Vol. 22   No. 1
March 2016
  • MGE Talks Business
News Briefs

Electric forklifts handle the load for GE Healthcare

Electric forklifts handle the load for GE Healthcare

Ross Hansen of GE Healthcare operating an electric forklift at GE Healthcare in Madison.

Debating the switch to electric forklifts? Mark Wolfe, maintenance supervisor for GE Healthcare in Madison, Wis., said, "After 25 years, I can't imagine using anything else." Wolfe isn't alone. The Electric Power Research Institute says 64% of the U.S. forklift market is electric.

Why do businesses use electric forklifts?

Lower operating costs

The initial price is higher—20% to 30% higher for forklifts used outdoors and 10% to 20% higher for those used indoors—but operating costs are lower.

"At GE Healthcare, ROI is always part of the equation when we're making equipment decisions, and these forklifts made the cut," Wolf said.

GE Healthcare has six electric forklifts at its 212,000-square-foot manufacturing plant, plus one liquid propane (LP) forklift for outdoor use. "We might replace that with an electric forklift when it's time," Wolfe said. "Speed and lifting capacity are no longer concerns with electric forklifts. Many now have enclosed motors and electronic systems."

Savings come from:

  • Fuel. Roughly 70% to 80% lower fuel costs for electric vs. internal combustion engines.
  • Maintenance expenses. "Propane forklifts have the repair issues of an internal-combustion engine," Wolfe said. Forklift manufacturer Yale says electric forklifts usually have 40% lower maintenance costs. "The batteries seem to last forever," Wolfe said. "It's not uncommon to get 15 years out of them."
  • Employee productivity. Employees spend less time refueling. Instead of swapping out heavy fuel tanks—weighing about 33 pounds—they drive up and plug in. Battery charges typically last for at least a shift.
  • Reliability. GE Healthcare reports electric forklifts are seldom out of service.

Improved employee comfort and safety

"I've worked in a company with LP forklifts, and it's not fun," said Ross Hansen, a material handler at GE Healthcare. "The fumes are terrible, there's a lot of vibration and the forklifts are noisier."

Safety can be a concern too. "With propane, there are issues related to storage and lifting the tanks," Hansen said. "Electric forklifts eliminate those worries."

No emissions

Battery power provides a healthier workplace for employees and reduces ventilation costs. And there's no fume damage to items stored or used in the warehouse.

Good lifting capacity and performance standards

Electric forklifts deliver performance that meets—or exceeds—propane units.

GE Healthcare's forklifts range from 24 to 48 volts with a lifting capacity up to 3,500 pounds. The lifts can accommodate high stacking, and their streamlined size works well in narrow aisles.

Yale reports new electric lifts travel about 40% faster than earlier models and provide good acceleration rates.

GE Healthcare electric forklifts

  • Number of units: 6
  • Voltage: 24 volt (4), 36 volt (1), 48 volt (1)
  • Carrying capacity: 0 to 3,500 lbs.
  • Mast height: 0 to 20 ft.

But what about battery charging?

Costs aside, concerns about battery recharging still linger.

"It isn't an issue," said Mark Wolfe, the maintenance supervisor for GE Healthcare in Madison, Wis. "Our forklifts typically operate for 8 to 12 hours without charging. Then we charge overnight."

Businesses with round-the-clock operations use fast-charging and/or opportunity charging. Fast-charging allows multi-shift operations to do a partial charge during breaks. It can fully charge the battery in approximately 1.5 hours. Fast-charging can replace older systems that required a charging room and a stock of extra batteries to swap out during charging.

Also, high speed chargers are about 90% efficient for increased energy savings.

Today's charging stations take up minimal space in the warehouse (the charging unit can even be wall-mounted). The operator drives to the unit and plugs in.

Do electric forklifts make sense for outdoor applications?

Electric forklifts had disadvantages in an outdoor setting, including concerns about weight limits, speed and the ability to function in inclement weather. Now speed and lift capabilities are often as good—or better—than those of combustion engines. Many lifts have enclosed motors and electronic systems that eliminate problems with inclement weather and heavy dust. They're available with pneumatic tires for outdoor use and improved handling on rough surfaces.

The Electric Power Research Institute conducted outdoor studies with electric forklifts and found:

  • They operated in cold, rain, heat and high humidity.
  • No problems on outdoor work surfaces including asphalt, concrete and unfinished.
  • Performance was good on ramps.

Ready to switch to electric?

Check out this handy calculator, courtesy of the Electric Power Research Institute: http://et.epri.com/Calculators.html. Or call our Business Energy Line at 252-7007 for more information.