Flow-Rite’s new digital battery sensor “Battery Steward” is reawakening customers to its innovative roots that began nearly 40 years ago.
Warehousing facilities rely on forklift trucks to help move and ship products. These forklifts rely on industrial batteries to ensure fleets stay in service, productivity remains fluid, and downtime is minimized.
Flow-Rite designs and manufactures the fluid control systems for lead acid batteries and other products, and specifically serves industrial battery manufacturers.
Most of Flow-Rite’s customers have warehouse facilities managing up to 200 forklift trucks per day. With this multitude of batteries to maintain, it was not uncommon to miss or overlook a task that results in battery failure during critical times in their operations. Flow-Rite saw an opportunity to create a customized digital solution that would notify battery owners when watering and maintenance was required to improve the maintenance process and maximize battery life. As a result, delivering reliable batteries to keep forklifts operating properly to enable warehouse facilities to be productive and efficient.
To realize this opportunity, Flow-Rite needed to address two major challenges:
- Develop an electronic sensor with a cloud-connected app and web portal to simplify battery maintenance
- Show end users how this particular sensor shifts the knowledge burden from employees to a connected sensor to reduce downtime and maximize battery life
“IF THE BATTERY IN YOUR CAR FAILS, IT PREVENTS YOU FROM GETTING TO WORK AND DOING YOUR JOB. THE SAME IS TRUE WITH A FORKLIFT BATTERY IN A WAREHOUSE. IF BATTERIES FAIL, PEOPLE CANNOT DO THEIR JOBS.”
-Mark Herrema, Engineering Director, Flow-Rite
Asking the right questions reveal what’s truly desirable to customers
Through our research we learned that end users want to:
- Understand more accurately the health of their batteries
- Plan a better maintenance process with the help of real-time data
- Pivot from Excel spreadsheets, paper and email to track and update battery status to a digital solution
- Prevent battery failure that results from antiquated maintenance tracking issues
Many of Flow-Rites competitors had products that could collect data and point to why the battery failed after the failure occurred. Flow-Rite set out to create a new and innovative solution that provides real-time data and alerts that could help prevent battery failure. This would have a significant impact on maintaining a productive fleet of forklifts and avoiding stoppages before they become catastrophic events.
“WE’VE ALWAYS BEEN A MECHANICAL COMPANY THAT DIDN’T HAVE ELECTRONICS EXPERIENCE, AND WE KNEW WE HAD TO EXPAND OUTSIDE OF WHAT WE’VE TRADITIONALLY DONE. COMPANIES NOW SEE US AS AS A TECHNOLOGY COMPANY!”
-Mark Herrema, Engineering Director, Flow-Rite
Engineering solutions before products
With an electronics gap in Flow-Rite’s in-house talent, we were asked to develop circuitry that could go inside the battery. However, feasibility studies led us to a more cost-effective solution of creating circuitry through a metal probe that could penetrate the battery instead. We programmed the software and made a Wi-Fi/Bluetooth-enabled mobile app so that end users can check every battery’s status at any time with an encrypted login without having to go under the hood.
This technology affords end users to maximize the battery life of the lead acid battery space. In a battery that might typically last 2-3 years, planned and implemented maintenance via the sensor can extend the same battery to 4-5 years of life and realize a stronger return on investment of each battery.
Creating a distinctive, fail-safe design
We worked in tandem with Flow-Rite to develop a sensor that had plug-and-play usability that would work regardless of whether or not it was wired correctly by the battery owner. In addition to connected data going to the app, bright LED sensors supplemented the connected sensor and provided at-a-glance battery status for those still accustomed to performing manual checks. The green indicates proper levels while red signals that the battery needs to be filled. The intuitive design delivers a user experience that is simple and easily understood.
Battery Steward is a completely new product offering in Flow-Rite’s industry. Flow-Rite has seen significant interest in advance of the launch and is starting to open doors with new customers. So far, there have been significant end-user benefits that create greater efficiency and ROI:
- Reduced paperwork and greater efficiency with cloud-connected data accessible to entire team
- Access to instant battery performance data via mobile app and under the hood with LED sensors
- Planned group maintenance of batteries to minimize service downtime
- Extended battery life through proper maintenance and stronger ROI on batteries
Measures real-time ambient battery temperature
Records every watering event with date and time
Monitors battery usage time and battery draw
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