Battery Safety: Do We Need New Regulations?

Even months later there’s been no official report from Samsung on what caused the issues they were having with the Galaxy Note 7 batteries catching fire and exploding. However, a company by the name of Instrumental, which is a manufacturing tech company, has suggested that the reason for the very dangerous flaw was that there was no space allowed for swelling in the design of the battery. This suggestion has led some to consider whether or not safer standards and regulations on cell phones and battery designs need to be put into place.

Suspicious of the reported reason for the flaw, which was that there was an issue with one of the parts of the battery, Instrumental entirely deconstructed a Galaxy Note 7. In doing so, they were able to conclude that the phone’s rather aggressive design led to the battery explosions. As noted in a blog entry, Anna Shedletsky had this to say, “What we found was surprising: The design can compress the battery even during normal operation,” Shedletsky is Instrumental’s CEO, and founder.

She went on to say, “Any battery engineer will tell you that it’s necessary to leave some percentage of ceiling above the battery.”

The question is, did Samsung, push the boundaries of innovation and consciously build a product that could be considered dangerous? And further, should standards be considered that better protect consumers from extremely dangerous failures like this. Currently, it’s quite confusing to try and understand which entities and organizations are regulating lithium battery standards. How mobile device makers deal with lithium battery certification is also equally unclear. There a quite a few organizations that are addressing the issues include the American National Standards Institute (ANSI), and the Nationally Recognized Testing Laboratory (NRTL), just to name a couple.

For example, UL provides safety-related certification, testing, auditing, training services, validation, inspection, and advising many different types of clients, including retailers, regulators, manufacturers, policy makers, service companies and even consumers. UL 1973, UL 2580 and UL 1642 are the key standards.

Because of the crossover between these organizations, and their different missions, it becomes difficult to know which group ought to step in and when they should do it. Some are suggesting it may even be time for the Jurisdiction of Consumer Product Safety to change the way it goes about protecting consumers. Adding steps that will help eliminate this type so product fails. Or maybe it’s time to reinforce the safety standards of lithium-batteries.

As a result of trying to be innovative, and leaders in their markets, too many companies are rushing through their own testing and safety validation procedures.

As one who consumes electronic products, I believe safety should be the top priority. It’s not good for anyone when there is the possibility of your cellphone exploding while it’s plugged up and charging. I think it’s time for stronger standards to be implemented that will avoid the kind of design failures that we saw with the Galaxy Note 7. Surely this is something that can be done without stifling innovation.

What do you think?

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Written by Mel Gipson

A veteran of the semiconductor and electronics industry, Mel began his career repairing dot matrix printers in 1998 for a larget IT company in the healthcare space. While earning his electronic engineering degree, he worked at a small design firm, giving him a broad base of knowledge in mechanical and electrical engineering, as well as purchasing and supply chain management. Once he graduated, Mel decided to pursue technical sales, working for one of the largest broad-line electronic component distributors in the world. To narrow his focus on a group of suppliers and technologies, Mel spent eight years working as a manufacturers’ rep selling semiconductors. With a well-rounded background in engineering, distribution, and technical rep sales, he currently works for a large semiconductor manufacturer in the Atlanta area. Mel has two small children and enjoys hiking on the weekends.

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