'Is lithium the complete solution?' asks EBT
29 March 2018
Battery specialist ECOBAT Battery Technologies (EBT), has raised the concern that the increased use of lithium-ion batteries in forklifts may not be the utopia that many are suggesting. HSS editor Simon Duddy recently met with EBT Industrial to talk batteries.
“End users switching to lithium powered batteries could be lulled into thinking their battery responsibilities are over,” says Derek Anderson, strategic director, “which, no matter how good the battery solution, is never going to be the reality. There is also the issue of control, as forklift manufacturers prefer to service their own products.
“There is no doubt, that in some circumstances, lithium is a great solution. However, if there is a lack of competition for the service element, in the long term, that could potentially lead to higher prices for customers.”
EBT Industrial is an independent battery supplier and service provider that has made its name by adding value to end users by boosting the performance of their battery solutions.
“Clearly it’s attractive to end users when they are offered their forklifts at a set monthly fee and the implication that all the problems are taken away. But as we know, due to the real-world use of the typical forklift, it doesn’t always work like that. Will lithium really take all of the customer’s problems away? Compared to traditional battery technology, it’s still in its infancy and there are so many variables, so it’s a big ask.”
“Due to the software involved in the battery management system of a lithium powered forklift, not everyone will be able to work on the battery for example. In the automotive sector there are protocols in place via Block Exemption Regulation, allowing independent dealers access to manufacturer developed systems, but so far, that isn’t the case with forklifts,” says Derek.
While EBT Industrial says it is currently not investing heavily in lithium-ion, it recognises the need to be a part of it and has plans to bring its own lithium-ion pack to market by the end of the year.
“As our business is built on providing the most appropriate solution for our customers’ requirements, we need to ensure sure we’ve got the right lithium package,” explains Ingrid Anderson, operations director. “As a service provider, we do not need to be first to market and would rather be a fast follower with the right product, than an early adopter with an unproven offering.”
Derek adds that lithium technologies are unlikely to mean ‘job done’ for batteries.
“We think customers will always need a battery specialist as it is a chemical process, so there’s always variance. In addition, there is room for technology that is in between lithium and lead-acid. There is a big gap for lead crystal for example, a pure lead technology that performs well against lithium and can recharge in 2-3 hours, is maintenance free and is considerably less expensive. So, a good thing about the growth in lithium, is that it has made everyone raise their game, and now there is a very wide range of useful solutions for customers.”
EBT Industrial sees its key strengths as offering a comprehensive and customer focussed, aftermarket and OE service.
Ingrid says: “We are here to provide support all through the contract and can help customers extend the life of their forklifts for a few extra years beyond the traditional five years.
“We offer truly national coverage, with 13 depots across the country and our own staff, which is key in applying a uniform service and so don’t use subcontractors at all. This is especially important for the larger, corporate customer.”
Lead-acid batteries are 99%+ recyclable and as a manufacturer and recycler of lead, the ECOBAT group also offers a closed loop recycling solution, which allows EBT to provide a full solution to larger customers, who are very aware of the lifecycle of products.
Derek concludes: “As part of the larger ECOBAT group, we can take on large contracts with confidence. Our stock availability is great and we can offer a battery for delivery next day. In the aftercare market, you’ve got to have stock and qualified service engineers, this allows us to provide the solutions our customers really need.”