Samsung Note 7 fires show weak safeguards - US regulator

2017-01-25 13:43 - Alan Levin and Jing Cao
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A Samsung Galaxy Note 7 Halloween costume.

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New York - Defects that caused Samsung Electronics’s Note 7 phones to burst into flames last year revealed that the industry’s voluntary standards for the design and manufacture of rechargeable batteries aren’t adequate, a US consumer-safety regulator has concluded.

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

Those standards were first developed in 2006 and haven’t been revised since 2011.

The agency and Samsung are working with the industry to "take a fresh look" at the voluntary standard for lithium-ion batteries in smartphones, the commission said.

"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 CPSC action has broad implications for the worldwide mobile phone industry, which sold 1.98 billion of the devices in 2015, according to Bloomberg Intelligence.

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

“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 mobile-phone industry follows battery design guidelines developed by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, a nonprofit group that works with industry to develop consensus standards for electrical equipment.

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

IEEE didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment on its work in this area.

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

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