Electric powered material handling vehicles have been used in automotive plants for years: they're cleaner, more efficient and require less maintenance than internal combustion ones. However, operating electric vehicles meant large, heavy batteries had to be exchanged once a shift. Recharging required up to twelve hours per battery, which meant 2.5 batteries per truck. A plant with 100 trucks would need 250 batteries to store, charge, maintain, and exchange, requiring specialized battery rooms spanning several thousand square feet of centrally located floor space.
In the mid 1990s electric automobiles were being developed for an anticipated California ZEV mandate. For electric cars to be commercially viable, charge times had to be reduced significantly from the eight hours it then took. PosiCharge met this requirement with a high power, computer-controlled battery charger that took as little as 15 minutes. Ford Motor Company became aware of this technology and envisioned its use to re-power material handling vehicles used in high volume manufacturing.
In 1998 Ford's Industrial Vehicle Engineering team started investigating fast charging by testing prototype systems on forklifts. Trials using production level chargers were begun at several Ford locations, leading to technology enhancements needed in a manufacturing environment (e.g. the ability to use multiple short charges in place of one long-duration charge). Validating enhancements using PosiCharge systems was managed systematically by reviewing and evaluating impact and benefits. Reviews included pilot applications under many usage and plant conditions. Industrial hygiene tests were done to confirm that PosiCharge controls properly managed battery gassing (to avoid any health or safety risks to employees). Systematic effort went into effective and open communication of the technology and positive relations with the plant workforce.
By 2001 Ford had enough experience across a broad range of applications to feel confident converting an entire facility to PosiCharge's fast charge technology. This first plant-wide implementation was at Ford's Oakville, Ontario, assembly plant. After launching PosiCharge, the battery room was demolished and the floor space used for production tooling for the new vehicle line being launched at the facility.
Fast charging technology eliminated the need for battery exchanges, reduced battery inventory by nearly 60 per cent, and eliminated the battery room, regaining valuable central factory space. In addition, driver/operators are not required to leave their work areas to recharge batteries, contributing to a safer work environment.
The validation of fast charging led Ford to launch an enterprise-wide program to convert all operations to innovative PosiCharge technology. The collaborative guidance Ford gave their supplier is noteworthy, and is the basis of this award.