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Passion for energy

06 October 2017

Fortis Battery Care has built up a formidable reputation as a service-led independent battery supplier. It is now about to take its energy enthusiasm a stage further with a bold re-brand and growth plan. HSS editor Simon Duddy speaks to MD Andrew J Clarke.

Fortis Battery Care is poised to re-brand and re-position at the start of next year as Juice Stored Energy - morphing from a battery supplier to a stored energy specialist. Fortis Battery Care MD Andrew J Clarke sees a massive opportunity in stored energy, particularly with the projected rise of electric cars and greater consumer buy-in to the concept, and sees companies, particularly larger companies, making serious attempts to be significantly less dependent on the energy grid.

"Ultimately we're trying to give the client what they need to move toward periods of an off-grid environment. Whether it is a warehouse or a retailer with 2000 outlets, we're trying to give them as much self management and autonomy from the grid providers as possible, so they can control their costs better." 

So, an exciting new opportunity beckons, but does this mean the end for Fortis' current business? Absolutely not, says Andrew. He sees logistics as a central part of this new equation, with the warehouse manager or logistician well-positioned to influence and impact the energy policy of the business as a whole.

"The forklift is a power pack moving within a facility that could become part of the infrastructure of a microgrid. The facility can draw on the stored energy of a parked-up material handling battery when it makes sense to do so," explains Andrew.

Andrew is confident the widening focus across multiple genres of Energy Storage will help the company to continue its fast growth.

"I'm quite proud we've gone from one to 40 employees in five years. Our target in the next five years to get is to get to 100 within the UK," he says. A 'speedboat up against the tankers', Andrew has ambitions to become a European-wide business.

"We want to be a stored energy specialist across multiple industries and products, for example, uninterrupted power supplies for hospitals or data centres, anything that requires a stored energy device."

How might this energy focus work for the warehouse manager? It will allow you to charge MHE batteries off peak and use the stored energy in the trucks to power the services of the facility during peak tariff periods. Juice Stored Energy would help provide the infrastructure and expertise to make this work - saving money and gaining autonomy without losing performance. This is not something solely projected for the future. At the moment, the company is working under NDA with a very large retailer on an ambitious energy project. This could help introduce some significant savings, says Andrew. This also gives the energy issue a critical bearing on forklift procurement, he comments.

"We would argue against locking your company into long term forklift deals. It may cut you out of the loop on smarter energy use down the line. In turn, your competitors may deploy these solutions to save money while you can't.

"Traditionally the warehouse manager would probably say the safer option is to stick to old, proven technology. But the risk is the warehouse manager locks himself into a long deal with orthodox and current technology without contract breakpoints - that's the mistake." 

He argues that with a fast changing energy environment, it is now doubly important for managers of MHE fleets to make the right decisions when upgrading. One example is the broad choice of lithium-ion battery types available.

"We have an under-educated market and it is a very blunt instrument to say 'we should move to lithium-ion'. You must consult with an independent firm and find out if it is right for your application."

The end point of the metamorphosis to Juice Stored Energy is offering clients a one stop shop consultancy, with the company's engineers becoming energy consultants.

"We are not reliant on some utopian situation where businesses are 100% off-grid, but we will help companies make progress along that road as far as they want to go," says Andrew.

Total cost of ownership As well as giving more thought to batteries and power during the forklift procurement process, Andrew advises that total cost of ownership should be central.

Andrew explains: "The total cost of ownership over a five year period for an electric forklift could be as significant as 70% power and battery and 30% the machine itself. End users are waking up to this. We are seeing end users insist that forklift suppliers bring a battery specialist into contract negotiations.

"If there is a problem and you ring the forklift company the first thing they consider is exposure from a warranty point of view, before they come to resolve your problem. Whereas with us, it's our job to make sure you have the power."

It is an ongoing frustration that TCO is not given emphasis more regularly during procurement.

"Unfortunately when the financial director releases budget for buying forklifts, he's rarely thinking about energy. Also some companies go to a procurement specialist and a 'lowest price wins' approach. And forklift suppliers will sell the battery that's easiest and best for them, not necessarily for you.

"I admire the courage of some busy 3PLs where they've said 'no actually, we won't accept the standard battery'. They will pay extra to bring in a specialist battery provider, because they have had a history of problems and they have decided that it's enough."

To conclude, Andrew emphasises that while the company is embarking on an exciting new journey it is not forgetting its roots.

"We're not moving away from where we are. That's important.

"The exciting part of this new approach to stored energy is the warehouse. It is the warehouse equipment that's the nucleus of all of it. The logistician is our primary target. It's the fundamental part of Juice Stored Energy. Perhaps the warehouse manger is not fully aware as he walks his warehouse or DC – his electric vehicles are storage devices.

"This is a really exciting time for the warehouse manager."

Catching up slowly

Andrew sees the UK market for materials handling equipment batteries lagging behind Europe in some respects.

"We're beginning to see a market that is no longer forced down the avenue of a limited supply base, but the UK is one of the slowest European countries to transition to this new kind of multi-supplier base. The market is no longer limited to the big three battery manufacturers and is now being serviced by a more agile dealership base that has access to multiple products and multiple brands that are tailored to suit a client's needs."

Andrew sees this driven by dramatically increased service expectations from end users.

"We're now in a world of eCommerce where end users, in their home life, are accustomed to fast delivery and updates from suppliers. At work, they are not prepared to wait three days for a response from a supplier on, say, battery charging equipment that may be a health & safety issue for staff."

This has driven the recruitment policy at Fortis, with strong service ethos key, even more so than the traditional technical skills that get candidates in the door.