Electric forklifts, also known as lift trucks, are workhorses for material handling, and they run on either lead-acid batteries or lithium-ion batteries. Regardless of type, forklift battery charging should be performed when the battery is down to 20 to 30 percent of capacity to lengthen the life of your electric forklift battery charger.
You can either charge the batteries directly in the forklift or remove and replace them. Although it sounds like a straightforward process, handling batteries, especially lead-acid ones, can be extremely dangerous, putting you at risk of burns from the sulfuric acid in the battery, exposure to toxic fumes, or other hazards. Batteries should therefore only be handled—carefully and skillfully—by a person who has sufficient training.
To keep you and your job site safe from hazards, this post offers a step-by-step process for charging forklift batteries properly and gives you ways to maintain your battery to extend its life.
How to Charge a Forklift Battery
A forklift runs on heavy-duty batteries that can perform for several years if you practice routine maintenance and proper care. If you do not already have experience handling forklift batteries, there are important steps to learn to work with them safely. It helps to follow a standard process, outlined here.
1. Park the Forklift in a Safe Charging Area
Every site that uses a forklift should have a safe charging station. Regardless of whether you plan to charge the battery in the forklift or take it out and charge it in a separate area, you must park your forklift, position it properly, use the parking brake, and turn off the forklift.
Any area where you’ll be charging forklift batteries should have good ventilation. An improperly ventilated charging area can lead to a build-up of hydrogen gas, which is highly dangerous. The charging area should also have proper fire protection and a way to flush out electrolyte if it spills during a battery change.
2. Wear Appropriate Protective Clothing
Handling a forklift battery exposes you to several risks that you can lessen through protective clothing. To lessen the risk of electrocution while charging, be sure you remove any metal jewelry. To guard yourself against acid splashes or corrosive burns from a lead-acid forklift battery, be sure you wear personal protective equipment (PPE), such as face shields, safety glasses, rubber gloves, and an apron. In case of an accident, be sure and have medical supplies, such as eyewash, and a fire extinguisher on hand.
3. Disconnect the Battery Cable from the Forklift
Open the seat to expose the battery and disconnect the battery cable from the forklift. This allows you to plug the forklift battery charger into the battery. Before doing so, ensure all the cables are in good condition and there is no visible damage. If needed, remove the battery from the forklift, taking proper precautions.
4. Connect the Charging Cable to the Battery
Connect the charger to the battery. Note that the battery amp hours—the amount of current a forklift’s battery can produce in an hour, which you’ll see on the data tag—should match the charging cable amp hours. The charger and the battery should also have the same output, measured in volts.
5. Charge the Battery for the Appropriate Duration
There are three ways to charge your batteries: through conventional charging, opportunity charging, and fast charging. These are all described in the following sections. Which method you choose will depend on factors including how much downtime the battery will have before it’s used again and what your priorities are in terms of battery lifespan.
Also, check when the manufacturer suggests that you equalize charge the battery—which means overcharging it to remove any build-up of sulfate.
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