Supplying batteries since 1952

TRADE TALK FEBRUARY ISSUE

Written on February 21, 2013 at 3:08 pm

Introduction

Manbat is one of the names that has been spoken within the aftermarket for as long as anyone can remember and the company’s reputation for quality products and good old-fashioned service remains as strong today as it was in 1952, when the business was founded.

Originally named Manchester Batteries when Harry Pemberton started trading from Turnpike Cottages in Abergele, South Wales, the business remained in the Pemberton family until 2009. During that period the company grew steadily, establishing itself as a business committed to providing its customers with top quality products that are supported by exceptional customer service.

In 2009 Roger Pemberton retired as Manbat’s managing director and Steve Sheppard took the helm as the company started a new era under the ownership of the Eco-Bat Technologies group.

As part of this global organisation, Manbat has been able to expand its operation even more rapidly and add new elements to the business that have continued to benefit its customers. Two notable examples include its move into a 2,880m2 distribution centre in Shrewsbury, which has ensured excellent product availability and the acquisition of Battery Power Systems Ltd, a nationwide industrial battery specialist that has brought a new customer base to the company and opened additional opportunities to those wishing to expand their existing battery specialism.

Another major benefit of being part of this worldwide organisation is that Manbat is part of what it describes as its ‘closed loop’ recycling programme. This initiative results from the fact that within the Eco-Bat group there are businesses that deal with every aspect of the battery supply and recycling business. These include Manbat that obviously sells and distributes batteries, but also those that collect and disassemble batteries and those that recycle the batteries from their constituent parts and resupply them into a multitude of sectors. So the lead is supplied as ingots for the battery manufacturing industry or as wire, shot or strip for various industries. Other by-products like gypsum, which comes from the treatment of sulphuric acid or polypropylene, which comes from recycled battery cases are also highly sought after.

When it comes to the brands in the Manbat portfolio, few companies can even come close to the quality, availability or variety offered. These include VARTA® for which it is the UK’s primary distributor and with whom they are in the process of introducing the VSSP 2.0 start-stop battery tester and diagnostic tool, as well as the Numax and Lucas range.

Manbat introduced its Numax brand in 2002 and over the last decade the brand has become a significant player within the automotive sector whilst also establishing itself as the UK’s premier range of leisure and marine batteries.

As a major European battery business Manbat has considerable buying power and is therefore also able to commit to original equipment standard battery production in sufficient quantities to offer the market a comprehensive range of good quality automotive and commercial vehicle batteries at extremely competitive prices.

In addition, Manbat is the sole UK distributor for the Lucas range of batteries and it has been instrumental in the revival of the brand since it won the distribution contract in 2009. As a trusted partner, Manbat was responsible for the recent rebranding of the automotive and commercial vehicle range, which was undertaken to coincide with its debut at Automechanika in Frankfurt.

In summary, Manbat provides its customers with a complete range of products that can cater for every conceivable power storage requirement. In addition to this unchallenged level of battery supply, it gives them sound advice, reliable waste collection, environmentally responsible recycling processes and excellent marketing support, with a level of customer service that only an established business with a great reputation can deliver.

Testing Procedures For Flooded Batteries

Despite the obvious development in battery technology, particularly in the use of AGM batteries in micro hybrid or Start-Stop vehicles, it is still the traditional ‘flooded’ lead acid battery that makes up the bulk of sales, so it is for these batteries that the following principles apply.

Preparation

Remember the phrase ‘safety first’ so always wear goggles, rubber gloves, and a rubber apron and ensure that the maintenance is carried out in a well-ventilated area. Always follow the correct handling protocols when lifting or moving batteries, so keep a straight back and if in any doubt seek assistance from a colleague. Never smoke or use a naked flame when around batteries.

Inspection

Examine the outside of the battery, looking for cracks in the case and ensure that the posts and connections are free of dirt, fluids and corrosion. Any fluids on or near to the battery could indicate that the electrolyte is spilling or leaking out of the battery. Spilt electrolyte can cause serious damage, so cannot be ignored.

Open Circuit Voltage Testing

It must be noted that to gain an accurate voltage reading, batteries must have been idle for at least 6 hours prior to testing.

Disconnect all loads from the battery and measure the voltage with a DC voltmeter. Consult the table below for the state of charge and charge the battery if it is 80% or less of its full capacity.

Specific Gravity Testing

Do not add water to the cells prior to testing the specific gravity.

Fill and drain the hydrometer three or four times prior to testing and then ensure that you have enough sample electrolyte in the hydrometer to completely support the float, keep the pipe submerged in the electrolyte.

Take a reading, and return the electrolyte to each cell after testing. The readings should be between 1270 and 1280. If any of the cells read below 1240, then put the battery on a complete charge, and retake the specific gravity readings again afterwards. Should the cells still read low then perform an equalising charge (detailed below).

If any of the cells still read low after performing the complete charge and a subsequent equalising charge, then the battery is likely be reaching the end of its life and should be replaced.

Watering

Prior to charging, there should be enough electrolyte to cover the plates. If the battery has been discharged (partly or fully), the liquid level should also be above the plates. If necessary, top up the cells before charging with distilled or deionised water to cover the plates. A thorough charge will ensure the water is fully absorbed into the electrolyte.

Charging

The key to charging batteries requires administering the correct amount of current at the right voltage. The vast majority of modern charging equipment automatically regulates these values, however some chargers do allow the user to set these values. A non-automatic charger should be set at 10% of the Ampere Hour (Ah) capacity of the batter, e.g. 10 amps for a 100 Ah battery.

Battery Tips

There are several myths when it comes to ensuring the longevity of a battery, but to cut through the confusion, here are some practical tips that will help to maximise battery life.

Traditionally lead acid batteries have tended to fall into two categories: starter batteries, which are generally for automotive use and where engine starting performance is the most important factor, and leisure/marine batteries, which are primarily designed to deliver a more continuous, but far lower current and are able to reach a lower state of discharge, but can still fully recharge without any ill effects.

Motorhomes without dual battery systems tend to need a combination of high starting capacity and deep cycling ability, so for these applications a new range of high performance leisure and marine batteries such as the Numax XV and Lucas XV Supreme range have been developed to provide this dual function.

Unless the vehicle in which the battery is to be used has uprated electrical equipment and there is the need to increase the capacity of the battery/batteries, the best place to ascertain the correct battery capacity needed for the vehicle is from a battery application guide or in the case of a caravan or motorhome, the manufacturer.

The legislation for automotive and commercial vehicle batteries means that the capacity of every battery must be clearly stated in Ampere Hours at the 20-hour rate and be complemented by an indication of the ability of the battery to start an engine in cold climate, i.e. the “Cold Cranking Amperes” (CCA).

Although the same legal requirement does not also apply to leisure or marine batteries, Manbat has voluntarily adopted the policy to ensure that those purchasing its leisure and marine batteries are not deceived or misled when it comes the actual capacity of the battery.

After its purchase, a good quality and well maintained battery should deliver years of faithful service. However, things can sometimes go wrong and although the battery could well be found to be the problem, it is also only one part of the vehicle’s electrical system, so the underlying cause for its failure could lie elsewhere. In addition, the battery is simply a storage system for electrical energy and if more is taken out than is put in, it will end up without power.

It may be difficult to imagine, but a battery is almost like a living organism and it will perform better if taken care of. So, in order to maximise the life of the battery it is sensible to follow a number of practical guidelines.

Try and keep it warm and dry. Although this is sometimes difficult, leaving it in a cold and damp environment over winter, particularly directly on a cold concrete floor is one of the quickest ways to reduce battery life.

Always charge the battery as soon as is practical: leaving it after use and charging it just before it is needed will have a negative impact. So although it is good to let the battery cycle – charge, discharge, charge – leaving it without recharging after use negates the benefits of the charge cycle.

Charge batteries regularly and if possible, use an intelligent continuous use charger and leave it connected whenever the battery is not in use. As well as charging the battery, these chargers manage the charge rate and frequency and gently exercise the battery to ensure that it remains in its optimum condition.

Avoid discharging your battery beyond 50% of its fully charged state, which for a 12-volt battery is about 12-volts and not the 6-volts that at first thought might appear logical! Ideally deep cycle batteries should cycle between 75% and 100% of full charge.

TRAINING

Manbat is the UK’s largest battery distributor and the brands in its portfolio – VARTA®, Lucas and Numax, – satisfy all of the requirements for quality, performance, range and value that both factors and workshops demand.

It is also a very active supply partner that is committed to the task of working with individual customers in order to help them sell more batteries and subsequently increase their profits.

Sound battery training is a vital part of this process and Manbat therefore offer on-site training that is tailored to cover the specific requirements of the business. However, generic training starts with a basic knowledge-based programme aimed at defining the relevant terminology such as CCA (Cold Cranking in Amperes), Ah (Ampere Hour) capacity, battery type (VRLA, GEL AGM) and battery characteristics (starting, cyclic etc.).

To make the most of battery sales, distributors need to provide customers with the most suitable battery for the purpose. It is risky to assume that a direct like-for-like replacement is the correct application. In many cases the incorrect battery could have been previously fitted and therefore the correct procedure is to use an application guide such as the Numax Application Guide or Lucas Battery Catalogue, to check the battery is correct for that particular vehicle.

However, there is an opportunity to upgrade the battery when a unit of a higher specification is more suitable to the vehicle and how it is being used. Manbat training helps customers match the most appropriate battery to each particular application and to explain why cheaper is not necessarily better.

Battery testing is a valuable service and it can reveal a great deal about the underlying causes that can result in battery failure. Many companies will simply replace a failed battery without any diagnosis of why a perfectly good battery has lasted only a matter of months. Manbat by contrast will train technicians to address these matters with sound battery testing procedures, because they know that good diagnosis both saves the customer money and helps to build their own reputation for customer service.

The training also tackles the subject of waste management by ensuring that customers know that they can make a profit from waste batteries and by encouraging them to offer their retail trade customers an exchange service for their old batteries, which in turn also helps the environment.

This approach, in conjunction with a superb portfolio of brands and products ensures that rather than being seen as mere a box shifter, its customers look upon Manbat as a problem solver, providing all manner of power storage solutions.

The Challenge And Opportunity For The Aftermarket

With all the hype surrounding the term, it’s important to understand what hybrid technology actually means in terms of the automotive aftermarket. Hybrid vehicles are defined as those with the ability to use two forms of power, which in most cases in the automotive sector means an electric motor and an internal combustion engine. Therefore, contrary to popular assumption, fully electric or plug-in electric vehicles (EV’s) are not actually hybrids at all.

Hybrid vehicles tend to be divided into three categories: full, mild and micro hybrid. Full hybrids can operate by using just the engine, just the electric motor or a combination of both, whereas mild hybrids can only use the electric motor for short periods to back up the engine, but can’t operate solely on electric power. Micro hybrids on the other hand cannot draw on any form of electric propulsion, but use ‘Start-Stop’ technology to reduce emissions and improve fuel consumption.

Although the battery is at the heart of all hybrid vehicles and integral to the technology they employ, realistically it is only Start-Stop vehicles that incorporate absorbent glass mat (AGM) or enhanced flooded batteries (EFB), that will be within the reach of the typical workshop (for battery related work): other hybrids and EV’s, which rely on nickel-metal hydride or lithium-ion battery technology are likely to be out of reach for the time being.

Although the demand is yet to truly develop in the workshop, there is no question that the technology is here to stay. As it stands, Start-Stop vehicles represent the only viable solution for vehicle manufacturers to achieve the 130 grams of CO2 per kilometre (g/km) fleet average emission target the current EU legislation demands for all new cars by 2015, and which also provides the motorist with the range and usability that they need from their vehicles. Moving forward the EU plan is to reduce this average to just 95 g/km per car by 2020.

It is clear therefore that although the traditional lead acid battery will remain the most common battery seen in the workshop for some time to come, the growth in Start-Stop vehicles will inevitably bring technicians face-to-face with AGM/EFB batteries.

This will present workshops with a challenge because fault diagnosis and battery replacement in Start-Stop vehicles is not comparable to traditional battery work and requires special equipment and technical training to be able to successfully undertake repair and replacement work.

The AGM/EFB batteries these vehicles use are intricately linked to the vehicle’s on-board electronics via a battery management system (BMS) or intelligent battery sensor (IBS). Therefore, to be fully proficient when working on these systems, workshops will need to invest in the equipment and training necessary to properly service these systems.

However, the complicated nature of this work also presents the market with an opportunity because these batteries will generate twice the unit revenue and three times the margin of a conventional flooded lead-acid battery, which is great news in an environment where profit margins are under pressure.

VARTA® is Europe’s leading original equipment supplier of AGM/EFB batteries for Start-Stop vehicles and is at the forefront of product research and development, which is why as its major distribution partner, Manbat is perfectly placed to supply the batteries and equipment that the trade needs to fully develop the opportunities Start-Stop technology provides the aftermarket.

More Profit With Manbat

What really motivates the Manbat team is to help their customers improve their profitability and sell more batteries. By working closely with the team many customers have reaped the benefits that the combination of top quality products, great brands and excellent service can provide.

Obviously the core automotive products are very familiar to all of its aftermarket customers, but it is the development of batteries for Start-Stop batteries and products that allow access to other markets that are the ones that can make the biggest impact of the balance sheet of a business. By adding a broad spectrum of products they are able to develop their power storage offering and prolong the battery season to become an all-year-round revenue stream.

The obvious sectors that aftermarket customers are well placed to develop are the commercial vehicle, motorcycle, leisure, marine, mobility and golf markets, all product groups in which Manbat excel.

With the clear similarities that exist between automotive batteries and the commercial vehicle and motorcycle equivalents, it is a relatively small step for businesses to offer these products alongside their existing automotive range.

For these sectors Manbat distribute the premier brand VARTA@, ably supported by a comprehensive Lucas and Numax offering to provide a good, better and best portfolio.

Leisure battery sales are attractive, as consumers do not see them as a distress purchase, but as means to improve their lifestyle. Through Numax, Manbat customers have access to the undisputed market-leading brand in this valuable sector. Those wishing to develop additional battery sales can do very well with leisure batteries, particularly during the current tough economic climate, when many people will cancel their holiday overseas in favour of an outdoor experience in the UK.

Although a smaller market than leisure, marine batteries provide a very profitable niche product for those businesses that are strategically located close to Britain’s many inland waterways and water sports centres. Numax marine batteries are very prominent in the sector and are also original equipment fitment with a number of luxury yacht manufacturers.

Golf is never far away from the thoughts of many in the trade and is another sector in which excellent margins are possible, along with mobility, which is only going to grow as ever greater numbers of disabled people begin to benefit from the freedom that mobility equipment provides.

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