Smart Solutions

Carney Battery Handling

How do you become a dominant player in any industry? Einstein once said that, “Imagination is more important than knowledge.” To be a pioneer is to embrace that philosophy wholeheartedly, for imagination is a catalyst for invention and invention is what sets you apart from the masses.
To be unique, effective and efficient is a template for success which, if adhered to, will propel your business to the forefront. Carney Battery Handling could write a “how to” guide for corporate success. We spoke with its President and Founder Wayne Carney, as well as Vice President of Sales, Darren Osborn, to get a better idea about the success that is Carney Battery.

It’s funny how things begin. The idea for Carney Battery Handling was born on a fishing trip in 1984 – two buddies enjoying a few brews and taking in the sights and sounds of nature. Essentially, one turned to the other and said, “We should go into business together building battery handling equipment.” The funny thing was, neither of the friends knew anything about the industry. Wayne Patterson was a millwright, and Wayne Carney was a sheet metal worker, but the challenge appealed to them both. Mr. Carney was undertaking a renovation for Carling O’Keefe, and noticed that the company was installing a new battery room, so he sold them a system that had never been built before. That’s how Carney Battery began – on a whim, and with the simple belief that anything was possible.

Mr. Carney is presently in charge of Research and Development, but according to him, all he does is listen to his customers. “I love to build, so if a customer requests something I will get some support from an engineering or automation firm and start to put it together.” Darren Osborn adds, “Wayne listens to feedback. If a customer indicates that a system is not working the way they want, then Wayne will fix it for them.” This is where the company’s focus on innovation comes into play. A customer’s request may lead to something that has never been done before.

The success of battery extraction is highly dependent on the methods used for the extraction. In the mid 80s everyone was using vacuum extraction, but Wayne Carney thought they could do better. The team spent a lot of time working with an electrical engineer to build a powerful magnet. The first one, he says, was a disaster, but the second design is still in use today. The pulling capacity of this magnet is about 2,000 lbs, on a quarter plate, and that is very unique – just one of the ways that Carney Battery set itself apart in the industry. Due to the company’s efforts, magnet extraction is now the standard; but for Carney Battery Handling, this was just the beginning.

“Here in Canada nobody was using side extraction, and we were one of the first to get involved,” Mr. Carney says. There are two kinds of trucks, and two methods of exchanging batteries – lift out and side extraction. In class 2 trucks, the batteries come out sideways. These batteries weigh two to four thousand lbs. They can be pushed out manually on rollers, but this is difficult. On counterbalance trucks, the batteries are lifted out, and they weigh between two and six thousand lbs. Carney wanted one system that would handle them all. “So we needed to convert the counterbalance trucks to side extraction. That was one of the things that we pioneered.” On conventional trucks, a kit was developed to work with side extraction, but the customer took some convincing that this was the way to go.

A new Hyundai Assembly plant in Quebec provided Carney Battery Handling with an opportunity. Carney convinced the plant to acquire counterbalance trucks with side extraction, and when Hyundai went to market only two fork truck manufacturing companies would quote on the project. Consequently within a year or two everyone had side extraction options on their trucks, and that really changed the industry in Canada.

One of the major concerns in the battery handling industry is safety. With such sensitive and volatile equipment, the best tactic is often to use capital, rather than labour, where applicable, to eliminate the possibility of human error. “We do that through automation,” says Mr. Carney. “Automation is reliable. It takes away all of those issues that you go through with personnel. It will do exactly as you program it to do.” As a result, costs drop, equipment maintenance costs drop, and many safety and maintenance issues disappear. Through automation, the customer gains 100 percent control over their system. On a large system, with a decent size battery room, at least four operators would need to work round the clock, costing upwards of $300,000 per year; with an automated system, those costs are eliminated. “Mr. Customer,” Mr. Carney says, “I can put in a system which will have you fully automated, eliminating all of your labour costs; the return on investment is usually between 18 – 24 months.”

These days, in order to be successful, a business must also show that it can be environmentally friendly. Batteries need to be washed after lengthy usage, a process that traditionally started with a large glorified dishwasher and some high pressure water. The dirt would settle to the bottom as sludge and then be hauled away as hazardous waste – an expensive proposition at $245 per 45kg drum. For 20 years Carney Battery utilized this method, which required a generators permit and adherence to stringent environmental regulations. This became very costly for customers, so in true Carney Battery fashion, the team set about implementing a new system that would be cost effective and environmentally friendly.

Wayne Carney attended a trade show where a company was demonstrating how to treat water from floor scrubbers used in warehousing. He realized that the same methods (with a little customization and modification) could be used to solve the issues inherent in battery washing. “They had what was called a flocculent. In simplistic terms, it is like a glue that you dump in the water – a sticky polymer that starts as a powder. Because waste water from the battery wash is acidic and severely corrosive, the main component coming off the batteries is rust. What I found is that the acid attacks the rust particles, which get smaller and smaller to less than 1/2 micron in size, allowing the particles to go right through the filter. So, now the problem is, how do you clean this?” This is where the flocculent comes in, and all the minuscule particles latch on to it, eventually forming a snowflake-like shape which settles at the bottom. There are also components in this flocculent that encapsulate the heavy metals like lead and iron that cannot be flushed down the drain. Once that is done the material can legally go to a landfill. “That was a huge step for us. It stops it from leeching into the soil because it’s encapsulated in a solid. This way it will not contaminate the water table.”

Around 40 percent of Carney Battery Handling’s business comes in the form of exports, with the company continuously expanding into new markets. Currently, the business is involved in Russia, China, Australia, Europe, the Middle East, and South Africa. The expansion occurs organically, through relationships with dealers. Initially, Carney became a provider for Enersys, one of the largest battery manufacturers in the world. Then in 2000, Enersys bought Hawker, the largest battery manufacturer in Europe. Hawker was using a North American provider for battery changing equipment that they were not happy with, and Enersys was able to recommend Carney Battery. “That’s how we started doing business in Europe, which led to Russia and Saudi Arabia,” explains Mr. Carney. “These markets fell into our lap in a way. We saw an opportunity and took advantage of it.”

Accessing diverse markets is one thing, but maintaining a presence takes skill and service. One must have an understanding of the different cultural and ethical business practices. In Italy, for example, there are a lot of trucks sold, but not many large users. In Europe overall, things tend to be smaller; the vehicles and systems are smaller and the concepts are different because they are for smaller countries. Efficiency is a top priority. “Overall the European concept is different – thinking is different, selling and marketing is different. The business mindset is different. Here in North America, for example, at a trade show we put all our equipment out and show them. In Europe, they do not sell products in this fashion. Instead they will have people to their booth and serve them a meal and a drink. It amounts to different business practices.”

Some of the blue chip clients with whom Carney Battery Handling works include, but are not limited to Canadian Tire, Canada Post, National Grocers, Sobeys, Wal-Mart, and Exel Logistics. “In a lot of cases we don’t necessarily work directly with Wal-Mart, for example, but with third party operators like Exel, who in turn work with the Wal-Mart’s of the world. Directly, we work with companies like the National Post.” Presently Carney is engaged in installing an automated system at the L.A. Times and is also working with L’Oreal and Miller Brewing Company.

Mr. Osborn explains that the company’s success is due in part to keeping so much of the work in-house. “All of our design, manufacturing, and even our controls are done in-house. We don’t really contract out. This creates flexibility, and we have full control of our operations.” The team also believes that getting good quality people with the right attitudes is a major element for success. As Mr. Carney puts it, “Knowledgeable people with the right attitudes – that is the strength of our business. It is one of the main reasons for our success. It is our strongest asset.”

“The industry is changing,” Mr. Carney says, “and there are a lot of things that we are doing that are going to improve the way a lot of these companies operate. We understand that there are different options out there, and alternative ways of doing things. So, if our customers are having problems, we can help. We will continue with innovations and our pioneering spirit, which is one of the keys to our success. The most important thing is that we are there for the customer. Bring us your problems and let us help you solve them.”

December 14, 2017, 9:59 AM EST