Will a New Battery Snafu Prompt Changes?

Tokyo-based Matsushita Electrical Industrial, parent of Panasonic USA, is
offering to replace 6,000 laptop batteries it said may catch fire due to a
manufacturing defect.

The batteries in question were manufactured between April 2005 and May 2005 and
were sold with the CFW4 Let’s Note laptop, a model that is only available in
Japan, Panasonic spokesman Jim Reilly told
internetnews.com.

Reilly noted that the manufacturer of the batteries is neither Sony nor
Matsushita, but said that he could not reveal the name of the battery maker
in question.

Reilly said the company became aware that the batteries could catch fire
while repairing laptops that had been dropped by consumers.

Although not a recall, this is another in a string of industry failures with
regards to laptop batteries.

The swap also involves a far smaller number of batteries than those
concerned by the recent recalls by Dell
and Apple
, which involved 4.1 million and 1.1 million batteries,
respectively.

Reilly had no immediate information on the cost of the recall or the steps
being taken to remediate the issue.

Simon Forge, a partner with Ptak Noel & Associates, said it was not uncommon
for laptop manufacturers to subcontract battery manufacturing to third
parties, which seems to be the case in this event.

Given the spate of battery-related incidents, Forge predicted that
manufacturers will increase pressure on their partners to improve quality
assurance and anomaly-detection programs.


“There’s going to be huge pressure on the OEMs to look at the processes and
the qualities of the products being used,” he told internetnews.com.

“What you need is a much better continuity throughout the layers of the cell
structure used inside the battery.”

Gaps in the cell structure allow explosive gasses to build up, making it
possible for them to explode under high pressure or if the equipment gets
hot.


That said, Forge noted that laptop batteries, once thought to be the
Achilles Heel of mobile computing, have dramatically improved their
power-to-weight ratios since the mid-1990s.


“They’ve made a hundred years of progress in 10 years,” he said.

“Now we’re in the era of Lithium ion. Lithium polymers and Lithium
carbonates will produce even lower ratios,” he said.

Forge said that fewer batteries will explode as laptop manufacturers find
new ways of reducing their power requirements.

Screens and back-lighting account for 80 percent of power consumption.

Laptop manufacturers are developing new display technologies that reduce the
demand for electrical current, he said.

“The pressure for higher-power batteries will tend to level off,” Forge
predicted.

According to Forge, there are currently over 100 million laptops currently
in service; he pegged the market at the low hundreds of millions of units
per year.

In contrast, there are more than 2 billion cell phones in service, with
700 million new handsets sold per year.

“The market [for batteries] is being set by the mobile market,” said Forge.

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