Maltese company Abertax is developing a system that monitors batteries without the need to delve into the recesses of engines. Effective energy storage is essential as industries make their processes greener and more efficient, and this intelligent monitoring system could prolong battery life - leading to greater energy-efficiency. After a 30-months, research project supported by the European platform EUREKA, Abertax is now in the client testing phase.

Lead-acid batteries are often used as main power source in forklifts, cleaning machines, airport mobility carts and other factory-based vehicles. Using remote technology Abertax monitors the battery, so engineers no longer have to connect to it manually. The company also hosts all the data on its own servers - managed by a three-man team - and processes it so clients have all the relevant information at their fingertips.

Making the most of data

“Ten years ago, no one cared about monitoring the battery. But we realised usually the only time someone looks at it is when it stops working,” explained chief engineer on the project, Malcolm Tabone. “But if you monitor what’s going on with the battery, you can prevent problems.”

“After the current six-month testing phase, the company expects to ship around 2000 devices a year.”

"Talking to clients, it became clear no one wants to physically go to the battery. We tried Bluetooth and wireless connections, but those are not reliable from a security perspective, which is how we came up with the GPRS solution.” Each battery is fitted with a device containing a SIM card which is able to securely send information about battery and charger performance to the Abertax servers over a GPRS 2G network.

By analysing this data, Abertax’s software can create an automatically-generated, early-warning system. These alarms are especially useful to owners who are not on site. Companies that hire out equipment are obvious customers since they need to be able to monitor lead-acid batteries remotely. For example, one client in Australia is testing 20 devices and finds the technology extremely useful because of the vast distances involved in his business. “Not only can the alarms prevent battery damage, through warnings of high temperature or low water levels, they can also extend the time between servicing,” said Mr Tabone.

Abertax worked with German company ELS Ladesysteme Vertrieb on the EUREKA project to develop the devices, explained Mr Tabone: “Basically they make chargers, the one component we don’t produce. So they worked with us to give us more insight into the charger interface.”

After the current six-month testing phase, the company expects to ship around 2000 devices a year at approximately €350 each. But as any manufacturer knows, product development never ends. “We currently work with 2G. But we know that the 2G network will eventually be phased out, so next year we will start working to cater for 3G,” concluded Mr Tabone.

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