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Dell and Sony Knew About Battery Problem 10 Months Ago

by Shivaranjan on August 20, 2006

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A Sony Electronics spokesman admitted that they knew about the manufacturing problems associated with Sony made Lithium Ion batteries and had even discussed with Dell roughly 10 months ago. Now the question is why did Dell and Sony sit quite till now? Were they waiting for the Laptops to explode and then act?
The root cause for the above problem is the presence of small metal particles which contaminate the Lithium Ion battery, thus causing it to overheat.

InfoWorld Report:

Dell and Sony knew about and discussed manufacturing problems with Sony-made Lithium-Ion batteries as long as ten months ago, but held off on issuing a recall until those flaws were clearly linked to catastrophic failures causing those batteries to catch fire, a Sony Electronics spokesman said Friday. Spokesman Rick Clancy said the companies had conversations in October 2005 and again in February 2006. Discussions were about the problem of small metal particles that had contaminated Lithium-Ion battery cells manufactured by Sony, causing batteries to fail and, in some cases, overheat.

As a result of those conversations, Sony made changes to its manufacturing process to minimize the presence and size of the particles in its batteries. However, the company did not recall batteries that it thought might contain the particles because it wasn’t clear that they were dangerous, Clancy said. Lithium-Ion batteries are constructed with coated anode and cathode foils separated by thin layers of polymer material, said Dan Doughty, manager of the Advanced Power Sources Research and Development Department at Sandia National Laboratory.

“It looks like a jelly roll. You get a high surface area with thin layers. The thinner they go with the separators, the more room there is for the active material,” Doughty said.

The coated layers are wound up on commercial machines to create the individual Li-ion cell, and it’s at that stage that contaminants, such as metallic particals, can get embedded in the battery cell. The metallic particles mentioned by Sony and Dell may have been cast off by those commercial machines, he said.

Generally, the polymer separator is very thin — less than 25 micron (one millionth of a meter) thick. If that is punctured by an electrically conductive material, like a metal particle, the battery cell’s anode and cathode short circuit, Doughty said.

He said an internal short circuit was “the worst scenario in battery design, because there’s nothing you can do to control it,” he said. In contrast, manufacturers have a variety of measures to guard the battery contents from external threats, like ambient heat.

Based on its conversations with Dell, Sony strengthened and reinforced the protective barriers and lining of their battery cells to address the danger of metal particles piercing the lining of the cell, Clancy said.

The complete report can be read here.

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