12. Battery Maintenance Equipment
With the increasing volume of batteries in circulation, battery manufacturing is outpacing the supply of suitable equipment to test these packs. This void is especially apparent in the mobile phone market where large quantities of batteries are being replaced under warranty without checking or attempting to restore them. The dealers are simply not equipped to handle the influx of returned batteries, neither is the staff trained to perform this task on a customer service level. Testing and conditioning these batteries is a complex procedure that lies outside the capabilities of most customer service clerks.
With the move to maintenance-free batteries and the need to test larger numbers of batteries, the function of battery test equipment is changing. Lengthy cycling is giving way to quick testing, improved battery preparation and better customer service. This shift in priority is especially apparent in the rapidly growing consumer market. In this chapter we examine modern battery analyzers and how they adapt to the changing needs of battery service.
12.1 Conditioning Chargers
Charging batteries is often not enough, especially when it comes to nickel-based chemistries. Periodic maintenance is needed to optimize battery life. Some innovative manufacturers offer chargers with conditioning features. The most basic charger models feature one or several bays with discharge opportunity. More advanced chargers include a display to reveal the capacity.
Some chargers offer pulse charge methods. This is done to improve charge efficiency and reduce the memory phenomenon on nickel-based batteries. Optimal charge performance is achieved by using a pulse charge that intersperses discharge pulses between charge pulses. Commonly referred to as ‘burp’ or ‘reverse load’ charge, this charge method promotes high surface area on the electrodes and helps in the recombination of the gases generated during charge.
Some manufacturers claim that the pulse charge method conditions and restores NiCd batteries and makes the periodic discharges redundant. Research carried out by the US Army has revealed that pulse charging does reduce the crystalline formation on the NiCd battery. If properly administered, batteries charged with these pulse chargers prolong service life. For batteries with advanced memory, however, the pulse charge method alone is not sufficient and a full discharge or recondition cycle is needed to break down the more stubborn crystalline formation.