Samsung Note 7 verdict: blame the batteries

Samsung Note 7 verdict: blame the batteries

Following a protracted investigation, Samsung Electronics has announced the results of its investigation into the causes of Note 7 ‘incidents’, in a press conference in Seoul.


DJ Koh, President of Mobile Communications Business, Samsung Electronics, shared detailed results of the investigation and expressed his sincere apology and gratitude to Galaxy Note7 customers, mobile operators, retail and distribution partners and business partners for their patience and continued support.


Koh was joined by executives from UL, Exponent and TUV Rheinland, leading independent industry groups that conducted their own investigation into various aspects of the Galaxy Note7 incidents.


Samsung initiated a voluntary global recall of 2.5 million Note 7 phones, citing faulty batteries, on September 2nd 2016. It offered refunds or replacements, but was eventually forced to scrap the short-lived competitor to Apple’s iPhones in October, a move which wiped $US5.3 billion off Samsung’s operating profit in what has been described as one of the biggest tech failures in history.


As very much expected, the conclusion of Samsung’s investigation laid the blame for the battery fires on the design of the batteries themselves, not on the design of the Note 7 phone. However, Samsung in effect took the blame for the problems, showing that the technical demands placed on the battery by the slim design of the phone had in effect placed impossible demands on the battery.  


According to the findings, the problems centred on insufficient insulation material within the batteries and a design that did not give enough room to safely accommodate the batteries' electrodes. Though believed to originate from Samsung’s subsidiary Samsung SDI and Chinese company Amperex Technology, Samsung said it was ‘taking responsibility for our failure to ultimately identify and verify the issues arising out of the battery design and manufacturing process’.


Samsung said it did not plan to take legal action, and that it accepted responsibility for asking the suppliers to meet certain specifications.


Problems arose from deflection of the negative electrode in the upper right-hand side of the battery, and in high welding burrs on the positive electrode, resulting in penetration of the insulating tape and separator causing between the positive and negative electrodes.


‘The electronics [designed by Samsung] did not contribute to the failure of either manufacturer's [battery] cells’ said Kevin White, principal scientist for Exponent.


Samsung says it has implemented a broad range of internal quality and safety processes to further enhance product safety including additional protocols such as the multi-layer safety measures and 8-Point Battery Safety Check. Samsung has also formed a Battery Advisory Group of external advisers, academic and research experts to ensure it maintains a clear and objective perspective on battery safety and innovation. Battery Advisory Group members include Clare Grey, Ph.D., Professor of Chemistry, University of Cambridge; Gerbrand Ceder, Ph.D., Professor of Materials Science and Engineering, UC Berkeley; Yi Cui, Ph.D., Professor of Materials Science and Engineering, Stanford University; and Toru Amazutsumi, Ph.D., CEO, Amaz Techno-Consultant.


‘For the last several months, together with independent industry expert organizations, we conducted thorough investigation to find cause to the Galaxy Note7 incidents’ Koh said, ‘Today, more than ever, we are committed to earning the trust of our customers through innovation that redefines what is possible in safety, and as a gateway to unlimited possibilities and incredible new experiences.’


Samsung says its investigation examined every aspect of the Galaxy Note7 including hardware and software, and related processes, such as assembly, quality assurance testing, and logistics. ‘Through a large-scale testing facility where approximately 700 Samsung researchers and engineers replicated the incidents by testing more than 200,000 fully-assembled devices and more than 30,000 batteries, Samsung finally concluded the cause of the issues’ a statement said.


‘We look forward to moving ahead with a renewed commitment to safety. The lessons of the past several months are now deeply reflected in our processes and in our culture’ the statement continued.


‘More than ever, we are committed to earning the trust of our customers through innovation that redefines what is possible in safety, and as a gateway to unlimited possibilities and incredible new experiences.’


With small number of Note 7 owners still hanging on to their phones, Samsung has pushed out updates that limit or prevent charging, and some mobile operators are diverting calls made on the phones to their customer service departments for advice.


While consumer confidence in Samsung may be knocked by the announcements, booming chip sales and record fourth-quarter operating profits pushed Samsung's share price to a record high this month.


CNET quoted Professor Thomas Cooke of Georgetown School of Business as saying that the biggest task for Samsung this year will be regaining consumer trust, showing customers and potential customers that its devices are safe and that the company won't make the same mistakes again. ‘When companies do this right, on average 18 months is the time period for turning around a reputation,’ said Cooke. ‘Samsung is on the way to recovery. I think it can be done.’


But significantly, it’s not now thought that the Galaxy S8 will be unveiled at the Mobile World Congress trade show in Barcelona, which begins on February 27, though this is the traditional forum for Samsung premium product launches. Koh did not comment on when the company planned to launch the new handset.



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