Liftgates are an important tool in protecting workers from injuries and ensuring cargo goes undamaged. They can, however, quickly drain the auxiliary batteries used to operate them.
For the batteries to last the entire day, drivers are forced to leave their trucks idling during loading and unloading in order to keep the alternator spinning and charging. In addition to costing fleets big on wasted fuel, idling contributes to air pollution and violates government codes in several municipalities.
However, if drivers do not idle their trucks, they risk their liftgates draining both the liftgate batteries and starter batteries, leading to inoperable liftgates and dead trucks. This results in costly service calls and delayed deliveries.
This Catch-22 is only exacerbated by all the digital tools — including high-tech transportation management systems (TMS) — installed in modern trucks. These tools also rely on electricity to run, straining trucks’ alternators even more.
“All the things on a truck now drain huge amounts of power, and engine-mounted alternators alone cannot keep up with that energy demand,” Blackburn Energy Founder and CEO Andrew Amigo said. “Blackburn’s high-efficiency charging system doubles the truck’s charging capacity right away.”
Battery-recharging issues are well known among fleets using trucks with liftgates. Often there is not enough power in the liftgate batteries to carry out a full duty cycle without engine idling.
Dead batteries or engine idling?
A liftgate truck driver may make 10-15 stops per day and operate the gate six to 10 times per stop. Especially in urban areas, each stop may be as close as 1 mile apart. This leaves little time for the engine alternator to recharge the batteries. As a result, the liftgate batteries may become completely depleted by the end of the day, or even sooner.
For fleets without a dedicated charging solution like RelGen, inefficient and costly engine idling is necessary to have enough power to operate the liftgate multiple times throughout the day. Anti-idling laws and regulations can put fleets in tricky dilemmas: Do you comply with the laws and risk problems with your trucks or do you risk fines and factor in additional maintenance and fuel costs?
Low voltage leads to liftgate failure
Anywhere from 60% to 75% of issues with liftgates are electrical, with the majority of these issues being tied to low voltage. Chronic low voltage can cause your gate to operate slowly, which lengthens delivery times. It can also cause premature failure of solenoid switches, motors and batteries.
Since the liftgate batteries are tied to your starter batteries, when they die, so does your truck. This is the dreaded dead truck, also known as a “stuck truck.” The dead truck may be blocking traffic, a loading dock or zone, or stuck in a lot where other trucks are trying to get in and out, etc. Either a rescue vehicle needs to be sent out to recharge batteries to the point when the engine can turn over or your truck will need an expensive tow. Fleet owners need to pull the truck out of service, resulting in disrupted supply chains.
Practices to increase uptime and extend liftgate life
Preventative maintenance on your liftgates are important to your business. Short of having a dedicated charging system like RelGen on your trucks, you can do a number of things to help yourself out here:
1. Make sure you have the right cabling on the truck
Use of improperly sized cables is a common mistake that can make liftgate charging issues worse. There are two factors to consider when determining proper cable size: cable width and cable length. Smaller-gauge cables resist more flow of electrical charge from the engine alternator, as do long cables, limiting the amount of charge that can reach the batteries and making voltage problems worse. The longer the run of cable, the larger your cable gauge should be; otherwise you end up with large voltage drops and excess heat in your cabling.
Blackburn recommends using 3/0 AWG to connect your starter batteries to your liftgate motor or liftgate batteries to increase the flow of electrical charge from the engine alternator. Check your cabling to see if it’s properly sized to handle your liftgate’s power requirements.
2. Check all of your terminals and connections
It is good practice to check your electrical system for loose connections and corrosion every three to six months. Ensure all connections are tight and visually inspect all terminals for any signs of corrosion. Either of these can impede the flow of electricity to the batteries.
It is also important to check for exposed wire — a gap can develop between the lug and the cable jacket, allowing moisture to get into the cable’s copper stranding and leading to internal corrosion. And most importantly, make sure all your grounds are good.
3. Use a multimeter to check for voltage drop
If your liftgate is experiencing operational issues, have your technicians check the electrical system for the source of the problem. The circuit will need to be energized in order to perform this voltage drop check. Have one technician operate the liftgate while another technician places the multimeter probes across each part of the circuit. The voltmeter will measure the voltage drop across each section and help determine which cable or terminal is causing the problem.
4. Load test the batteries
Test the health of the batteries that are powering the liftgate with a load tester or battery-charging device often and replace them at the first sign of trouble. If you don’t have a dedicated charging system source, you should anticipate that your liftgate batteries experience capacity “walkdown,” resulting in premature battery failure. Chronic under-charging will shorten the life of your batteries. At the end of a battery’s life you will experience more mechanical breakdowns. Load testing batteries and replacing unhealthy ones earlier will help to prevent breakdowns.
5. Check the solenoids on the liftgate
If the batteries are consistently running at a lower voltage, it can wear out the hydraulic power equipment on the liftgate quicker. The motors can overheat and the solenoids can chatter, shortening the operational life of both of these essential liftgate components. Without a dedicated charging system, you should check the solenoids on the liftgate itself because they can damage from chronic low voltage in the batteries.
If maintaining fully operational liftgates on your trailers or box trucks is essential to your business, adopting some of these suggestions can help keep your liftgates operating at peak performance. If you are looking for a total battery-recharging solution, RelGen offers the fastest recharging capabilities on the market today.
In an effort to eliminate idling and keep trucks on the road, Blackburn developed RelGen, a kinetic energy recovery system that captures energy of the rotating driveshaft, creates electricity and charges truck batteries (standard or auxiliary) while the truck is in motion. That energy can then be used by the liftgate or other accessories when the truck is stopped.
“Most systems out there just try to optimize existing electricity, but Blackburn is different because it creates more energy, Maxon Liftgates Chief Marketing Officer Anton Griessner said. “This makes them unique. Sometimes a company just does not have enough energy.”
The solution means drivers don’t need to idle their engines to keep liftgates performing well, batteries charged and deliveries running smoothly.
The RelGen product can produce power in a closed loop system to both 12-volt and 48-volt configurations, allowing manufacturers and fleets access to higher voltages without integrating a full multi-volt system.