Weak Safeguards Shown by Samsung Note 7 Battery Fires, says U.S.

A U.S. consumer-safety regulator has concluded that the electronics industry’s voluntary standards for the design and manufacture of rechargeable batteries aren’t adequate has been revealed by defects that caused Samsung Electronics Co.’s Note 7 phones to burst into flames last year.

Standards for lithium-ion batteries in mobile phones need to be updated, said the Consumer Product Safety Commission, which negotiated a recall of 1.9 million of the phones and is conducting its own investigation.

Those standards haven’t been revised since 2011 after being first developed in 2006. The commission said that to “take a fresh look” at the voluntary standard for lithium-ion batteries in smartphones, the agency and Samsung are working with the industry.

“Industry needs to learn from this experience and improve consumer safety by putting more safeguards in place during the design and manufacturing stages to ensure that technologies run by lithium-ion batteries deliver their benefits without the serious safety risks,” CPSC Chairman Elliot Kaye said in the release.

The worldwide mobile phone industry, which sold 1.98 billion of the devices in 2015, would be impacted by the CPSC action.

Powering everything from smartphones to power tools, lithium-based cells have become almost ubiquitous in people’s lives and this is also the latest investigation to raise concerns about safety in the increasingly potent cells. The grounding of Boeing Co.’s 787 and a ban on bulk shipments of batteries by passenger airlines as a result of safety concerns are examples of recalls of so-called hoverboard scooters in recent years.

“Standards need continuous improvement,” said Dan Doughty, a consultant on batteries who formerly served as a researcher at Sandia National Laboratories. “It’s going to be a constant struggle.”

The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineering Inc. has developed guidelines for battery design and the mobile-phone industry follows those designs. The IEEE is a nonprofit group that works with industry to develop consensus standards for electrical equipment.

The IEEE guidelines are designed to limit “battery failure under multiple stresses” and cover design, testing and quality assurance.

While Kaye’s statement said Samsung plans to share what it learned from its investigation but didn’t mention IEEE.

“Consumers should never have to worry that a battery-powered device might put them, their family or their property at risk,” Kaye said. “This is why we need to modernize and improve the safety standards for lithium-ion batteries in consumer electronics and also stay ahead of new power sources that will inevitably come along and replace these.”

Doughty said that a “very rare thing” in the secretive and competitive mobile-phone industry is Samsung’s sharing its investigation results and offering to assist the industry and for which the company needs to be credited.

According to Jim McGregor, a principal analyst at Tirias Research LLC, which conducts scientific studies for technology companies, the competition is at least part of the reason for the recent failures.

“If you can’t ensure 100 percent that the battery is not going to fail, maybe we need to design casing around it,” McGregor said. But right now, there isn’t casing available that would work in the space-constrained smartphones, he said.

(Adapted from Bloomberg)

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Categories: Economy & Finance

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