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Dell, Sony Discussed Battery Problem 10 Months Ago

Zonk posted more than 8 years ago | from the boom dept.

111

InfoWorldMike writes "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. 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. Dell spokeswoman Anne Camden declined to comment on the conversations with Sony in October and February, but told InfoWorld that Dell was 'confident that the manufacturing process at Sony has been changed to address this issue. Now our focus is erring on the side of caution to ensure no more incidents occur.'"

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well they would have done something then (5, Funny)

atarione (601740) | more than 8 years ago | (#15939695)

but the laptop with the response plan on it burst into flames.

How much proof is necessary? (0, Troll)

TrisexualPuppy (976893) | more than 8 years ago | (#15940098)

IANAL, and I'm really curious about this: How much evidence would be necessary to convict them on something akin to endangering the public by releasing notebooks that they knew could combust in a literal fireball?

I'm really hoping there is at least some legal protocol to protect consumer's from things like this that are rushed out the door at the (potential) expense of people's lives, other than class action suits.

Re:How much proof is necessary? (1)

ravenshrike (808508) | more than 8 years ago | (#15940593)

They didn't this isn't a case where they knew exactly where the danger was coming from, this was a case of making sure they knew exactly what the problem was before replacing it. Unlike sayyy, ford who actually calculated legal costs when selling the Pinto Fireball.

Not so funny... (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#15940123)

... when it happens to somebody you know. 2nd and 3rd degree burns, chemical burns, agonizing pain, permanent scarring. My friend is damaged for life and will probably have pain for the rest of her life. This is a little more serious than McDonald's coffee in your lap, and I don't think any jury could set a price high enough to pay for my friend's suffering. And unforunately, a simple web search will show you that she had it easy [google.com] .

Of course they knew it was dangerous (2, Informative)

pimpimpim (811140) | more than 8 years ago | (#15939713)

Otherwise, why would they ever start to examine these things close enough to find out there were small particles in it.

Furthermore, I don't think they were talking about just malfunctioning of the batch of batteries, because I guess general malfunctioning was not an issue with these batteries. Otherwise the batteries that exploded would have already been returned to Dell before they could even get the chance to explode. Or where these all brand new batteries that exploded? And how many stories are there about malfunctioning batteries on Dells, except for the exploding ones?

Re:Of course they knew it was dangerous (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#15939785)

let's say it all together -

"class action lawsuit!"

it's amazing how fucked sony is getting lately.

as for dell... well, it's just a reflection of the ultimate philosophy of dell - outsource everything, "low cost bidding".

the chickens are a-comin' home to roost

Re:Of course they knew it was dangerous (1)

RenderSeven (938535) | more than 8 years ago | (#15940210)

Not sure what a class action would sue for (though IANAL). No one has been hurt, DellSony is replacing all affected batteries. Recall dfoes not automatically mean lawsuit. Does anyone know how many of these have actually blown up? Is it 5 or 10? The only real and lasting damage is to Dell, Sony, and Chinese manufacturing quality standards (since the batteries made in Japan, Taiwan, and Malaysia were all fine).

Personally, I loved Dell boxes. I know it's getting chic to sing about their downfall, but I think they make a solid product for short change. It may take me a few hours to de-crappify [yorkspace.com] their installation, but after that they are the best boxes I have (4 of 11 of my boxes are Dell).

OTOH my eyesight has gone to hell since I bought their flat-panel monitors. Never again on those...

Re:Of course they knew it was dangerous (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#15940265)

OTOH my eyesight has gone to hell since I bought their flat-panel monitors. Never again on thos

eh? what's wrong with their flat panel monitors? I was just thinking of buying one...

Re:Of course they knew it was dangerous (2, Interesting)

RenderSeven (938535) | more than 8 years ago | (#15941887)

Honestly, Im not sure. I have 4 LCD's - Amptron 17, 2x Dell 19, Amptron 19. I got the Dell's recently. Ive noticed my eyes dont focus anymore weekday evenings since I started using the Dell's. It may be a coincidence, or my imagination, or the angle on the desktop, but it seems like the Dell 19's hurt my eyes. Especially the more expensive of the two, although I dont spend the number of hours on the newer one to have as strong an opinion.

Either way, if it wasnt for the price and that its hard to get a deal on a desktop without buying the monitor 'package' I would certainly have gone with another brand. First, a monitor company lives and dies by the quality (and price) of the monitor, while Dell sells them by leveraging. Its not 'Darwinian'... Second, if Dell is pushing them so hard they must be extremely profitable, meaning the margins are good, meaning they may spend less in parts than a comparably priced Viewsonic, for instance.

OH! Almost forgot... The newest Dell 19 always autosets its parameters when the computer comes out of sleep or powers on. Its REALLY annoying and it rarely catches the first two pixels on a line. When youve spent 10+ years staring at Windows you might be surprised how out of place the desktop looks with the left two pixels missing. Its the only monitor Ive ever owned that autosets constantly, and I cant find a way to turn it off.

But I have to repeat, Im pretty happy overall with what I got for how little I spent on a moderately loaded Inspiron 3100 + 19" panel. I love my Inspiron 6000 laptop and so does every client that sees it. The base desktop for $270 on sale is damned respectable too.

Re:Of course they knew it was dangerous (1)

Alchemar (720449) | more than 8 years ago | (#15941034)

The fact that they have noticed particles is not any indication of dangerous. I work in a lab for the plastics industry. We take several samples a day and examine them under microscopes and electron microscopes. Were not talking computer parts or implants, were talking bottles, bags, and "tuperware" like containers. We don't do this because they might be dangerous, but to prevent or prove financial liability. If we have a contaminate in are product and it isn't discovered until after serveral hundred thousands of parts are made, there is a chance that we bought those parts. Some of the samples that are run are taken off of store shelves just to make sure that what is in the market is the same thing that passed all the qualification trials. I would not be suprised if sony does not pull random samples out of production lots to do this kind of testing. They were probably far more concerned with a functional failure and having to compensate dell, find out where they were going to get the stock to replace the batteries found bad, and then still have enough production to make the batteries that are needed for current sales.

Sony! (5, Insightful)

bogaboga (793279) | more than 8 years ago | (#15939720)

When it comes to electronics, I have been one of the people holding SONY in very hight esteem. But the behavior of the company with its music, and problems with quality in its devices, have dented my approval. What is going on at SONY? Now there is this battery thing...I think it's time to look at other players in the business. SAMSUNG to me, looks very promising. No wonder SONY's market share has been diminishing since the early 90s.

Hah!! (4, Interesting)

vistic (556838) | more than 8 years ago | (#15939917)

Why on Earth would you hold Sony products in high esteem? I could understand that thinking back in the 1980s... but since the 90s came Sony has always had poor-quality problems except in their professional gear. There's nothing "high-end" or quality about them.

Personally I think it's because they've stopped manufacturing their things in Japan. Now it's all about Malaysia or Indonesia or Taiwan or China or something.

Check where things are manufactured, it can tell you a lot about what level quality to expect. Different countries have different cultures and different governments and different labor laws and quality assurance programs and work ethics and wages, etc.

Then again I also can't believe you're starting to think Samsung is looking good. They've improved a lot, thanks to improvements in South Korea itself, but they're still kind of crap and have a long way to go. South Korea used to be one of the WORST countries in as far as quality manufacturing goes, but they've done a lot in the past 5 years or so to try and fix things.

Re:Hah!! (2, Informative)

multipartmixed (163409) | more than 8 years ago | (#15940138)

I agree wholeheartedly.

Ask any TV repair professional; back about 1990 when the Sony TVs started saying "Made in Mexico", the quality dropped like a stone.

Re:Hah!! (3, Informative)

Abreu (173023) | more than 8 years ago | (#15940457)

Sony TVs "made in Mexico" were only assembled in Mexico, from low quality chinese components... The blame lies in China, not across the Rio Grande.

Re:Hah!! (1)

Gwwfps (912993) | more than 8 years ago | (#15941763)

I would think that the only blame lies in Japan with Sony.

Re:Hah!! (1)

multipartmixed (163409) | more than 8 years ago | (#15942758)

I agree. I have seen several instances where, for example, a particular TO-220 package would fail which had never failed in previous televisions. Of course, the previous models included a heat sink for the part in question (I forget what it was now...), and the new models did not. The current passing through the device was borderline on "must-have-heatsink" territory according the manufacturer's data sheet. Basically, if you didn't have completely optimal airflow inside your TV, and a low ambient temperature, it would die within 2-3 years.

Re:Hah!! (2, Interesting)

pheede (37918) | more than 8 years ago | (#15940750)

I don't know enough about the quality of Sony products in general to agree or disagree with your comment. But I find it just a little bit funny, that the two Dell batteries I have, which are part of this recall, were both manufactured in Japan.

Re:Hah!! (1)

GalacticCmdr (944723) | more than 8 years ago | (#15940924)

Then again I also can't believe you're starting to think Samsung is looking good. They've improved a lot, thanks to improvements in South Korea itself, but they're still kind of crap and have a long way to go. South Korea used to be one of the WORST countries in as far as quality manufacturing goes, but they've done a lot in the past 5 years or so to try and fix things.

See, I just do not understand that. I just got three boxes full of hundred dollar bills from Korea and the quality seems very good. I plan to order from the "House of Il" again; although frankly their website looks like crap.

Re:Hah!! (2, Insightful)

pete6677 (681676) | more than 8 years ago | (#15940952)

Agred. Sony has been living off their name for the better part of 20 years now. What successful and truly innovative product have they really had since the CD? Charging more money while steadily degrading quality and useability is a recipe for short term success but long term failure. In fact I am surprised they're still doing as well as they are.

Once the PS3 ends up being the disaster that everyone thinks it will be, they will file Chpt. 11, or whatever they call that kind of Bankruptcy in Japan.

Re:Hah!! (1)

psymastr (684406) | more than 8 years ago | (#15941001)

Country of manufacturing has nothing to do with quality. 90% of computer hardware is manufactured in Taiwan, all brands included, from Asus to ECS.

Re:Hah!! (2, Interesting)

Quino (613400) | more than 8 years ago | (#15941615)

Exactly; with mass production quality comes from design (of the product, manufacturing processes), quality control, etc. and not the ethnicity of the people pressing buttons of the manufacturing equipment.

It made me laugh when I heard, for instance, that there were concerns about Toyotas made in the US (could they possibly be of the same quality as Toyotas made in Japan?). It seemed naive, as one of the key points about mass production is making products out of identical, interchangable, parts and taking the "human element" out of it. We're not talking about hand-made shoes here after all! One part of Toyota lean production methods (Toyota pretty much wrote the book on quality mass production btw) is studying and controlling small variations of your widgets as tool age, and designing products so that mistakes are impossible during assembly (error-proofing), etc.

I still hear comments,even from colleagues (who should know better!), about the quality of stuff made in China -- as if something in the water makes anything manufactured there bound to be of low quality. People still show surprise that quality stuff can come out of Korea (again, I'm not sure what the rationale is, makes me wonder how certain people view the world ).

Japan, early in its industrialization, was also synonymous with cheap low quality crap that'd fall apart if you looked at it funny or that would dissolve in the rain -- funny how perceptions change.

I will guarantee you that a car manufacturer in China building quality designs and manufacturing processes can turn out cars of Toyota quality (and the time can still come and maybe not too far in the future). Ironically enough, all they have to do is embrace Deming and study Toyota manufacturing methods.

If Sony's cutting corners with their quality control then issues like these are bound to come up. But these quality concerns have zero to do with the language of the workfoce.

Re:Hah!! (1)

vistic (556838) | more than 8 years ago | (#15942045)

Exactly; with mass production quality comes from design (of the product, manufacturing processes), quality control, etc. and not the ethnicity of the people pressing buttons of the manufacturing equipment. [...] People still show surprise that quality stuff can come out of Korea (again, I'm not sure what the rationale is, makes me wonder how certain people view the world ). Japan, early in its industrialization, was also synonymous with cheap low quality crap that'd fall apart if you looked at it funny or that would dissolve in the rain -- funny how perceptions change.

I don't quite like you insinuate that recognizing products from one country as being higher quality than products of another country is related to racism. I was talking about the culture and work environment, not about ethnicity.

In fact your point about the view of Japan changing is exactly the point I was making about Korea... they are improving but have a long way to go.

Your point about Japan also seems to contradict your other point. On one hand you seem to believe that any country can produce a quality product if they're given the blueprint and the proper tools. On the other hand you seem to recognize that at one time Japan's quality sucked but then it got really good. (Which is well known... I mean, it was even a joke in one of the Back to the Future movies).

Blueprints and tools aren't enough to make a quality product. Don't you think working your employees for way too many hours like they do in China affects quality? Or being in a country where workers are not allowed to group together to bargain for better working conditions and wages?

Of course the problem is that whenever the situation gets good in a country, the manufacturing just moves someplace else that has crappy labor laws that can be abused, but it's cheaper.

How much more would you be willing to pay for your iPod, so that Chinese workers didn't have to overwork themselves?

Re:Hah!! (1)

servognome (738846) | more than 8 years ago | (#15942231)

Check where things are manufactured, it can tell you a lot about what level quality to expect. Different countries have different cultures and different governments and different labor laws and quality assurance programs and work ethics and wages, etc.

It's not the people or culture, it's the company.
Manufacturing in lower cost countries is part of cutting costs, which also tends to include reductions in the quality of incoming materials, reduced training, less stringent outgoing quality control, etc. Failure of electronic equipment is more often due to low quality materials or an issue with the manufacturing process, not with operator error.

Re:Sony! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#15940518)

Uh, most Sony computer products are typically inferior and have to sell at a _discount_ compared to other brands when competing on even playing fields (e.g. non sony proprietary stuff). DVD writers? Lite-ons are preferred to Sonys. Plextor still makes about the best drives (but I think recently they made at least one that was just one of the run-of-the mill Taiwanese/Made in China ones).

Sony was good in the days of Sony Trinitrons. But now, forget it.

Now Sony is about proprietary stuff, and leeching off their past.

Well there's still the Playstation I guess. Not so sure about PS3 though.

Re:Sony! (1)

psymastr (684406) | more than 8 years ago | (#15940993)

Why the hell do you write companies' names in all caps?

Direct Cause (5, Interesting)

staticneuron (975073) | more than 8 years ago | (#15939737)

Was it that hard to find a direct cause for this? I would have imagined they would create a stress test to replicate these real-life situations in whitch the labtops caught on fire.

Re:Direct Cause (1)

Minwee (522556) | more than 8 years ago | (#15940103)

Well, the chief cause of laptops exploding is mispellings.

Re:Direct Cause (1)

Rudolf (43885) | more than 8 years ago | (#15941753)

Well, the chief cause of laptops exploding is mispellings.

It's misspellings. Or were you trying to be clever by spelling it wrong?

Simple Mathematics (4, Funny)

sincewhen (640526) | more than 8 years ago | (#15939741)

A times B times C equals X. If X is less than the cost of a recall, we don't do one.

Re:Simple Mathematics (3, Funny)

Rosco P. Coltrane (209368) | more than 8 years ago | (#15939824)

If X is less than the cost of a recall, we don't do one.

Are you saying Sony execs watch porn instead of working?

Re:Simple Mathematics (2, Insightful)

kjart (941720) | more than 8 years ago | (#15939825)

A times B times C equals X. If X is less than the cost of a recall, we don't do one.

I know what you're paraphrasing and it does apply, but I have to ask, so what? Of course an equation like this is going to be used and research is going to be done. If a single catastrophic failure occurs, do you recall all 10,000,000 of your product? How about after 10? 100? There will always be freak occurences where horrendous events happen in unexpected ways - you have to figure out whether it's just that or part of a larger trend.

Speaking of which, I'm curious about how many incidents of battery fires have actually been reported. I'm aware of the famous one obviously, but how many others have been reported? Is this actually a case where dozens/hundreds of batteries are bursting into flame, or merely a case of one hugely publiscized incident? I wouldn't be surprised if Dell was issuing the recall to save face after the huge publicity of that one fire, even if the incidences dont merit it.

Re:Simple Mathematics (1)

kfg (145172) | more than 8 years ago | (#15939958)

I know what you're paraphrasing. . .

The Ford Pinto case, which proved the equation actually works.

KFG

Re:Simple Mathematics (4, Interesting)

morgan_greywolf (835522) | more than 8 years ago | (#15940305)

Speaking of which, I'm curious about how many incidents of battery fires have actually been reported. I'm aware of the famous one obviously, but how many others have been reported? Is this actually a case where dozens/hundreds of batteries are bursting into flame, or merely a case of one hugely publiscized incident? I wouldn't be surprised if Dell was issuing the recall to save face after the huge publicity of that one fire, even if the incidences dont merit it.


According to the original CNN story [cnn.com] that was broadcast/published when the story broke, Sony's Rick Clancy had told the AP that about "a half-dozen or so fires in the United States" had occurred, causing Dell and Sony to study the problem for "more than a month." That's on top of the highly-publicised fire in Japan. Of course, 10 months is more than a month, right?

But the manufacturing defect that's causing the problem would obviously cause such problems. In TFA, a Dan Doughty from Sandia National Labratories describes the condition that occured -- metal flakes causing a short between the anode and cathode -- as causing the battery to discharge ALL of it's energy at once. Now, if you have a laptop manual handy, read the part about where it says how many Watt hours (WHr) the battery holds. A Dell Inspiron 8500 has a 72 WHr battery.

We know that by definition a Watt is the amount of joules/second. So, a 1 Watt hr = 3600 Joules per energy. Now doing the math (3600 * 72) we get 259,200 joules of energy in that Inspiron battery. Keep in mind that there is other heat around the battery as well. Now discharge those 259,200 joules all at once with all that heat around it. Putting that in perspective, a firecracker only discharges about 3900 joules of energy, while a 100g stick of dynamite discharges about 400,000 joules.

<sarcasm> But no, I'm sure they had no idea. </sarcasm>

Re:Simple Mathematics (2, Informative)

morgan_greywolf (835522) | more than 8 years ago | (#15940311)

s/joules per energy/joules per second

Re:Simple Mathematics (1)

krunk4ever (856261) | more than 8 years ago | (#15942406)

I think you meant s/joules per energy/joules

1 Watt hr is measurement of energy (not power)
= 1 joule/sec * 3600 sec = 3600 joules.

Watt is a measurement of power = energy/time

Re:Simple Mathematics (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#15939833)

The scene from Fight Club:

Narrator: A new car built by my company leaves somewhere traveling at 60 mph. The rear differential locks up. The car crashes and burns with everyone trapped inside. Now, should we initiate a recall? Take the number of vehicles in the field, A, multiply by the probable rate of failure, B, multiply by the average out-of-court settlement, C. A times B times C equals X. If X is less than the cost of a recall, we don't do one.

Business woman on plane: Are there a lot of these kinds of accidents?

Narrator: You wouldn't believe.

Business woman on plane: Which car company do you work for?

Narrator: A major one.

Re:Simple Mathematics (1)

GMontag (42283) | more than 8 years ago | (#15939913)

Seems something has changed in the Japanese firms since I graduated college 12 years ago, or nothing changed and we were fed a big load of crap.

The notion that Japanese firms *never* do what you describe was drummed into our heads, Soviet propoganda style. The only firms accused of doing this were American firms, but the American firms were learning their lessons and coming around.

Odd thing was, the business instructors and professors with a business background did quite little of this while the ones with "hard science" and liberal arts backgrounds could not manage a lecture without bringing up the Japanese zero defect concept.

Looks like something else I 'learned' in college that I no longer have to believe in.

Re:Simple Mathematics (2, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#15939952)

at least give credit!

"A new car built by my company leave somewhere traveling at 60 miles per hour. The rear differential locks up. The car crashes and burns with everyone trapped inside. Now, should we initiate a recall? Take the number of vehicles in the field (A) multiply it by the probable rate of failure (B) then multiply the result by the average out of court settlement (C). A times B times C equals X. If X is less than the cost of the recall, we don't do one."

    -- Tyler Durden, Fight Club

Re:Simple Mathematics (1)

dangermouse (2242) | more than 8 years ago | (#15940074)

The first rule of Fight Club is seriously, will you people shut the hell up about Fight Club already? Jesus, you're almost as bad as the Ben Franklin and 1984 people. You're practically Trekkies.

Re:Simple Mathematics (1)

JustOK (667959) | more than 8 years ago | (#15940117)

You must be new here.

Re:Simple Mathematics (1)

lullabud (679893) | more than 8 years ago | (#15941962)

My thoughts exactly.

Narrator: A new computer built by my company leaves the factory. The the battery blows up. The computer burns up with all your data trapped inside. Now, should we initiate a recall? Take the number of batteries in the field, A, multiply by the probable rate of failure, B, multiply by the average out-of-court settlement, C. A times B times C equals X. If X is less than the cost of a recall, we don't do one.
Business woman on plane: Are there a lot of these kinds of accidents?
Narrator: You wouldn't believe.
Business woman on plane: Which computer company do you work for?
Narrator: A major one.

Dell - The best Bang for your buck !! (5, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#15939747)


Dell - The best Bang for your buck !!

Re:Dell - The best Bang for your buck !! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#15941301)

BOOM! Crotchshot!

Story? (4, Insightful)

JabberWokky (19442) | more than 8 years ago | (#15939749)

Um, what exactly is the story here? They talked about and researched the issue before issuing a recall. I have a feeling that could be said about every recall... pretty much every business action that occurs. Seldom are the dart or "mouse with ink on it's feet" methods used anymore. They were alerted to the problem, got confirmation and addressed the problem.

So what exactly is the story?

--
Evan

Re:Story? (1)

gggggggg (862650) | more than 8 years ago | (#15939830)

Expect my statement in 10 months

Re:Story? (2)

Snover (469130) | more than 8 years ago | (#15939869)

The story here is that they knew that their batteries were defective and had the potential for damage or loss of life but they didn't do anything about it when they found out.

"A times B times C equals X. If X is less that the cost of a recall, we don't do one."

Re:Story? (1)

blixco (28719) | more than 8 years ago | (#15940092)

Prove it.

They met with regards to a defect, not with regards to destruction of property.

Re:Story? (2, Informative)

gggggggg (862650) | more than 8 years ago | (#15940160)

Sure.

They created the dellbatteryprogram.com domain on Nov 2005 [whois.net] , obviously with a reclaim in mind already.

Re:Story? (1)

blixco (28719) | more than 8 years ago | (#15940374)

They created that as a lessons learned from another recall.

Re:Story? (3, Informative)

Minwee (522556) | more than 8 years ago | (#15940137)

"The story here is that they knew that their batteries were defective"

Define "defective".

Never mind, I'll read the article and do it for you.

"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."

They were aware that some batteries could fail. "Fail" and "In some cases, overheat", do not mean "OHMYGODALLTHEBATTERIESAREGOINGTOKILLPEOPLE!" It means "There is a problem with the batteries and we should look at them."

Unless of course you think that that clearly means they were dangerous.

"[...] the company did not recall batteries that it thought might contain the particles because it wasn't clear that they were dangerous. [...] "We didn't have confirmation of incidents [involving fires] until relatively recently.""

The story here is that they knew the batteries were defective, investigated what was happening, and did something about it when they found out what was happening. Look closely at your, sorry, Chuck Palahniuk's equation. When you have no reason to believe that B or C are any greater than zero, then X equals zero. It doesn't take a genius to figure that part out.

Re:Story? (0, Flamebait)

Snover (469130) | more than 8 years ago | (#15940418)

You can read well, but your critical thinking is not so good.

Dell is reported to have known about incidents of laptops overheating, albeit in small numbers, for years. It and CPSC recalled 22,000 laptop batteries in December, 2005, because of overheating problems. Metal particle contamination was the cause behind that recall, as well, said Scott Wolfson, a CPSC spokesman.

Dell knew full well what would most likely result from this problem, because the exact same thing had happened before.

Re:Story? (1)

ctr2sprt (574731) | more than 8 years ago | (#15940979)

No, it's not the exact same thing, because the batteries are different. It may be that some battery designs - even in the same general family (e.g. 9-cell Li-Ion) - are more tolerant of this sort of contamination than others. It may also be that Sony redesigned their batteries after the last recall to make them more tolerant of metal particle contamination, or changed their manufacturing process to make any such contamination less likely to be "critical." Hell, maybe Dell even started redesigning their laptops to work around Sony's problems. I don't know if any of those things are technically feasible or even possible, but I suspect you don't know either.

Certainly the similarity in the cases suggested that investigation was warranted (and they did investigate it). And it turns out, with our 20/20 hindsight, that a recall was warranted too. But this could be a pretty complex technical issue, and the recall is probably going to cost Dell (and eventually Sony) a couple hundred million bucks. It's easy for you to spend Dell's money, but if it were yours, I rather suspect you'd hesitate until you had all the facts. Even if you're firmly in the "Big Business is evil!" camp, remember that the money going to the recall could also have been spent improving wages or offering training for their call center employees in India, hiring more engineers in the US, or hell, paying Sony more per battery to increase their quality controls.

Re:Story? (1)

Snover (469130) | more than 8 years ago | (#15941388)

Now, granted, I am not a battery specialist and so can't tell you the probability of an overheating battery catching fire, but I do know that most Li-Ion batteries have overload and short-circuit protection built-in, and I'd reckon that such circuitry is supposed to prevent the sort of overheating issues that Sony reported. (I could be totally off-base, but it's what I'm basing my comment on.) Wouldn't it stand to reason that if Sony was able to reproduce incidences of these batteries overheating that they should have been doing something about it sooner rather than later, since it meant that a catastrophic failure like the one in Osaka was highly likely? I guess it's all a moot point now. Personally, I'm more concerned now about the "new and improved" batteries that they claim to have made -- they don't seem to have done too well since the last recall.

(PS, I apologise to the great-grandparent for being a douchebag.)

Recall justified? (1)

Ogemaniac (841129) | more than 8 years ago | (#15942409)

Not by safety concerns, that is for sure. For marketing concerns, perhaps.

Just think about it: From an economic point of view, would anyone in their right mind invest $400,000,000 to prevent a couple dozen small fires? Absolutely not.

This recall is a tremendous waste of money brought about by the ridiculous American tort system.

Re:Story? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#15942173)

If you know anything about batteries, it DOES mean they are dangerous.

Have you ever heard of a cap-and-nail expulsion? No? Look it up.

Re:Story? (1)

spideyct (250045) | more than 8 years ago | (#15941029)

But they DID do something about it when they found out, and confirmed the potential impact: they issued the largest electronics recall in US history.

Now, considering Dell only purchased a small portion of the faulty run of Sony batteries, you might consider the lack of action from all of the other notebook manufacturers an interesting story.

On second thought (1)

b1ufox (987621) | more than 8 years ago | (#15939752)

Well then what were they waiting for?

perhaps for a terrorist bomb in the form a laptop battery, so that they can hide their mishandling

of issue for 10 whole months.

Thank god terrorists are not /.ers :p

Lies, damn lies, and PR (5, Interesting)

Zocalo (252965) | more than 8 years ago | (#15939755)

That's pure crap. Why else would they have registered the "dellbatteryprogram.com" domain name back on 10th November of last year if they didn't think that a recall was going to be required? You might also notice from the WHOIS information that they are not hosting the domain on their own DNS servers like they do with their other domains. I think it far more likely that they had their discussions with Sony, but decided not to risk a PR disaster by performing a complete recall unless failures made it absolutely necessary to do so.

My company made the decision to dump Dell just before this latest fiasco broke. Between regular failures of wireless modules in the D600 laptops, having to replace the motherboards of every one of GX270 desktops (OK, not really Dell's fault that one, but it's their badge up front for management to see) and totally abysmal support we've had enough. From their recent earning reports, I guess we're not alone in that.

Re:Lies, damn lies, and PR (4, Informative)

sharkey (16670) | more than 8 years ago | (#15939855)

IIRC, Dell had a battery recall in December 2005 for a different issue.

Re:Lies, damn lies, and PR (5, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#15940057)

You recall correctly. In december 2005, Dell recalled about 20000 batteries in the US [cpsc.gov] , and about 35000 worldwide [heise.de] . I can still remember checking my own laptop's battery on dellbatteryprogram.com, and beeing dissapointed that I didn't get a fresh one for free. This time however, my old and worn battery will be replaced.

Re:Lies, damn lies, and PR (1)

Jeff DeMaagd (2015) | more than 8 years ago | (#15940000)

Domain names cost something like $8/yr., if you don't get a subsidized rate for buying some other service.

Setting up a web site isn't that hard to do or that expensive compared to the cost of a million batteries which they weren't sure had a real risk of problems.

If they thought they had a risk of fires, which would have been a MASSIVE PR blow, I think they would have just done the recall right then.

Re:Lies, damn lies, and PR (1)

DrDitto (962751) | more than 8 years ago | (#15940253)

I had wireless problems with my D600, but the newest Intel ProSet driver solves most of those.

Re:Lies, damn lies, and PR (1)

VoiceOfSanity (716713) | more than 8 years ago | (#15941056)

I work with Dell hardware every day as part of my job. [The company I work for is about 99% Dell-centric when it comes to desktops and laptops.] As such, I have had to deal with a lot of Dell issues in the past, such as the GX270 motherboard problem (we haven't quite gotten to swapping out all of the system boards, but it's been a fair number), and the previous recalls of batteries from Dell. In the previous recall, it was the C600/C610 notebooks that were affected, not their current generation of systems. But still, there is a question of quality at times. The only good is that we can have a replacement on hand in most cases within 24 hours, if the device failed in some way. With the battery recall, we're being told we have to follow the same instructions if we have 1 battery or 100 batteries to send back, the corporate Dell help line is not allowed to process them specifically for the company.

At least in our case we don't have the sort of issues that the average customer is going through. We have a specific phone number to call for tech support, and I'll at least say this much: the techs I work with over the phone won't ask if we've done X to fix the issue. They know if I'm calling up, I've already done X, Y, and Z and it's dead, Jim.

How much proof is necessary? (3, Interesting)

NexFlamma (919608) | more than 8 years ago | (#15939762)

IANAL, and I'm really curious about this: How much evidence would be necessary to convict them on something akin to endangering the public by releasing notebooks that they knew could combust in a literal fireball?

I'm really hoping there is at least some legal protocol to protect consumer's from things like this that are rushed out the door at the (potential) expense of people's lives, other than class action suits.

Re:How much proof is necessary? (1)

LindseyJ (983603) | more than 8 years ago | (#15940053)

Why do you need a legal protocol other than a class-action suit? Those are bad enough, from a business standpoint. When everyone and their mother who even knew somebody that knew somebody with a Dell and requires some payment for the 'psychological anxiety' they went through worrying about poor third-cousin Jim and his exploding laptop.

I might agree with having some other recource for these consumers if the limitations on class-actions weren't a total joke.

Re:How much proof is necessary? (1)

arodland (127775) | more than 8 years ago | (#15941472)

Oh yes, because what everyone really wants is $3.98, or a coupon for $10 off a Dell branded MP3 player.

Re:How much proof is necessary? (2, Interesting)

blixco (28719) | more than 8 years ago | (#15940062)

You would "only" have to prove negligence, that Dell willfully ignored data pointing to batteries that catch fire. They'd have to have documented that somewhere along the line, someone emailed someone else with orders to go ahead and sell the batteries despite the danger.

You won't find that evidence. Dell didn't know that the things would catch fire because they don't test as well as they should. Their own incompetence would protect them from such a suit.

That doesn't mean it won't be tried. Dell is sued every day of every week for something.

forgotten the TV lawsuits (2, Insightful)

Wansu (846) | more than 8 years ago | (#15939763)



I suppose SONY and Dell either forgot all the lawsuits in the 60s and 70s stemming from TV sets burning down houses or they just didn't think the same kind of thing could happen to them. They will pay a hefty price.

Tin Foil Hats, Anyone? (1)

WrongSizeGlass (838941) | more than 8 years ago | (#15939773)

Are we sure that these explosions aren't caused by a new rootkit installed by infected Sony batteries? They detonate when detected.

So in other words.... (1)

kbox (980541) | more than 8 years ago | (#15939868)

"Let's not do anything untill people realise it could kill them.... KACHING!"

Obligatory fight club quote (1)

nickalopogus (615418) | more than 8 years ago | (#15939908)

A new laptop built by my company is turned on during a plane flight and used to edit documents. The laptop battery explodes. The plane crashes and burns with everyone trapped inside.

Now, should we initiate a recall?

Take the number of laptops in the field (A) multiply it by the probable rate of failure (B) then multiply the result by the average out of court settlement (C). A times B times C equals X. If X is less than the cost of the recall, we don't do one.

Re:Obligatory fight club quote (1)

electronerdz (838825) | more than 8 years ago | (#15940271)

Oh great, and then the guy with the laptop gets called a terrorist, and then we must dispose of our batteries before getting onto any domestic flight. They will sell power on the plane for AC adapters, and when we get off, they will sell us new batteries. It was a conspiracy between Dell and Sony and the plane companies, but the whole liquid thing threw them off, and decided to just do a recall instead.

Re:Obligatory fight club quote (1)

Internet Ronin (919897) | more than 8 years ago | (#15940537)

1:"Are there a lot of these kinds of accidents?" 2:"You wouldn't believe." 1:"Which computer company did you say you worked for?" 2:"A major one."

What were they thinking? (1)

wfberg (24378) | more than 8 years ago | (#15940029)

You have to wonder what they thought might be causing the few laptops that did ignite to go up in smoke.. On the one hand, you have charred batteries, which you know have a huge energy density and caustic, chain-reaction, chemistry.

And on the other? Pixie dust? Maybe the numlock-indicator-led was the supposed root cause of exploding, erm, batteries rather than the batteries themselves?

I'd love to hear their theories..

Re:What were they thinking? (1)

LindseyJ (983603) | more than 8 years ago | (#15940066)

You have to wonder what they thought might be causing the few laptops that did ignite to go up in smoke.. On the one hand, you have charred batteries, which you know have a huge energy density and caustic, chain-reaction, chemistry.

Did it occur to you that maybe they were trying to acertain exactly what was wrong with the batteries? I don't know about you, but I use all sorts of batteries every day, and none of them are in the habit of exploding in a ball of fire. So I imagine that these people know that too, and were maybe asking themselves what about the bateries caused them to explode.

Re:What were they thinking? (2, Informative)

blixco (28719) | more than 8 years ago | (#15940079)

Failure analysis is a pretty well established science, and when every failure leads to a lawsuit, the analysis is done with a very specific intent.

In this case, Dell will be able to point at Sony as the cause of the problem, unless Sony can produce a demand by Dell for cheap batteries that used inferior design.

Now so far as the science behind exploding batteries, it is hinted at that the battery cells were filled with an inferior product. The particles that carried the charge were too large, which allowed them to carry more energy (heat, in this case) in a concentrated space. Maybe. My bad but best guess.

Well, along with the blankets and pillows... (1)

Two99Point80 (542678) | more than 8 years ago | (#15940049)

Airliners could start carrying good-sized, insulated, tightly-sealing bags that a flaming laptop could be tossed into and sealed. Haven't heard that the battery fires produce their own oxygen, so the fire oughta be extinguished once the O2 in the bag is used up. Then the whole thing can be disposed of like a flight-sickness bag... (and yes, I've heard of halfbakery.com)

Re:Well, along with the blankets and pillows... (1)

KarmaMB84 (743001) | more than 8 years ago | (#15940705)

That is if the explosion doesn't blow the bag open :O

Re:Well, along with the blankets and pillows... (1)

Shadyman (939863) | more than 8 years ago | (#15942825)

Or if the resulting flames don't burn a hole in the bag.

Oh Flight Attendant? Please? (1)

ColdWetDog (752185) | more than 8 years ago | (#15941006)

Could I have a bag to throw my burning laptop in? Quickly?

A fire extinguisher would be much more fun. Neither would likely be effective.

I worked at Dell (5, Interesting)

blixco (28719) | more than 8 years ago | (#15940055)

for six years, and the one thing you, as a consumer, have to know about Dell (and possibly companies like it) is that there are two forces that drive their decisions: money and litigation. Dell has cut cost to the bone, not just in their supply chain but throughout their enterprise. Every dime is scrutinized, every step planned to the Nth to determine if the cost / benefit hits a sweet spot. The main driver behind product launches is schedule, and not quality. With the right schedule, Dell can be to the market at a price that makes profit.

If there are problems with the equipment, those problems are weighed against the overall cost they contain. If Dell determined that their notebooks blew up, they'd have to weigh the odds, the cost of litigation, and the cost of bad press versus the cost of fixing the problem.

The only bad thing about this way of thinking from a business perspective is that economy overrides lesson learned. Dell has had battery recalls more than a few times in the past, and this latest may cement the idea with people that Dell = exploding batteries. But rather than proactively develop test plans and more rigorous standards for their suppliers, they simply look at the bottom line.

Ultimately this has served them well from a cash perspective, but this past year has seen a lot of their karma catch up with them; their process (which is King at Dell) has run out of wiggle room for cost cutting, and bad press like this (combined with the cost to replace those batteries) may start to chip away at their altar of the almighty dollar.

You'd be amazed, though, how myopic quarter to quarter thinking makes a corporation.

Re:I worked at Dell (3, Insightful)

DerekLyons (302214) | more than 8 years ago | (#15940341)

I worked at Dell for six years, and the one thing you, as a consumer, have to know about Dell (and possibly companies like it) is that there are two forces that drive their decisions: money and litigation.

No news there - it's the same at pretty much any other corporation.
 
 
If there are problems with the equipment, those problems are weighed against the overall cost they contain. If Dell determined that their notebooks blew up, they'd have to weigh the odds, the cost of litigation, and the cost of bad press versus the cost of fixing the problem.

Again, the same as at virtually every other manufacturer, from baby food to SUV's.

Re:I worked at Dell (1)

blixco (28719) | more than 8 years ago | (#15940389)

Exactly.

So....uh....hrm. How's the weather?

Re:I worked at Dell (1)

dfghjk (711126) | more than 8 years ago | (#15941067)

"If Dell determined that their notebooks blew up, they'd have to weigh the odds, the cost of litigation, and the cost of bad press versus the cost of fixing the problem."

If Dell determines that their notebooks blew up they wouldn't have to weigh anything. The cost of such a defective product would be obviously prohibitive and the product would never make out of system test in the first place.

If the problem were less obvious then what you say makes sense. You credit management with being far more capable and intelligent than they are, though, and anyone would have to expect any company (even Apple) to make a similar judgement. It's just business and management politics at work. I doubt Dell's middle management is any more stupid than the rest and that's a scary thought.

Funny that you worked for Dell for 6 years. I worked for Dell for 15 years starting before they went public. I witnessed the development of corporate culture there and was around in the early days before chasing the mighty dollar was the end-all-be-all of their existence. Dell is not an an evil, murderous corporation, it is simply one whose corporate motivation is maximizing stockholder value (one that it has historically done better than any other). Dell is a soul-less shell overrun by the shallow greed of incompetent middle management---a reflection of its longstanding corporate values. Where actual work gets done Dell has competence, though probably not as much as it should. Anyone who was really good got run off long ago.

On the flipside, Dell understands well the cost of customer service calls. Any machine that requires a single service becomes a net loss for the company because of the thin margins. People here seem to conveniently ignore that when they accuse Dell, or any other major supplier, of intentionally using inferior parts. Doing that makes terrible business sense, and in my history with the company it was more the rule that Dell struggled to qualify enough suppliers of certain parts, chiefly memory, because of quality concerns. Dell doesn't like to accept sole source suppliers due to its volume, yet it strives to have relatively few suppliers because it's cheaper and easier that way. Parts quality is paramount when margins are so low and Dell has mastered this year after year better than anyone.

Ultimately, Dell's mistakes are more likely due to incompetence than evil. Dell prefers not to employ engineering expertise because an engineer's salary is a fixed cost and fixed costs are the enemy of ROIC. Sad but true that Dell is happy paying management big money for doing nothing but not willing to pay anyone with a technical education.

Re:I worked at Dell (1)

permaculture (567540) | more than 8 years ago | (#15941834)

"You'd be amazed, though, how myopic quarter to quarter thinking makes a corporation."

Yes, the Y2K problem is another example of this. Even in 1998, many major software companies still completely ignored the implications of only using two digits for notation of years.

Dell (1)

d3am0n (664505) | more than 8 years ago | (#15940200)

Actually being one of Dell's employee's, I'm pretty glad we're doing the recall and doing it with a proper easy to use setup. It takes awhile to setup the recall process cause it has to actually be outsourced to a special company that creates the websites, handles the logistics etc. You can't just announce recalling 4.1 million batteries overnight without a plan. Ontop of that I do have to give abit of hats off to my employers since these batteries are in like a shite-load of other companies products, but Dell's the only one who's doing anything at all recall wise. Btw, does anyone remember a story about coating capacitors on the inside with carbon nano-tubes to increase surface area and have a sorta super batter...wtf happened to that idea (Please tell me those don't blow up too, I'm already annoyed enough with lithium ion technology since I have to feild some of these calls)?

Re:Dell (1)

d3am0n (664505) | more than 8 years ago | (#15940229)

That reminds me, I really gotta start posting about stuff other than Dell. It's my weekend, why am I thinking about work :p

Re:Dell (1)

blixco (28719) | more than 8 years ago | (#15940368)

Because you're a Dell employee. Until I left that job, I was my job.

Re:Dell (1)

d3am0n (664505) | more than 8 years ago | (#15940480)

Yea, I think it's cause I'm actually happy there vs the rest of my jobs. I was doing security work in college and stuck without human contact for 12 hours a night with just me and my laptop for like 2 years on weekends, and studying my butt off on weekdays. It's sorta nice having a boss who'll come down and play foozeball with you on break.

Backdoor? (1)

Monoman (8745) | more than 8 years ago | (#15940376)

Maybe they thought they could avoid the recall by using the Sony backdoor to disable the defective batteries. :-)

VBScript to find Dell Battery Part # (2, Informative)

PoitNarf (160194) | more than 8 years ago | (#15940405)

I'm sure there are plenty that were in my situation. Large organization, many Dell Latitude laptops, and many users that probably won't check the part # on their batteries to see if it's included in the recall. I included the following lines to an inventory script we run on all the computers on our Windows domain to collect hardware information which is stored in a SQL database. It is able to get the battery manufacturer and part # from the BIOS. Here's the code for all who are interested:

strComputer = "."
Set objWMIService = GetObject("winmgmts:" _
& "{impersonationLevel=impersonate}!\\" & strComputer & "\root\cimv2")

Set colItems = objWMIService.ExecQuery("Select * from Win32_PortableBattery")

For Each objItem in colItems
Wscript.Echo "Manufacturer: " & objItem.Manufacturer
Wscript.Echo "Name: " & objItem.Name
Next

Re:VBScript to find Dell Battery Part # (1)

Adam9 (93947) | more than 8 years ago | (#15942491)

At Miami [muohio.edu] , we used Altiris [altiris.com] to produce a report of all notebooks matching the serial numbers from Dell's battery recall site. It's a bit more reliable than asking everyone to look at their battery.

Yes, they discussed.... (1)

SQLz (564901) | more than 8 years ago | (#15940836)

Sony discussed with Dell if it was possible to get rootkit onto the system via the battery.

6 MILLION feet under (1)

poind3xt3r (890661) | more than 8 years ago | (#15941206)

Wow. Sony just keeps digging and digging and digging....

Another reason to trust Sony (1)

HiThere (15173) | more than 8 years ago | (#15941210)

Sony clearly has the best interests of the end-user in mind.

Not.

Apparently the root kit was only the inflamed skin over the pustule.
Lance that boil and get rid of it.

Ah Sony (1)

MrCopilot (871878) | more than 8 years ago | (#15941420)

Chalk up another marketing disaster for the fine folks of Sony.

Seriously, anybody watching from the boardroom? It is almost like they are starting to collapse under their own weight.

Sony battery not part of the recall (1)

assassinator42 (844848) | more than 8 years ago | (#15941471)

I have a Dell notebook with a Sony lithium ion battery that I bought in 2004. Apparently, it's not part of the recall. Should I be concerned?

Re:Sony battery not part of the recall (1)

R3d M3rcury (871886) | more than 8 years ago | (#15942917)

Yes. Yes you should.

You should immediately dispose of that notebook and go buy one from Apple. In fact, everybody with a Dell product--whether it has a battery or not--should immediately throw it out and replace it with an Apple computer.

Why, yes, I do own Apple stock? Why do you ask? :^)

Oh god... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#15941684)

I smell another case of the innocent party being thrown into the fire.... poor, poor, multibillion-dollar Dell&Sony
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