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-------------------------------------------------------------- This story was printed from ZDNetAsia, located at http://www.zdnetasia.com/news/dailynews/story/0,2000010021,20084183,00.htm. --------------------------------------------------------------
Compaq battery recall affects over 6000 in Asia
By Julian Matthews,
October 31, 2000
Sony blames defective circuit board, but batteries recalled anyway.
KUALA LUMPUR -Compaq Computer Corp's recall on Friday of 55,000 notebook batteries manufactured by Sony Corp affects about 5,500 units shipped to Asia Pacific customers and 650 units to customers in Japan.
Compaq public relations manager Mike Hockey said the company is offering a two-for-one swap of the batteries at no cost to affected customers.
The voluntary recall affects the No 1 PC-maker's Armada E500 and V300 models, which are hot-sellers in more ways than one.
Hockey told ZDNet Asia that the recall was triggered after one customer reported in August that an Armada E500 short-circuited, overheated and released smoke. "There was no fire and no injuries reported," he said, but it was enough to prompt the recall.
This was the second recall involving rechargeable Lithium-Ion batteries within two weeks from a major notebook manufacturer. On Oct 13, Dell Computer Corp recalled 27,000 batteries manufactured by Sanyo Electric Co Ltd, after a single incident when a US customer's notebook overheated and caught fire, also in August.
After the Dell recall, Compaq issued a statement to Reuters that it had not experienced any problems with Sanyo batteries -- even though it was already aware of a problem with Sony batteries since August.
Hockey said, by way of explanation, that the company's recall plan was still being worked out "closely" at the time with the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (USCPSC). "Our battery did not catch fire. Our recall and replacement plan had not been approved yet. We received final approval on Oct 23 and alerted the public the same week," he said.
Sony Corp spokesperson Masami Kato told ZDNet Asia that the company had traced the affected battery to an assembly process that took place in its plant in Taiwan between June 2 and July 10, 2000.
"The type of battery used is a Lithium-Ion rechargeable battery with 1700mAh capacity. However, the manufacturing defect is not with the battery cell, but the circuit board that controls the recharge and discharge process," said Kato.
Hockey echoed that the printed circuit board was to blame. "A test pin may have penetrated the board, and caused the battery to short-circuit or otherwise fail."
Asked why Compaq was recalling the batteries if the printed circuit board was the culprit, Hockey replied that the company was being "very proactive" and the recall was mooted "out of an abundance of caution."
Kato assured that Sony has taken steps to avoid a recurrence of the manufacturing defect and that batteries supplied to other PC makers are not affected.
Dell and Sanyo had made similar assurances after its recall. An "alien substance" that was mixed into the production process at a Sanyo plant in Japan was blamed for the short-circuit that caused the notebook to ignite.
Commenting on the two recalls, material sciences researcher Dr Steven Visco of the respected Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in California said it was difficult to generalize on the cause based on available facts.
"But there is a general trend towards increasing the energy content of Li-Ion batteries," he said. "This is driven by the desire by OEMs and ultimately the consumer for smaller, lighter batteries. This is at the heart of the safety issue," he said.
Notebook manufacturers are feeding consumer demand for mobility, speed and less acreage on their desktops. But as the configurations become increasingly power-hungry, the recent recalls may have raised the spectre on whether safety testing is being sacrificed over speed-to-market priorities.
"As battery manufacturers push the technology towards ever higher energy density, they have to similarly refine the battery chemistry and/or manufacturing process to ensure that each generation of Li-Ion battery is safe for the consumer," advised Visco, who is also vice president of research at PolyPlus Battery Company.
Visco said safety testing may be "complicated", but reminded manufacturers of the early versions of batteries for cellphones that did not adequately address the highly reactive nature of lithium and tended to explode after repeated recharging.
Visco qualified that those safety problems were only for metallic lithium-based batteries, not the lithium-ion batteries of today, but back then no one admitted to problems in the lab until after the accidents.
Sanyo, Sony and other Japanese manufacturers command the lion's share of the global market for Li-Ion rechargeable batteries, which have become popular for a variety of applications including camcorders, handphones and medical devices.
Compaq in its most recent quarter ending Sept 30 indicated that revenues from Armada notebooks were up almost 50 percent year-over-year worldwide. Overall worldwide revenues totaled US$11.2 billion with strong growth from the Asia-Pacific region, up by 41 percent, and Japan, up by 52 percent.