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DCPower Batteries & Foodstuffs North Island

In the words of Henry Ford: “Coming together is a beginning, keeping together is progress, working together is success”. This certainly is true for DCPower Batteries and Foodstuffs North Island, two New Zealand businesses who share an enduring relationship dating back prior to 2005.

DCPower, a small family business based in Palmerston North have proven their worth as a small fish in a big pond – offering an unrivalled level of battery knowledge and expertise to the grocery giant, that has undoubtedly contributed to smooth operations and significant environmental gains for Foodstuffs cutting-edge distribution centers around the North Island.

The partnership has ensured the ongoing success of Foodstuffs, as the needs of the business have grown over time from single shift to a now 24/7 (three shift) operation resulting in increasing pressure on the company’s materials handling equipment. This more intense operation presents a challenge to balance the needs of the business with an acceptable return on investment: minimizing downtime whilst still achieving an acceptable performance from the Foodstuffs forklift battery fleet which can hold an average value of $8,000 each.

15 years ago, Foodstuffs were operating with traditional flooded lead-acid batteries. Whilst great for the environment – they are 99% recyclable – flooded batteries require intensive maintenance and adequate charging time (a minimum of 8 out of every 24 hours). Back then, it was not uncommon to purchase two batteries for every machine in order to ensure each battery could be appropriately maintained. This also necessitated a ventilated battery room, access to filtered water and, in most cases, costly battery-changing equipment.

In 2010, with Foodstuffs operating on a 2-shift basis DCPower Batteries pioneered a trial at Foodstuffs Roberts Line Distribution Centre using new lead-acid technology – in which the internal electrolyte is a gel substance, rather than liquid (a combination of acid and water). The purpose of the trial was to find a solution that fulfilled Foodstuffs’ evolving operational requirements whilst simultaneously providing environmental and financial gains to the business.

DCPower Batteries primarily selected the gel technology as these batteries do not require watering, they recharge more efficiently, and they are far less labour intensive. This type of battery also opened the door to “opportunity charging” – a concept that allows the user to forgo the purchase of a second battery altogether, instead using the opportunities available during the day (e.g. shift changes & lunch breaks) in which to charge the battery with a single ‘full’ charge occurring overnight.

The 4-year trial was so successful that most of the gel batteries involved far exceeded their predicted service life of 3 years, with several still in operation today!

Data collected during the period proved that switching five hundred 24V batteries from flooded to gel technology saves 455,000 liters of water and 15,166 hours of maintenance – the equivalent of 5 full-time staff – per year! In addition, the switch completely eliminates the 65,738 liters per hour of the potentially harmful hydrogen emissions that a flooded battery fleet generates!

Fast forward to today, and the operational needs of Foodstuffs have changed again, with most sites (including the new Landing Drive Distribution Centre) primarily running a 24/7, 3-shift operation. The downside is that there is very little charging time available on any given day. Such operation is not well suited to any lead-acid technology; so DCPower are at it again with another trial – this time using lithium-ion LiFePO4 (lithium iron phosphate) batteries which offer extended longevity and superior safety. Whilst still comparatively new to the market, lithium offers many of the same benefits as lead-acid gel but with the added advantage of the ability to recharge fully in less than 110 minutes per day. Gone are the days whereby a company needs 2 or 3 separate batteries to fulfil this requirement!

Safe disposal methods for lithium are still in development, however, the manufacturer of the trial lithium batteries (Systems Sunlight) is offering a disposal scheme whereby used lithium forklift batteries can be returned for recycling, refurbishment or for retirement (where they can be refurbished and used again in much gentler standby applications).

DCPower Batteries have not only championed the introduction of this new technology, their open minds and innovate approach have also seen other developments come to light. In 2015, based on feedback from Foodstuffs, DCPower developed a unique plugging mechanism designed to incorporate 2 charging steps in to one. The QPlug was designed and built in-house and included some battery modifications that were made at factory-level. It is in use with all Foodstuffs gel batteries today. Adopting the QPlug reduced downtime and the incidence of damage, and virtually eliminated the potential for human error.

“We understand how busy these warehouses are, and how quickly business evolves. Time is precious, so we wanted to make sure that staff are able to safely and easily charge the batteries with minimal downtime and difficulty” said GM, Sarah Laurence.

“We have supplied Foodstuffs North Island a total of 130 new gel forklift batteries for their new Landing Drive Distribution Centre, and we are hopeful to roll out more lithium batteries in the near future” says Laurence.

Since 2012, DCPower Batteries has supplied 679 forklift batteries and 358 chargers to Foodstuffs North Island. “We are proud of our strong partnership with Foodstuffs, and the progress we have made during the last decade” DCPower looks forward to their continued relationship with Foodstuffs who align with their core values of integrity, family matters and customer commitment.