15. Caring for Your Batteries from Birth to Retirement
It is interesting to observe that batteries cared for by a single user generally last longer than those that operate in an open fleet system where everyone has access to, but no one is accountable for them. There are two distinct groups of battery users — the personal user and the fleet operator.
A personal user is one who operates a mobile phone, a laptop computer or a video camera for business or pleasure. He or she will most likely follow the recommended guidelines in caring for the battery. The user will get to know the irregularities of the battery. When the runtime gets low, the battery often gets serviced or replaced. Critical failures are rare because the owner adjusts to the performance of the battery and lowers expectations as the battery ages.
The fleet user, on the other hand, has little personal interest in the battery and is unlikely to tolerate a pack that is less than perfect. The fleet user simply grabs a battery from the charger and expects it to last through the shift. The battery is returned to the charger at the end of the day, ready for the next person. Little or no care is given to these batteries. Perhaps due to neglect, fleet batteries generally have a shorter service life than those in personal use.
How can fleet batteries be made to last longer? An interesting contrast in the handling of fleet batteries can be noted by comparing the practices of the US Army and the Dutch Army, both of which use fleet batteries. The US Army issues batteries with no maintenance program in place. If the battery fails, another pack is issued. Little or no care is given and the failure rate is high.
The Dutch Army, on the other hand, has moved away from the open fleet system by making the soldiers responsible for their batteries. This change was made in an attempt to reduce battery waste and improve reliability. The batteries are issued in the soldier’s name and the packs become part of their personal belongings. The results are startling. Since the Dutch Army adapted this new regime, the failure rate has dropped considerably and, at the same time, battery performance has increased. Unexpected down time has almost been eliminated.
It should be noted that the Dutch Army uses exclusively NiCd batteries. Each pack receives periodic maintenance to prolong service life. Weak batteries are systematically replaced. The US Army, on the other hand, uses NiMH batteries. They are evaluating the Li-ion polymer for the next generation battery.
Because of the high failure rate of fleet batteries and the uncertain situations such failures create, some organizations assign a person to maintain batteries. This person checks all batteries on a scheduled basis, exercises them for optimum service life, and replaces those that fall below an accepted capacity level and do not recover with maintenance programs. Batteries perform an important function; giving them the care they deserve is appropriate.