With Matteo Scarafiotti and Paolo Cielo, marketing manager and research and development manager of Boat Lift, we analysed the values and contents of the collaboration with Flash Battery, an international leader in the production of lithium batteries for the industrial sector. A partnership that led to the creation of the world’s first electric travel lift for handling leisure boats
A meeting of innovative thinkers and forward-looking views, towards the horizon of a lifting industry that demands new perspectives of environmental and production sustainability from the market. This virtuous meeting was made possible by Boat Lift, a pioneering company for machines and systems for autonomous handling in ports and industry, and Flash Battery, one of Europe’s most advanced manufacturers of lithium batteries for industrial machines and electric vehicles. Their specific projects and cutting-edge ambitions have recently produced the most important result achieved so far on the wave of this technological partnership: the world’s first travel lift with all-electric functionality, intended for a French customer operating in the important marina of La Rochelle. At Sollevare, Matteo Scarafiotti and Paolo Cielo, respectively marketing manager and research and development manager of the Piedmont-based company, reserved an exclusive interview focused precisely on the evolution of the electric era of the new machines conceived by Boat Lift and on the fundamental technological collaboration with Flash Battery.
Dr Scarafiotti, can you first outline the history of Boat Lift, in brief?
M.S. – Boat Lift was founded as a company focused on lifting and handling solutions for industry and the marine sector in particular. We design our projects specifically for the individual customer and cover motorised trolleys for ground handling and handling systems for suspended loads such as travel lifts and gantry cranes. At present, Boat Lift incorporates another division under the name Industrial Lift, which is aimed at the industrial market. Our most recent projects have focused on the nuclear power sector, tunnelling and concrete precasting. Referring back to the current core business of the marine division, today this sector accounts for 80% of Boat Lift’s total turnover, while the industrial sector, for the time being, is confined to the remaining 20% of orders. Our strategic goal is to increase the incidence of the Industrial Lift division to an equal share of 50%. This is an ambitious goal, and we would like to achieve it over the next five years, always with a view to increasing the market diversification and expansion of our products in an increasingly broader horizon, where our company’s ability to offer customised solutions can really produce significant results.
For Boat Lift, a new season has begun a few years ago. Your CEO, Roberto Cravanzola, referred to a market – the nautical one – that has rapidly evolved towards sustainable handling solutions, especially in marina facilities.
M.S. – In the last two years, the situation has indeed changed rapidly, and the preference for electrically powered types is so evident that it has driven us to a change of perspective for our internal research and development, to a rapid adaptation to the market. For us, the new electric era started with the design of small-to-medium travel lifts, for capacities from 15 to 80 tonnes, mainly aimed at the aforementioned leisure boating sector – where environmental consciousness and a certain awareness of the need for technological progress in operating machinery is certainly more evolved than in other sectors.
At present, our aim is to gradually increase the range of machines and extend the electrification of the higher range models. The major recent achievement of this programme is the construction, with the essential contribution of Flash Battery, of the world’s first ever fully electric travel lift for the Port de Plaisance in La Rochelle, the most important marina on the French Atlantic coast, south-west of the country. It is a high-voltage model with a capacity of 15 tonnes. Following this exceptional debut, another project is imminent, this time for an Italian customer, for a 40-tonne electric travel lift.
Is electrification, therefore, a road in full development for Boat Lift, which could quickly involve a real transition to a range of full electric machines?
M.S. – The customer itself is driving this transition. The market is now populated by more sophisticated customers who are at the forefront of their development programmes and are willing to invest more in sustainable lifting and handling technologies. With regard to the handling of medium-sized yachts and pleasure boats, it is clear that the customer is very sensitive to the demands of preserving the working environment from pollutant emissions and noise. In the industrial environment, where handling takes place mainly indoors, using self-propelled trucks with a very low cycle, this sensitivity is growing exponentially. The lithium Flash Battery implementation was therefore an ideal solution in terms of sustainability and zero emissions, backed up by a high level of experience and technological know-how, which enabled us to appreciate its many advantages, including high battery life cycles, fast and partial charging and reduced maintenance requirements.
With engineer Paolo Cielo, we would like to return to the first results Boat Lift has achieved on electrification, thanks to the valuable technological partnership with Flash Battery. How did this partnership begin?
P.C. – The first joint project between Boat Lift and Flash Battery involved a self-propelled industrial truck with a 76.8V lithium powerpack – presented at the last GIS 2021, the Lifting Days in Piacenza, Italy, ed. – followed by that of a first prototype of an electric gantry lift crane (used for handling loads within our factory) and the full electric travel lift mentioned earlier, which was intended for France. Speaking of the 15-tonne capacity industrial trolley with lithium battery powerpack, it should be remembered that it was intended for Bianchi Casseforme, a leading player in the concrete precasting industry, and its structure consisted of a flat rectangular platform model, designed to transport long products from the production facility to the various storage areas of the plant. It represented a project that brought flexibility to the customer’s factory processes, as previously simple rail-mounted trolleys were used for the same handling operations. The completed project for Bianchi Casseforme sets the current standard for the electric Boat Lift truck range, with a layout characterised by compactness and lightness, as well as extended functional autonomy, to which the implementation of the 16 kWh lithium Flash Battery pack made a decisive contribution. The combined design analyses resulted in the definition of a battery that would allow the machine to be connected to the single-phase mains at any time, to carry out partial charges, or complete charges at the end of the shift. The battery provides up to 1.2 C of continuous discharge and up to 2 C of peak discharge and was equipped with several features including an integrated heating system, automotive connectors, and predictive diagnostics via remote control with the possibility of connection to an external 4G router. It represented the first model of a new electric generation, which evolved into an extension of the range to larger capacity modular solutions, such as two other trolleys, supplied respectively to the metal fabrication sector and to a Spanish customer, in Boat Lift’s main field, that of leisure boating.
The battery was designed “four-handedly” on the basis of the electrical and mechanical requirements of the application, following Flash Battery’s customisation process, which to date has more than 500 different models of lithium batteries made specifically for each individual electrification project. Another added value we found in Flash Battery was its strong focus on the industrial market, with concrete field experience in a market that is now in full transition. One example is the company’s decision to use LFP chemistry, which is best suited to the industrial machinery segment due to its inherent safety and greater stability. This is certainly further confirmation that Flash Battery’s approach is consistent with the global electrification process, which is increasingly seeing applications migrate rapidly in this direction.
This brings us to the new travel lift type, for handling suspended loads. This was a revolutionary project for this sector, followed in synergy by Boat Lift and Flash Battery during a complicated period, also due to the limits imposed by the pandemic.
P.C. – Certainly we can speak of a revolutionary project, as you have rightly pointed out, since the result of the collaboration between us and Flash Battery has resulted in the creation of the world’s first travel lift with full electric propulsion in the world, opening the way to great reciprocal opportunities in terms of market development. In short, as we were saying before, it is a travel lift for hauling and launching pleasure boats, with a capacity of 15 tonnes and several integrated functions, all managed electrically, from translation (for a maximum speed of up to 6 km/h), to steering in different modes, up to load lifting and lowering operations. We turned to Flash Battery for the study and supply of a highly customised lithium battery and, in this joint project, we considered the customer’s needs in terms of specific performance and operability, carrying out, in parallel and in synergy with Flash Battery’s R&D division, the design of the machine (conceived in all respects to the French customer’s specifications) and that of the lithium battery. The battery developed, in this case, is a 512 V high voltage battery, which required a high level of customisation, by developing a system of several battery packs connected together in series. complying with system requirements such as, for example, the precharge circuit, the High Voltage Interlock safety system, insulation control, a degree of protection not less than IP65 and an integrated heating system. Furthermore, Flash Battery’s technical department has made a major customisation dedicated to the charging mode. A special “on-board” charger has been introduced, designed specifically for high voltage, which meets all the automotive certifications and allows charging over 20 kW effective, ensuring a full charge in less than 2.5 hours. The coordination between several project partners also involved our inverter supplier, which set very precise voltage levels to be observed in relation to the battery powerpack. It was only afterwards that the mechanical part was designed.
Dr. Scarafiotti, what value do you, as a machine manufacturer on the horizon of the electric transition, bring from a key collaboration such as the one with Flash Battery?
M.S. – Definitely a synergy value at a high level. The perfect collaboration and coordination between our technical department and Flash Battery’s R&D department resulted in a state-of-the-art machine in the field of electrification of port handling equipment. Today, our full electric travel lift is already at work in the Marina of La Rochelle, and requests for other models with a higher capacity are arriving on the strength of deep interest, including from Italy. We are confident that this machine will attract customers to the major boat shows this autumn, from the Cannes Yachting Festival to the SMM in Hamburg, the Genoa Boat Show, the Monaco Yacht Show and the METS in Amsterdam. This is a revolutionary application for the industry that has, by our estimates, a potential market impact of 30%, for machine sizes up to 70-80 tonnes. A sector in which we intend to exploit to the full the first-mover position we have obtained with the project of the first full-electric travel lift. Summing up the value of our partnership with Flash Battery, I would like to state that our objectives of advanced research, customisation of solutions and synergy in the implementation of handling and lifting solutions based on lithium batteries are absolutely shared, mirroring each other. We have marked out a main road that we will travel for many more stops, ahead of everyone and with new projects capable of constituting a matrix of progress for many applications in modern industry, based on sustainable processes and economies.
What technology innovations will Flash Battery present in this 2022?
Bauma 2022 will be the showcase for the Flash Data Center 4.0, which is Flash Battery’s real-time remote control software that exploits artificial intelligence and ensures the interconnection of all battery systems produced with the support of advanced machine learning technologies. Bauma will be the perfect opportunity to experience the new release, whose dashboard will be navigable interactively, directly from the Flash Battery stand in Hall A5 – Booth 339.
What is Flash Data Centre
The Flash Data Center software is designed first and foremost to monitor the exact usage of each individual lithium battery installed in any industrial machine or electric vehicle on a daily basis. The most important feature of the Flash Data Centre is the automatic data control. This software developed entirely by Flash Battery checks and analyses the data received about battery operation on a daily basis and sends warning, anomaly or abuse messages by the user to the Flash Battery Service Department and the customer. All this makes it possible to eliminate false alerts at the outset and prevent breakdowns as soon as operating anomalies are detected on the machine, even when not visible to the user. There is another major benefit that makes manufacturers working with Flash Batteries competitive: day and night, the Flash Data Centre monitors data on machine utilisation.
This allows us to know and analyse how industrial machines and electric vehicles equipped with Flash Battery lithium batteries are used, the actual discharge times, charging times, days of use, average consumption and temperatures reached. The availability of this data improves work efficiency, and customers who recognise its importance use the information from the Flash Data Centre to optimise the performance of their machines significantly.