Today, whilst the technology itself may be the same principle, the way in which is implemented has resulted in batteries of a sealed ‘non maintenance’ type, most commonly known as Valve Regulated Lead Acid (VRLA).
Valve Regulated Lead Acid or, VRLA Batteries are sealed for life, there is no topping up and only minimal maintenance is necessary. They are non-hazardous when used properly and can be used in most every day situations where power storage is required. There are 3 basic types AGM, GEL and Advanced AGEL. AGM provides economic high power solutions but are limited in terms of repeat cycle life. GEL provides good repeat cycle life but reduced power when compared to AGM and tends to be more expensive. AGEL combines the best of AGM and GEL providing high power and good repeat cycle life in one battery. The particular characteristics of each of these types of battery predict which applications they are most suited for, these are varied and many.
The market remains as robust as ever and is set to remain so for the foreseeable future due to confirmed and growing markets and not to mention its environmental credentials (SLA batteries are 100% recyclable). From a worldwide prospective, the lead acid battery market is estimated to be worth more than $30 billion (source – Frost & Sullivan) and is expected to increase further in line with power protection markets.
Major manufacturing companies operating within the UK VRLA Markets are as follows : Yuasa, Fiamm, Enersys, Exide, C&D & Power Batteries UK. Each has its own advantages within certain market segments, which will be detailed within the next section.
Political, Economic, Social & Demographic, & Technological Overview
The main suppliers to the UK market are as follows :
Yuasa – Global supplier of VRLA batteries, mainly manufactured in China to European specifications and standards. Yuasa are generally considered to be the most major and commonly known, and possesses the widest range of battery solutions including both industrial and automotive.
Fiamm – Global supplier of VRLA batteries, manufactured both in China and Italy. Historically have had a much larger profile within the European market rather than the UK (removing UK from Europe in this instance for the sake of argument) however, this has changed greatly in the over the last 5 years and Fiamm are now considered to be second only to Yuasa in the UK as far as industrial VRLA solutions are considered. This has taken place almost wholly within the 10-year design life offerings and is the result of competitive pricing coupled with a good reputation for service.
Enersys – Global supplier of VRLA batteries, manufactured in UK, Europe and Mexico. Is considered by many to be the ‘Rolls Royce’ of industrial batteries and have an excellent reputation for service life and reliability. Unfortunately, this comes with a considerable price and the Enersys product is normally reserved to ‘site critical, consultant specified’ site applications such as Power Stations, Oil Platforms and some Rail where cost is not such an issue.
Exide - Global supplier of VRLA batteries, manufactured mainly in Spain (though designed by German workforces). Much more commonly known as a motive battery supplier, Exide’s share of the Industrial VRLA market remains modest and though they were successful within telecom markets during the late 90’s via their GNB products this has proven to have lost momentum since the dot com boom of the same era.
C&D – A multi national supplier of VRLA batteries, manufactured in the United States, Mexico and China. Solid reputation for quality and service mainly derived from 10-year design life products.
Power Batteries – A multi national supplier of VRLA batteries, manufactured in the United States and Canada. Reputation for affordable products, however have had consistent problems with both quality and service over recent years, and failure to address this has resulted in a considerable loss in market share of late.
China Storage Battery (CSB) – Mainly offers 5 year product to European markets, good inroads with major OEM’s though little success through distributors due to lack of local presence, this may change in the future since opening facilities in Holland.
The Industrial VRLA market has enjoyed a solid demand market over the last 10 years within all market segments and this is widely expected to continue due to the slow infrastructure implementation to the national grid vs. growing UK power requirements which makes guaranteed mains power increasingly difficult.
Pricing position has been erratic over the last 5 years as a result of the fast rise in the price of lead and other raw materials due to the growth of world industrial markets and of course the economic growth of China. Most battery companies have had to add a ‘lead surcharge percentage’ to their products, which would change on a monthly basis in line with lead pricing on the London Metal Exchange. This has been an unpopular (though necessary) move with customers as it makes it difficult to hold pricing on end products for more than 30 days.
Thankfully, however, this situation has calmed considerably of late as raw material prices have dropped and most importantly, steadied, giving a stability are reliable expectation of pricing positions again. That said, there has, of late, been some difficulty with the euro/dollar vs. sterling exchange rates though this has proved relatively minor in comparison to the issues surrounding lead prices.
Social and Demographic
Power protection via battery systems is becoming an increasingly important, if not critical aspect to our day to day life, be it to protect and provide safe shutdown of IT equipment during a power outage via Uninterruptible Power Supplies (UPS), provide essential back up power to life safety systems including fire alarms and emergency lighting or any other application where power is required in the event of dislocation of the mains. Also, as technology becomes increasingly mobile and lightweight, batteries are required to power this equipment such as computer equipment, mobile phones, generator start up etc.
Batteries can be used by a huge demographic of users such as manufacturers and integration companies but also thereafter offers a replacement opportunity further down the line with maintenance companies (FM), end user companies and of course the general public where replacements are required for marine or golf trolley equipment for example.
Traditionally, the technological aspect of VRLA batteries has been very slow moving, though the manufacturing process has improved considerably offering improved reliability and consistency to the marketplace.
Casing provided are stronger, lighter and give off fewer poisonous fumes in the event of fire. Specifically, batteries build to BS6290 Part 4 standards offer not only a non halogenated FR casing (most commonly ABS materials) but also copper insert terminals, the intention being that the soft metal copper moulds around the interbloc connection bolt thus reducing the requirement to re torque the bolt over the live of the system.
This article was written by Emily Banham on behalf of Blue Box Batteries, who’s range of mobility batteries have been specifically designed with the high demands of the mobility scooter application in mind.