When it comes to deciding electrification needs, OEMs can go by a few best practices to help them choose the best path to take.
By Mourad Chergui
The rapid, ongoing electrification of lift equipment and machinery represents a fundamental shift in how society is progressing toward a sustainable future.
As a result, electrification also represents an emerging business opportunity for original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) comparable to the development of steam and internal combustion engines.
Technology pioneers must contend with both anticipated and unfamiliar challenges that complicate their chances of market entry success.
To that end, the following best practices serve to orient OEMs along their electrification journey.
Pioneering requires partnerships. Those who sought to explore territory unfamiliar to themselves trusted in shared knowledge—combining their own experiences with previously trod migratory paths or more knowledgeable guides.
OEMs pursuing electrification and new technologies must similarly seek out partners to share and combine their collective information, insight, and capabilities.
Although goals will be familiar, methods such as component procurement or testing procedures and regulatory compliance will differ.
For example, OEMs may need to outfit electric lift equipment with AC-fast-charging capabilities to support expected operating and charging schedules.
This would necessitate electric vehicle supply equipment (EVSE) that conforms to the SAE J1772 and IEC 61851 standards for North America and Europe, respectively.
Additionally, the traction battery pack is often the most expensive sub-system on lift equipment.
Alongside quality and reliability, OEMs need to ensure that the charger supplier has the capabilities and experience to provide a charging algorithm that is optimized for the best vehicle performance while preserving battery pack longevity.
Batteries, although functionally similar, are built differently and require tailored charging processes to each specific type, brand, and size.
Parameters such as charge rate, charge voltages, temperature, overcharging, and undercharging lead to battery life shortening if not properly set up.
Optimized charging algorithms protect and prolong the lifespan of the battery to get the most out of this investment.
OEMs that presume they can navigate these challenges without assistance may do so successfully, but not without significant trial and error (and the associated costs).
The electric lift equipment OEMs manufacture should be purpose-built for their intended application, as significant engineering decisions will be determined accordingly. OEMs should not treat powertrains as “bolted-on” powerplants, as they are systems designed for integrated use with a specific machine that performs a specific job.
Important considerations for lift equipment include exposure to hazardous chemicals and indoor or outdoor usage (i.e., where thermal shock and exposure to moisture/dust debris will be more prevalent).
OEMs should evaluate whether wireless charging methods with sealed components will be essential for safe, effective, long-term operation despite higher costs and lower charging efficiency over contact-based connections.
Likewise, on-board charging may be necessary for lift equipment that doesn’t remain at one facility (e.g., rentals) or covers significant ground during operation.
On-board charging systems help prevent lost or damaged equipment during transport and minimize downtime with “opportunity charging” capabilities.
At the same time, if the industry or OEMs require on-board charging, it will affect size, weight, and configuration limitations.
OEMs must start from these types of application considerations to determine which electric powertrains and associated systems will provide the best performance.
Although electric lift equipment and their powertrains should be purpose-built, applying similar rigidity to component selection will prove more of a market entry hindrance.
Particularly for low and mid-size applications, OEMs can generally rely on more commonly available components that ease their supply chains and production costs, along with lowering fleet owners’ total cost of ownership (TCO) and maintenance difficulties.
With the use of high-quality, commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) components, OEMs can benefit from reliable procurement and supply chain resilience.
Moreover, fleet owners can more easily find replacement parts and servicing locations (i.e. minimizing downtime and service costs).
Additionally, using common components and systems across different lift equipment provides obvious procurement and inventory benefits—perhaps more than many OEMs realize.
Consider different models that require varying charging capabilities or if OEMs want to provide “premium upgrades” like faster charging.
A modular—or “stackable”—charging system would seamlessly enable this by installing multiple chargers that operate together.
Perhaps one machine only needs the capability of a single charger, whereas another needs three units for three times the charging power.
Or, the “premium” model can feature an additional charger to significantly decrease charging times. With a modular charging system, only one SKU needs to be procured or stocked.
The market is primed for electric lift equipment.
However, while there may be fewer changes for operators, fleet managers and maintenance personnel will likely need training on how to care for the machines to best ensure expected lifespans and minimized ownership costs.
This will include information like:
• The optimal number of charging stations and their placement for certain fleet sizes and facility areas
• Charging frequency and length, and ensuring proper connections
• Monitoring telematics data for warning signs and system failures
There may persist some adoption hesitancy due to erroneous concerns over power output, charge times, and similar concerns that no longer hold true.
Though these reservations continually diminish, OEMs may need to actively counter some of the remaining sentiments.
These educational opportunities also represent a chance for OEMs to communicate the unique selling points of their machinery and equipment (compared to both ICE powertrains and other electric market entries) and demonstrate their seriousness around sustainability.
Despite lift equipment and other industries’ electrification already being underway, developments emerge constantly.
As progress continues, greater technological and capability improvements will be forthcoming, and OEMs that adopt short-term perspectives will experience negative impacts.
For example, whereas lead-acid battery solutions have historically offered a strong short-term economical edge, innovations in lithium-ion-based solutions are demonstrating increasing efficiency—to the point of achieving operational cost-parity with lead-acid, but with vastly improved performance.
While lead-acid solutions simply electrify, lithium-ion lays a foundation for additional improvements, such as battery management systems (BMS) integrated into the very framework of high-power application equipment.
For OEMs seeking a long-term (and ultimately higher) return on their investment, opting for fleets of lead-acid-powered equipment may limit future applications and cost-saving advancements already well in development.
This is another instance where collaborative partnerships will be critical for understanding current technological developments and adjusting long-term timelines accordingly.
Electrifying Lift Equipment
The electrification of lift equipment certainly consists of more difficult challenges than modularly swapping internal combustion engines for electric powertrains.
New engineering, supply chain considerations, education, and future planning await those who take to this trail.
Yet as developments progress and adapt from smaller-scale applications and different sectors to their high-power counterparts, there’s already a wealth of insights.
Much of it was gleaned through listening to fleet owners’ application challenges and working with the right partners to help OEMs successfully make the transition.
Mourad Chergui is a senior product manager at Delta-Q Technologies.