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IS LITHIUM THE ANSWER?

Jeff Einam from Bayer Environmental Science explains how (and why) lithium battery technology will soon replace traditional cell batteries, as the pest control industry catches up to larger industry sectors. 

Application equipment for the pest control industry has been relatively unchanged for many years. We continue to use our trusty battery-powered tools in the way we always have. This is because our industry has been unable to adopt some of the latest technology available, particularly the advancements in portable units, as they often do not meet our requirements. However, as we are seeing in almost every other industry, the advent of lithium ion battery technology is opening up new possibilities.

Lithium ion batteries can allow us to do things that just weren’t possible with older wet cell/rechargeable batteries. They work at close to 100% output right up until they are at, so there is no loss of performance or power until they are at, whereas the power output from older battery technology decreases as the battery flattens. Lithium ion batteries are also much faster to charge, so there’s also less down time. Perhaps the most useful quality of lithium ion batteries is that they are often less than 50% of the weight of traditional wet cell batteries (based on like-for-like comparison of the actual power available), which is a huge advantage when using hand-held equipment.

However, it’s not all good news with lithium batteries; they require chargers with specific charging profiles and cost about two or three times that of other battery technology (although this ratio is improving all the time).

Suitability for our industry

So, what do lithium batteries mean for the equipment used by pest managers?

Just think about how technology has evolved with phones, tablets, cordless tools and vacuum cleaners over the past few years. Dyson, for example, has now ceased production of 240V corded technology, such is their confidence in lithium power. How many tradies are using lithium-powered tools instead of 240V-powered?

In terms of sprayer technology, this wave is coming albeit behind many other industries. This is because the global pest control market (in relative terms versus other industries) is just not that big, so we are yet to experience the real potential this technology has to offer. However, a number of lithium ion units are now appearing out there in the market from the power tool companies like AEG and Milwaulkee. The main picture above shows some of the current lithium ion sprayer options available, from left to right: Milwaukee M18BPFPCS-0, Jacto PJB-16, Rega 18v Portable Boss Sprayer 10L.

Pumps specifically designed for lithium batteries are only just starting to appear despite lithium batteries having been available for some time. We know, however, from other industries that when technology is designed specifically for lithium ion batteries, the equipment can deliver performance that can match, or better, conventionally powered devices.

What’s on the market

Should you consider buying a lithium ion battery-charged sprayer now?

Never before has it been possible to consider anything other than a stainless steel hand tank or a petrol-powered motor pump. These sprayers will continue to be the backbone of pest control equipment. They are proven to be robust, almost bulletproof commercial tools that are used every day and, in many ways, are a signature of our industry. They define us.

If, however, we imagine that our industry will see a similar swing towards new technology as has occurred with other industries, then there are exciting times to come. There is the likelihood that there will be sprayer technologies coming that are capable of improving productivity through more ‘trigger time’, reducing noise and weight (by potentially replacing petrol-powered units and heavy batteries) and creating a progressive image with customers and the public.

There is every likelihood that this equipment will have technology built in to show battery levels expressed as time-to-empty, and the ability to measure what, where and when products are sprayed, communicated in real time to the cloud for the office staff to use and interrogate in every way possible.

Imagine a sprayer with the ability to dial the dose rate of a ‘tech-ready’ product like Suspend Flexx with its multiple label rates up or down ‘on-the- fly’ by the press of a button on the trigger depending on the location you are spraying, and knowing how much of each rate was applied where and when and by whom.

Purchasing tips

For now, the current offerings that are out there have poly tanks and 18-56V lithium batteries with the ability to adjust pump output to suit the situation.

A number of the units currently available appear to be coming out of China (what doesn’t these days?) or are Chinese units being modified to make them more pest control ‘ready’. A couple of power tool companies also have offerings in stores but time will tell if they suit the pest control industry or not.

Most portable units are configured as knapsack/backpack units with tanks mostly in the 10-20 litre range. Be sure to purchase the tank size that suits your jobs. Ten litres is quite a lot of spraying and a larger tank can be heavy (if filled up) and cumbersome, particularly when using indoors.

There can be a lot of variation between units due to the many different gun and lance combinations. If you’re like me and prefer the good old 31 gun, locally produced brass lance and Teejet nozzle, then don’t expect to see this hardware supplied with these units. You will need to factor in the cost of them yourself on top of the equipment purchase price. My advice is to install a male/female fluid nozzle in line and just use ‘old faithful’ (your current combination). If you want to use the gun, lance and nozzle that comes with the sprayer, shop around as you will see a lot of variation in quality and durability. This is a clever way for sprayer manufacturers to keep costs down.

When it comes to filters in tanks, be aware that 12V pumps are more sensitive to blockages, which can restrict ow and therefore output. Know where to find, remove and regularly check and clean out the pump suction filter as this will likely be a source of any performance problems you may encounter.

Lithium battery-powered units typically don’t come with a pressure gauge at the gun. Most units don’t regulate pressure but rather regulate pump output so it is very easy to select a pump and nozzle setting well outside the ideal range. For example, a recent test I did on a unit for a client using a TX8 variable cone on a coarse setting failed to deliver pressures above 20 psi (137 kPa). If on the other hand you are using smaller cone jets or at fans, pressures can skyrocket up above 65 psi (450 kPa) on even the lowest settings with the pump surging on and off trying to cope. Without a gauge mounted near the gun how can you know this?

The lesson here is that you can’t assume that you can necessarily carry on with the same nozzle/pattern combination you currently use. You need to test these units and decide on what setting/s work for you.

Where to buy?

As stated previously, many units come from China with one or two also being adapted/improved by the equipment companies before being sold to the industry by our distributors. There are also all sorts of outlets online selling similar-looking units at some attractive price points. But are they genuine?

We all like to shop online and find a bargain but often with spray equipment you really do pay for what you get. Our Australian industry is incredibly well serviced by our distributors who scout the world for this stuff. If it’s out there and they think it’s worth selling they WILL have it.

Sprayers all break down and need servicing. A bargain today is long forgotten if it keeps breaking down and if spares are not readily available. Think long and hard about your purchase before investing in an online ‘bargain’.

Buyer’s guide

Here’s a bit of a checklist if you’re in the market for a lithium-powered sprayer, with ten issues that are worth considering.

Tank size – Smaller is better. It’s lighter and often more compact on your back (knapsack/backpack sprayers). A 10 L is a nice size.

Ergonomics and comfort – Specifically, this means weight, balance, and shoulder strap comfort. You will have this hanging o your back on the job day in, day out. It has to be comfortable, compact and not too heavy. If you can fill one up with water before you buy to get a feel for it, do it.

Durability – How well is it made, do you think it will last the distance? If you’re setting up your team, how do you intend to protect and store it in the vehicle? They are light when empty but remember they will not stay put in the vehicle and will probably y out!

Battery capacity – Do you need one or two batteries? 240V or 12V car charging?

Pump output – Does it do what you need? Does it allow you to use your favourite nozzles/s at the correct pressure?

Guns and lance – There are three options here: use what comes with the unit; use your current gun and lance; or buy another. Factor this is into the decision.

Aesthetics – Think about how your choice of sprayer looks to your customer. Does the equipment look professional or like a fancy garden sprayer? Our current equipment is specialised and stainless steel tanks are a signature of our industry. A plastic tank displaying a common brand name may not portray your company positively. Maybe consider professionally branding the tank.

Cost – The purchase price of these sprayers varies but remember they are going to serve you for a long time and are the key to you doing your job well. Keep in mind that the efficiencies that this technology provides will also save you money.

Maintenance – Just because it is battery powered doesn’t mean it is maintenance free. In some respect it may require more care. Batteries need to be charged for the day’s work, pumps survive longer when flushed out daily with water. Even though the products we now use for residual barrier sprays are predominantly suspension concentrates (SCs), they can result in residues in tanks and lines that need to be regularly cleaned. Know where ALL the filters are located, particularly the tank filter.

Backup – Last but not least. Can you get parts when you need them? Think seriously before deviating from our current equipment distributors. It is durable enough for this not to be a regular occurrence?

Hand spraying is the cornerstone of the industry. The trusty stainless steel hand tank or the motor pump and tank de ne who we are. Just as builders have readily adopted the use of cordless tools, perhaps we are seeing the start of a change in our industry too. What is apparent to me is that the perfect battery sprayer may not yet be invented. Our industry, even in a global sense, is very small compared to many others already bene ting from new cordless technology. However, the current sprayers being sold are starting to step things up. They’re lighter and more compact, they last longer on a battery and are performing in some cases better than hand tanks.

Some of us are already bene ting from the efficiencies from this technology while others are watching this space. One thing is for certain, this is a rapidly changing space with options growing day by day.

Jeff Einam, Market Development Manager ANZ, Environmental Science, Bayer

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