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OPINIONS

Sony, a Fiasco in the Making?
By: Akinola Akintomide
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    2006-11-21

    Table of Contents:
  • Sony, a Fiasco in the Making?
  • The PlayStation Three: Hype or for Real?
  • Battery Recall
  • A Question of Face

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    Sony, a Fiasco in the Making? - Battery Recall


    (Page 3 of 4 )

    The issue of the PlayStation was definitely overshadowed by that of the flaming battery fiasco, with Sony batteries found in notebooks overheating, sometimes to the point of catching fire. The news was downright frightening. When the details of some of the faults came out, my first thought was "an unfortunate error" for Sony, then "were the design engineers asleep?" for the OEM companies involved. First let's look at the record-breaking recalls and then look at the reasons (and the underlying design and QC causes) that made the recalls necessary.

    Dell Breaks a Record

    After firefighters fought a fire caused by a combustible Dell notebook that went "boom" in Tetra Pak, Illinois, another "Dell on fire in Japan" laptop picture was circulated online. After these incidents (and at least four others) Dell recalled 4.1 million notebook batteries, officially the biggest customer electronics recall in the United States. Dell stated that the batteries could overheat and burst into flames. Affected were many of the Latitude (which is what this article was typed on), Inspiron and Precision models.

    Apple Follows Suit

    Apple recalled 1.8 million laptop battery units for similar reasons. The models affected included the iBook G4 and Powerbook G4 categories sold between the last quarter of 2003 and August 2006. The batteries that are being recalled cost US$130 apiece if sold separate from the laptops, and the company bore the cost of replacing the batteries.

    Lenovo/IBM Next

    Unfortunately for Lenovo, it seems it bought part of the problem when it acquired IBM's personal computer division. When an IBM Thinkpad T43 began emitting sparks and smoke at LAX in September, Lenovo promptly pulled five hundred thousand batteries for the following models: T Series (T43, T43p, T60); R Series (R51e, R52, R60, R60e); and X Series (X60, X60s).

    HP Says Batteries OK

    Hewlett Packard notebooks also use batteries build by the Sony company in Japan. It seems that superior systems design at Hewlett Packard will make battery recall unnecessary, however, since one of the factors that is affecting the incidences is actually the hardware architecture of the systems. Hewlett Packard stated that its laptops are not prone to the incidences that are plaguing other OEMs (some good news for the beleaguered company), so what is causing the batteries to explode? 

    Battery Flaws: Sony's End

    The Lithium Ion batteries have been discovered to contain certain levels of metal impurities. This contributed to the laptops overheating, but this was not the only factor that led to the issues.

    Cooling and Design: the OEMs

    Smaller and more compact notebooks, microprocessors that are consuming more and more power (since they are getting more and more powerful), and miniaturization of everything from the fan to the circuitry (some up to 65 nanometers in width) are all contributing factors. With power coming in through the power pack into the battery, then into the circuitry, main alternating current being converted to battery direct current creates eddy currents and losses which are all converted to heat (I bet your notebook warms your feet nicely). The heat spreads around the laptop, aided by the fan (heat dissipation), but it seems that it does not spread enough. When most of the heat builds up around the power port and the batteries, and the stability of the lithium ion batteries is compromised by the presence of impurities, you get smoking and sparks as the heat energy starts to convert to light and excess electrical charges.

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