How To Source Batteries Amid Supply Chain Challenges
- How Proper Training Extends Battery Life
Battery operated jan/san equipment — think floor scrubbers, sweepers, carpet extractors, vacuums and more — offer bountiful benefits over their corded cousins. There’s no searching for an outlet, operators have the freedom to cover more ground, and most importantly, there’s no risk of tripping and falling over an electrical cord.
But all those benefits (and end user cleaning programs) are meaningless if distributors can’t find replacement batteries.
Early on, pandemic-related supply chain disruptions made it difficult to find batteries. Increasing competition from manufacturers of laptops, cell phones, gaming consoles, and electric vehicles now makes the task nearly impossible. Here’s how some distributors are fighting the odds, finding replacements and helping clients make the most of what’s available.
Battery Type Breakdown
Jan/san equipment utilizes several types of batteries, each with their own set of advantages and disadvantages.
This technology has been around the longest. Wet-flooded batteries are reliable, fast charging and relatively inexpensive. They are also high maintenance, requiring the frequent addition of distilled water in a process called “watering.” Caution: Overwatering can lead to a caustic, acidic solution leaking from the machine.
AGM and Gel
These sealed options are more expensive, but require less maintenance than wet-flooded batteries because they don’t require watering. These are also safer, as there’s no danger of spilling.
Both AGM and gel are slower to charge than wet-flooded batteries, and. Both are easily damaged if plugged in before they are discharged to optimum levels — known as opportunity charging. This shortens the lifespan of these batteries, which means frequent replacements.
These are the longest-lived choice, with a life expectancy of “about five years,” according to John Grier, general manager of ATRA Janitorial Supply, Pompton Plains, New Jersey. “Wet-flooded and AGM last between three to four years.” Maintenance-free, spill-proof and lightweight, lithium-ion batteries charge quickly and are not harmed by opportunity charging. They’re also the most expensive option — double or triple the price of other battery types.
There are other battery types, like thin plate pure lead, but no matter what distributors recommend, they all have one thing in common for now: they are increasingly difficult to source.
Any End in Sight?
Supply chain disruptions and high demand are just part of the reason batteries are in short supply. Sourcing the raw materials to make the batteries or the plastic for the battery housing is also challenging. As a result, Dennis Flaherty, vice president of sales at Tahoe Supply Company in Carson City, Nevada, likens finding a battery to sitting down at a roulette table.
“It’s very cyclical. We may have no problem finding one product today, but that can change next month,” he says.
Still, Flaherty is cautiously optimistic about when things will settle down.
“When it comes to batteries, I hope that by the middle to the end of the third quarter there will be more normalcy in the world,” he says. “But I’m not holding my breath.”
With the end of the battery shortage far off on the horizon, jan/san distributors have come up with a variety of strategies to keep their customers happy today. One approach relies on forecasting customer needs, instead of waiting until the purchase order is in hand.
“We understand our customers’ buying habits so we’re trying to order their supplies earlier,” says Grier.
He admits that acting as an intermediate warehouse puts more burden on his company, but explains why the risk is worth the expense.
“Many of our clients are school districts and they have to go through a long process to get a purchase order,” Grier says. “This way, the power is available for them right away when they need it.”
Joe Tehan, vice president of services and training at EBP Supply Solutions, Milford, Connecticut, a division of Imperial Dade, reports that his company is also keeping commonly used batteries in inventory and leveraging a national footprint of warehouses.
“We transfer as needed and share resources throughout the region to keep our customers in operation,” he says.
Tehan is also broadening his supplier list, sourcing from “multiple supplier partners, both OEM and aftermarket, when necessary,” he reports. It’s a common, but risky, strategy.
“I found a new battery manufacturer but I’m being extremely cautious,” adds Flaherty. “I built a reputation on quality and consistency, so until I have more history with this company, I won’t jump.”
Looking for new suppliers also risks stressing long-term relationships.
“We built a partnership with our suppliers,” says DJ Blasko, director of service, Brady IFS, Las Vegas. But necessity forced him to get scrappy and look at every battery manufacturing type to fill orders and limit customer frustrations.
The shortage has also necessitated other stopgap measures, like offering what’s available instead of what the customer usually purchases.
“For example, a particular battery may be out of stock, but a similar-size battery with lower amp hours may be available,” explains Tehan. “We’d explain to the customer that we have something that will work, but run-time may be a little shorter. Customers are pretty understanding.”
How Proper Training Extends Battery Life