Today’s battery users enjoy a good selection of quality battery conditioners and analyzers at various price levels.
If done at home, a periodic discharge of an owner’s battery is most economically done by a conditioner, a small desk-top device which is available at a low cost. Some conditioners apply a discharge only, others also recharge. Caution should be exercised when buying a unit that also recharges. Although claiming to service all batteries within a model type, the charge rate may not be tailored for all battery sizes and the battery may heat up during charge. The discharge could also generate some heat if the set current is too high.
Pulse chargers are available that claim to make periodic discharges redundant. Research carried out by the US Army Lab have revealed that pulse charging does indeed reduce the crystalline formation on the NiCd battery. On batteries with advanced memory, however, the pulse charge method alone is not sufficient and a full discharge or recondition is needed to break down the more stubborn crystalline formation.
For organizations employing a large number of batteries, or dealers providing a service to their customers, a programmable battery analyzer is recommended. Such devices are easier on the batteries and have proven to be more effective in restoring lost capacity than the smaller home-based conditioners.
When first acquiring a battery analyzer, there is a tendency to buy on price alone. With the requirement of servicing an ever-increasing number of different battery types at higher volumes, second-generation buyers find the advanced features on newer battery analyzers worth the extra cost. These features manifest themselves in higher battery recovery, reduced operator time, increased throughput, simpler operation and the use of fewer trained staff members.
An advanced battery analyzer evaluates the condition of each battery and implements the appropriate service to restore its performance. A recondition cycle is applied automatically if a user-selected capacity level cannot be reached. Battery chemistry, voltage and current rates are user-programmable. These parameters are stored in interchangeable battery holders (adapters) and configure the analyzer to the correct function when installed. Each adapter is preprogrammed with up to ten distinct configuration codes (C-Codes) to enable analyzing all batteries with the same footprint without the need to reprogram for each battery type. Battery-specific adapters are available for all major batteries; user-programmable cables with alligator clips accommodate batteries for which no adapter is on hand.
The batteries are serviced against preset parameters, a feature that provides accurate test results under true field conditions. Batteries with shorted, mismatched or soft cells are identified in minutes, their deficiencies displayed on the LCD panel and, if necessary, the service halted. The derived battery capacities are organized into residual and final capacities. Problems, such as insufficient capacity reserve at the end of a work shift can easily be identified and corrected by disclosing to the operator that a battery with a higher capacity is needed.
To safely service batteries in any condition, including those known to be defective, an analyzer must feature multiple redundant charge-termination algorithms that ensure accurate full-charge detection without overheating. Without this provision, battery packs with shorted or mismatched cells may sustain damage due to overcharge.
User-selectable programs address the different battery needs and include a Prime mode to prepare a new battery for field use; an Auto mode to recondition a battery unable to reach the user-set target capacity; and a Custom mode to allow the setting of unique cycle sequences composed of charge, discharge, recondition, trickle charge or any combination thereof, including rest periods and repeats. A battery quick-test should also be available to ensure that a battery has sufficient charge after it has been on the shelf for a few days.
An important feature of an analyzer is easy operation, a quality that is especially useful when confronted with servicing an ever increasing number of different battery types. It is more convenient to read the test results in percentage of the rated capacity rather than in milliampere hours (mAh) because it frees the operator from memorizing the ratings of each battery tested. To help distinguish good batteries from unusable ones at a glance, an analyzer should feature convenient "pass/fail" lights.
Analyzers capable of printing service reports and battery labels simplify the task of keeping track of the batteries serviced and identify those that need to be re-serviced. To prevent obsolescence when new battery chemistries are introduced, a battery analyzer should accept firmware upgrade to enable servicing future batteries not yet available.
A battery analyzer should be automated to demand minimal operator’s time. The task of the operator should consist of nothing more than scheduling, replacing and marking the batteries serviced. Occasional selecting of correct current rating and chemistry may also be necessary. Properly used, a battery analyzer should generate major cost savings in terms of reduced battery purchases and more dependable service. The payback of a battery analyzer is known to be one year or less. Enthusiastic users of advanced battery analyzers have reported payback periods of only a few months after restoring a large number of batteries that were classified as dead.