Samsung set a fire under battery-makers to make the Galaxy Note 7 flaming brilliant

Claims phablet was phine, but bad manufacturing short-circuited battery quality

Samsung president of mobile communications DJ Koh
Samsung president of mobile communications DJ Koh during the Phlaming Phablet press conference

Samsung has blamed two un-named battery-makers for setting fire to its reputation by sending Galaxy Note 7 phablets up in flames, but has also admitted it may have pushed those suppliers too hard.

The company today staged a press conference, witnessed online by The Register, during which it detailed how two battery manufacturers each produced cells that contained faults likely to lead to short circuits, over-heating and explosive action

The event kicked off with three independent experts the Korean firm hired to probe the phablet's failure.

Sajeev Jesudas, president, Consumer Business Unit, UL, explained how his firm analysed the batteries, as did Kevin White, Ph.D, principal scientist at Exponent. Holger Kunz, executive vice president for products at TUV Rheinland AG explained how the batteries made their journey from facilities in Vietnam and China to Samsung.

Collectively, the three found that the two battery-makers who supplied kit to the Note 7 did a lousy job. Manufacturing defects such as bent electrodes that touched, absent insulating tape, too-dense designs, bad welds and easily-breakable internals created ideal conditions for a short-circuit and runaway failures. Samsung's cooked up a graphic to explain the problems, which we've placed at the bottom of this story.

Jesudas explained that "Manufacturer A" made its battery too large, which helped to bend the electrodes so they shorted.

White explained that “Manufacturer B” was called in to action after initial problems with the phablet and that its initial batteries bore a problem likely to manifest after many months of use, but that subsequent batches also introduced problems likely to manifest in the short term. That news led to speculation that the batteries were damaged in transit. That idea's since been discounted.

Representatives of three firms also concluded that the Note 7's own electronics did not cause the batteries to misbehave and indeed contained failsafes that exceeded industry best practice.

Yet Samsung's president of mobile communications DJ Koh declined to throw the battery-makers under the bus, saying that Samsung the Note 7's design called for a 3300 milliamp hour battery “in a more compact form compared to previous Note models.”

Koh said “To meet that performance, new manufacturing technologies were used” but again did not blame the manufacturers, saying Samsung is “taking responsibility for our failure to ultimately identify and verify the issues for battery design before launch of the Note 7.”

“We provided the target for the battery specifications,” he said, and as such must share the blame.

Koh went on to detail a raft of initiatives that will see Samsung check, double-check and then triple check batteries at every stage of manufacturing and shipping. The company has also created a “Battery Advisory Group of external advisers, academic and research experts” that will help it to define best practices, then share them with the rest of the industry.

The Korean executive also said Samsung will, in future, “ensure there is more space around the battery with a a new bracket design to protect against physical force when the battery is dropped.” Samsung has also added “improved software protection that governs battery charging temperature, current and duration.”

No plans for the Note 7's re-release were discussed.

+Comment Your correspondent suspects the idea Samsung wants us all to take away is that it pushed so hard to make a great product that its eager-to-please partners broke the current frontiers of the battery-building art.

In your correspondent's opinion, swallowing that line ignores indistinguishable-from-negligence acts of omission such as not adding insulating tape to batteries or placing anodes and cathodes in locations where they were likely to come into contact.

Which leaves us with two questions:

  • Why did Samsung not detect, or bother to go looking for, these flaws earlier?
  • If the folks building batteries for the new flagship model of a top-tier client like Samsung are missing those details, what are the really dodgy battery-builders up to? And why aren't lots of other phones going up in flames?

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Samsung's explanation for the Note 7 phailure

Samsung's explanation for the Note 7 phailure. Embiggen with a click here

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