For hardware startups it can sometimes seem like there are a million and one things you have to worry about before you can take your idea to market. Well, get ready for one more: shipping batteries!
If you’re product is going to include batteries then you need to ensure you’re familiar with the relevant shipping laws, regulations and best practices. Batteries can be potentially hazardous and as such, there are specific guidelines and restrictions relating to how you package and send them. Lithium metal and lithium ion batteries are considered dangerous goods because they can ignite if dropped, crushed or short-circuited, and potentially cause fires.
It sounds stressful, but don’t worry. In this post, we’ll go over the basics, and provide you with enough information that you can complete the research on your own and take the necessary steps for your specific products. If you’re lucky, you may find that your battery isn’t powerful enough or large enough to create any issues…
How To Package Your Batteries
To ensure you aren’t breaking any laws while also avoiding fires (both desirable aims), you need to think carefully about how you are going to package the batteries within your product.
Whenever you’ve bought hardware online, you may have noticed that the batteries come with battery inserts that you need to remove before you can use the product. These are there to provide insulation against the terminals and therefore to avoid short circuits in the device. You can also use electrical tape, or enclose the batteries separately. This can also prevent the devices from turning on while in transport.
Also important is to separate any metal objects or other materials that could short circuit your battery terminals. Again it is recommended that you use separate boxes within your packaging.
Of course the rest comes down to basic common sense. Package your products to protect the batteries and to prevent a possible ignition and be sure to treat this as an important investment.
Labels and Documentation
You will also be required to fill out a lithium battery safety document, which will include details of the specific type of battery you will be sending, as well as the type of shipping you’ll be using.
You can find this information here:
However, you should also check the official documentation at http://phmsa.dot.gov/hazmat (which contains information about all dangerous goods) and www.iata.org/whatwedo/cargo/dgr/Pages/lithium-batteries.aspx. This will need to be filled out depending on the number of batteries/size that you are sending (see below).
All packages with a certain number of batteries will also need a caution label. There are separate labels for lithium ion batteries and lithium metal, both of which look very similar. The label looks like:
You must of course supply your number in the relevant space.
Restrictions on Delivery
Take a look at the following tables for restrictions on delivering batteries while packaged inside and outside the device.
New Regulations for 2016
As it happens, new international regulations have been introduced this year relating specifically to lithium batteries – however these laws predominantly refer to the shipment of batteries separately from products themselves.. For products that will be shipping from April 1st, 2016, compliance with these laws will be a legal requirement.
The new laws include:
State of Charge Limit: The state of charge limit refers to how far your batteries can be charged during shipping. For Section II lithium ion cells and batteries this limit is set at 30%. Of course, this doesn’t apply to batteries that are packaged with equipment or contained within (so you don’t have to send your AAAs half depleted!). Laws referring to ‘Section II’ only relate to packages that contain the battery alone.
Package Quantity: Shippers may not include more than one section II package per consignment.
Overpacks: Overpacks may also not include more than one section II package.
Battery Separation: Shippers must provide transport of lithium batteries separate from other cargo.
You can find a lot more information on this from this post on the UPS website.
Since July 1st 2015, companies wishing to ship lithium metal batteries without equipment via UPS Air services have required pre-approval. Again though, this likely won’t apply to the majority of hardware startups. There are also separate guidelines for lead-acid batteries which you might need to look up if your product is a car or wheelchair. In this case, you’ll need to test your battery and label it as ‘NONSPILLABLE’ or ‘NONSPILLABLE BATTERY’.
As you can see then, there are a few different things to consider when packaging batteries with your product. As a general rule though, it will involve filling out a form and adding a label, while also being careful to insulate the batteries and protect the terminals. If you’re lucky and you’re using a small lithium ion battery packaged inside your hardware, then you might even get away without any forms at all! Follow the links and do the research to be extra sure, and you can sleep soundly knowing there shouldn’t be any issues.
Has shipping batteries cause any challenges for you and your startup? Let us know about your experiences or enquiries in the comments below and be sure to sign up for the newsletter if you want more helpful tips and advice like this!