wouldn’t be worth it. Here, the maintenance nightmare just doesn’t exist. Since we have so many units, I can’t believe that we just got lucky. It has to be the dependability.”

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