First of all, deflected electrodes, insufficient insulation tape, and high welding burrs are absolutely fine explanations for what happened here. As someone who works with batteries, that would tell me everything I wanted to know. If I was running a battery fab, I'd be able to check for these problems in 20 minutes.
Further in the favor of Samsung is that battery fabs are some of the most opaque places in the world. They never release any information of any value whatsoever to the outside, and there are only a handful in the world. For Samsung to release something like this so candidly is absolutely unprecedented in the world of batteries; I was shocked when I saw the post.
Say what you will about Samsung in general, or about their treatment of the whole process, but posting this is a first among any of the major battery manufacturers and shocked me with its level of openness and detail.
If anyone doubts this, try getting information on the closest battery fab to you. You can try to find what batteries they produce, but chances are that's not public. You can try to find their name, or if they still exist, but that's probably also not public. You might eventually find an address, and you might go there, but when you arrive you'll be forcibly removed from the area by armed security and/or police. To give an example, there are a couple debates in the industry about what company acquired another company. It's years after the supposed acquisition, and nobody knows anything.
The battery industry is a whole secretive world of its own, and this is because batteries are simultaneously a low-profit commodity and a gateway to unlimited riches. If Apple is successful with its dream technology, it might capture 50% of the world smartphone market instead of the 14% it has now. If a battery company is successful, it will become successful beyond your wildest dreams. Lots of things are just on the edge of being possible with today's battery tech. The first one to 'win' gets to go from selling a couple billion of batteries (to small fish, like EV and power tool makers) to selling trillions of dollars to everyone that will buy, including every electric utility in the world that will be ecstatic to have the perfect demand-smoothing device.
Eventually his boss came for a visit and dad was explaining what he had done as they walked through the factory floor. Just as they passed a stack of batteries, one of them exploded -- which then set off a chain reaction as the released electrolyte shorted out adjacent batteries. Listening to this series of small explosions, his boss accused him of a setup. Nope. Just coincidence.
I think he said the problem was traced to the water supply and how the city had been varying the amount of chlorine in it.
The most interesting battery they made was for the Union Pacific Railroad. They had signal lights to run out in the middle of nowhere, and they had to run unattended through the Rocky Mountain winters. So they made this massive battery that would be hoisted by crane into a buried vault by the side of the tracks, to be swapped out 5-6 months later.
It can't handle as many trains as centralized control, but it has the advantage of not needing a network in remote areas - just buried wires. It's the equivalent to relay logic.
(I finally get to put some of my teenage model railroading knowledge to work)
I think the damage Samsung suffered was simply too high, so they had to release information that would show that they really solved the issue. Otherwise there would be permanent brand damage if people suspected that they don't know what was causing incidents. So what we are seeing is actually some very well thought out PR.
The FULL blame is on Samsung and its subsidiaries.
(I honestly have no idea, I'm not involved in manufacturing.)
As a tester, you build a 10k ($10M) unit test run and none of them fail, and then another 10k ($10M) run and again none of them fail... statistically you might not expect reliably catch a single failure until you run 10 times.... that's a $100M test you need to get your boss to sign off on.
Note that when you get a failure it will burn up and you won't be able to identify the cause.
Now, if you knew the failure mode, you could test for it directly and you wouldn't have to waste an entire assembled phone in a destructive evaluation, but that's hind sight. The failure defects they see seem like pretty standard problems, but other than sampling, I'm still not sure how they are going to catch them in manufacturing.
What's amazing is that more batteries don't go up (the original Prius was notorious).
Catching problems like this can be pretty tricky and at the end of the day it's also possible that a few people getting lazy and programming the machines wrong led to this.
There were 2 battery suppliers, the initial recall was done because batteries from the first supplier (a Samsung subsidiary) had structural/design defects.
To make up for this lost capacity, they ramped up production at the second supplier without much of a heads-up. Unfortunately the Quality Control was not adequate for the higher volumes, resulting in well-designed but sloppily made batteries that were also prone to explode. The problem in the second case was not a structural one, but in the manufacturing process.
Unfortunately, I'm mostly on the supply side of the battery equation, consuming those few PDFs that are smuggled out.
The most surprising thing, to me, is that battery tech moves in a zig-zag shape. The best battery that money can buy, for two of pretty much the most important applications (can't elaborate further, sorry) was only made from ~2012 until ~2014. A lot of really expensive things that need that battery are now running off of old stock, which will of course eventually run out. The best comparable battery made in 2016 has less than half its performance.
Another example of this is energy density. For practical purposes, the best density you could reasonably buy was fixed around 90 Wh/kg for a while (until about 1997), then suddenly jumped to ~180 Wh/kg (~2002), then went in 2006 to ~260 Wh/kg... and sat there, where it has sat for eleven years now with practically zero improvement.  If I teleported to today from 2006 I'd expect to have some fantastic 400 Wh/kg batteries that would enable all kinds of new technologies... but nope, the best energy density you can get is literally the same as it was eleven years ago.
Worth noting that since 2006 discharge rates of high capacity batteries have gone up, to be perfectly fair. Still though, energy density remains stagnant.
 Looking at graphs on Google Images will give you the wrong idea. They typically show the best batteries that year, not necessarily ones you can actually buy, and the numbers are often pulled out of thin air. This graph  is the least worst, but that's not saying much.
Maybe you can shine some light on this, why do the search trends  for lithium sulfur appear so cyclic? I'm not aware of any uses in industry, or any major conferences/press cycles around Li-S.
TL;DR They're changing the market dynamics but their cells are boring aside from being cheap and will probably stay that way for a while.
So first of all, yes they will change the market dynamics; anyone selling as many batteries as they (plan to) do will change the market.
Secondly, the gigafactory's cells aren't that interesting (right now) aside from being cheap. The cell lifetime is atrocious, between half to a quarter that of the market standard. The energy density is not great, around 220 Wh/kg for the best cells and 190 Wh/kg for the worse ones; this is slightly better than the cutting edge fifteen years ago. The power density they claim is unacceptable given what it does to the cell life. And since the cells are larger, they require new cooling systems.
Musk is a fascinating guy, for sure, but he's just as human as the rest of us. An absolutely gargantuan amount of cash has been piled into battery research in the last 11 years, with zero appreciable gains in energy density. If the Gigafactory ever produces a high energy density cell, it'll almost certainly be because their partner Panasonic (which is one of the few battery companies on the cutting edge) made a breakthrough and licensed it to them.
Finally, the battery market is a very strange thing: many makers of the 'good' cells won't sell to anyone except a few specific clients. These clients buy the cells (on paper) to make things like power tools or electric vehicles or battery packs. However, these clients vastly over-buy, and then sell off their excess stock to resellers. Anytime you buy a powerbank, or a loose 18650 cell for an e-cigarette, or a battery pack for an ebike, you're almost certainly going to end up with cells that have been resold at least twice.
As such, the easiest way that Tesla could absolutely revolutionize the industry is by simply saying "hey, if your needed capacity is more than $25K per year, give us a call" and selling directly to businesses. They could even put up a quote on their website à la SpaceX. Unfortunately, I've got a feeling that if Tesla did that their partners at Panasonic would make heads roll, but you never know.
But yes; if you want newer battery technology direct from the manufacturer, you'll probably be flat-out ignored even if you're inquiring at a medium-large scale. The way to do it is to hunt around for semi-reputable resellers, who will usually give you what you want at an acceptable price.
I've primarily seen them used for industrial/military applications.
As for the "gigafactory", it's Tesla trying to get into that closed market, like parent said there are only a few big players and it's not very welcoming to new ones, Tesla's plan is to be so big that they can have a big supply to sell in bulk AND to also be (together with solar city I guess) one of their first big scale customer.
Spot on. Musk is a fascinating guy but he's not magic; energy density hasn't improved in 11 years with ridiculous amounts of cash thrown at it and I don't think Tesla will be the one to make a breakthrough.
> As for the "gigafactory", it's Tesla trying to get into that closed market
Tesla is actually partnered with Panasonic, which is one of the big battery makers and one of the three that actually make cutting-edge cells. Tesla's "plan" as far as I can tell is to make and sell batteries as cheap as they can, especially since the cells they are making right now aren't interesting in any other aspect than price.
Correct. The problem with packing cells tighter is heat production: a ridiculous amount of heat is released and the individual cells can get up to 80 degrees C / 176 F. (80C is not a "doomsday scenario"; most cells are rated to sit there running at 80C just fine.) When they're all next to each other, tightly packed in with no place for heat to go, you're screwed.
The other reason is that volumetric density is usually not what people optimize for; gravimetric density is more useful most of the time, and in that case you don't really have any reason to use tighter packing.
- Electric vehicles
- Anything that goes into space
- Large scale energy storage (good energy density typically = less lithium used)
- Generally: anything that moves
Places where both are equally important:
- Consumer electronics (you don't want an ultra slim 2lb phone, or a ultra thick featherweight phone)
Places where volumetric density is more important:
- Batteries in smartcards
- Some medical devices
- Certain flashlights, IoT devices
You'll notice that there are a lot more things where people care more about gravimetric density.
Also, the best Li-Ion cells for volumetric density that you can buy are rather inconvenient shapes; a favorite is the 18650, an 18mm diameter by 65mm long cylinder. Yes, the best 18650 technically has much better volumetric density than the iPhone batteries. But if you swapped the iPhone battery with an 18650 you'd have a hilarious looking semi-cylinder protruding from the back.
Don't lithium ion batteries degrade over time? If that's the case, then how is this 3-5 year old stock still the best available?
We always talked about specific capacity (q, charge per unit weight) so all the numbers I'm quoting will be in that - you can multiply by voltage to convert.
We were obtaining specific capacities around 500 mAh/g. Vs q= ~370 mAh/g max for graphite anode. I recall based on theoretical modelling ~660 MAh/g could have been achievable with graphene.
This pales in comparison to tin or cobalt anodes, which back in 2010 had q = 990 or so. We were not really optimizing for energy density. Rather with carbon based anodes we would see much better cyclical performance due to the lower volume expansion during Li intercalation. So you would be able to get much more charge/discharge cycles without the loss of performance you'd typically see in a higher energy density metal based anode.
I work in a different industry now and have not followed battery development closely. I'd speculate a similar thing has happened in the "real world" the energy density may not have improved significantly since 2006 but the cycle life is probably better.
Two that come to mind immediately (that beat the VTC5) are the 25R and the VTC6, both of which run cooler and have a higher capacity than the VTC5.
You probably haven't heard of the specific battery I'm thinking of unless you've worked a decent amount with batteries, though; it's not terribly popular with hobbyists (part of that, of course, is that it can be hard to get.)
On the other hand, revealing causes of failure seems much more specific and valueable, so there's that.
What's significant is the details. The exact chemical compositions and dimensions of the different components result in significantly different performance characteristics.
Technical explanations are fine, but catching potential problems like that is why QA, and locking processes, exists, on the shipping and receiving end.
Ideally, there be a sampling and analysis of the batteries, for a specific process, for a specific plant, before accepting them at the factory. Xray imaging, mechanical stress testing, accelerated life testing, etc. Sealing that many flawed component in your phones isn't the result of battery manufacturing opaqueness, it's a test escape for QA. Something went wrong. An incorrect sample size from an incorrect confidence, a process change at the battery end, without resampling, or ignoring or not readjusting the confidence after seeing failures.
Otherwise, you know, phones could blow up in people pockets and be a PR disaster for your company, because customers only see the name on the case.
And they do. The big battery makers are Panasonic, LG Chem, Samsung SDI, and a few companies that make things internally. Apple has tried to get into batteries with a few strategic acquisitions but didn't really get anywhere (as far as we know.)
Regarding how people specifically hire me, I've been lucky enough to never really need to search for work; it just finds me. Either through HN, or from people I've worked for before.
By the way, my email's in my profile; anyone in this thread feel free to contact me. You should especially contact me if you're involved in any project that uses batteries, I always love to hear what people are making.
Another example is when a company needed a 10kW output for just a few seconds. I was able to reduce their already-optimized battery pack (the largest weight part of the system) to one twentieth of its original weight.
Given a random company that hired me, I could probably accomplish one or two of the below:
- Increase battery capacity by 20-120% (average maybe 50% improvement or 1.5x original, for example 900mAh -> 1400mAh)
- Increase battery max output power by up to 70x (for example output power 15W -> output power 1000W)
- Decrease battery weight by 20-100% (average maybe 40% improvement or 1.4x original, example 500g -> 350g)
- Increase cycle lifetimes by 10x (example 300 cycles to 3000 cycles)
- Increase or decrease operating voltage of battery
- Make a lithium-ion battery extremely safe (not dangerous after extreme drops, heat, cold, short circuits or punctures)
- Change battery form factor into something much more convenient
That list is of course assuming that they're already using semi-decent lithium-ion batteries. If they're not using li-ion or using bad li-ions, the improvements are (usually) much more drastic than above.
If anyone reading this is working on any project requiring batteries, shoot me an email (it's in my profile.) I can reduce cost/weight/charge time and increase power/capacity/durability (whatever you choose) - and the worst case is that I tell you your batteries are already optimal.
All conjecture, but it could have just been a risk thing, not a capacity thing.
Tesla isn't a problem, it is Tesla's ambitions that are a problem. There is sufficient supply for the Model S/X but not the Model 3 and they were likely having difficulty finding a partner willing to spin up enough production capacity for the later.
If I were to hazard a guess everyone wasn't willing to take on the risk at the usual price so there was enough price difference (to cover the risk of problems) that it made sense for Tesla to spend the capital to build there own.
Heck you might even be able base Tesla's expanding ideas of what to do with batteries on this. "What do we do if we can't sell the cars at the expected price point so we move fewer of them?" "Just make other products that can shore up demand".
Again all baseless conjecture but depending on the quantities involved could make sense. If Tesla said "I guarantee I will by X but you need to be able to produce 5X in case I don't run into any issues" would you bite without compensation for that risk?
"I was shocked when I saw the post."
I mean, I get why they're releasing a summary infographic. The fewer details they release, the fewer things they're vulnerable to lawsuits over. But at the same time, I do think that it's important for society as a whole for companies to release the root-cause-analyses when their products have caused harm, so that other companies in the future know exactly what to watch out far and what sorts of designs to avoid. Right now, there's nothing preventing some other phone manufacturer from making the same mistakes as Samsung, with the same results.
In this case, the "root causes" are not terribly interesting. The cause for the high weld burrs is that the settings on the welding machines were set wrong. If they said "the settings on the welding machines were set wrong", or the root cause for that ("our battery technicians were incorrectly trained"), that would have been useless.
In contrast, this is a fantastic explanation, presented in a very clear way. If I was running a battery fab, I'd be able to check for these problems in 20 minutes.
However, it does look like in this case additional data from a few regulatory or quasi-regulatory agencies has been provided (PDF links after the infographic), and the infographic is reasonably detailed.
Also a YouTube video with findings and new Quality Assurance Measures
The press release calls into question that Samsung fully owns up to it.
Otherwise, sorry for being negative, but this doesn't seem like a very complicated reason for the batteries to have been defective, right? Why didn't they just release this a couple of weeks after the incidents started happening? (Did they want to confirm with a large number of the recalled ones they got back you think?)
Yeah, wow, how does that even happen?
Seriously, these findings are facepalm-worthy. It really doesn't inspire any confidence in their quality control.
The other thing I find interesting is that given the root cause they could essentially do 100% battery screening and have a lot of stock of G7's. They would be better than a cheap android phone in a magazine advertisement :-). Also the G7 has a gorgeous screen, I wonder if those are being recycled into new gear or if there is some booth selling off screens somewhere.
Why do we not have standardized removable batteries for mobile phones?
Because customers don't want them. Yes yes I know almost everyone, including myself, on HN and probably a good chunk of Reddit does want removable batteries. But the majority of customers simply do not care and having them non-removable means it's easier to make them properly water proof or resistant, thinner and larger batteries (easier to cram into the available space).
Another thing to keep in mind is the average life span of a phone in the US is 2 years. That amount of time is unlikely to wear a battery into being useless so you're only going to need to replace it if you are a heavy phone user and carry additional(s) batteries with you.
There are certainly other ways to fix this issue (ranging from switching to inductive charging to, if your good with soldering, actually swapping out the micro USB port on the board). But swapping out a battery is so simple, even not very technically inclined people can do it.
I'm not sure I could say the same for something like a iPhone 7 battery swap (such as this -- https://www.ifixit.com/Guide/iPhone+7+Battery+Replacement/67... ) -- I agree it looks doable, but non-technically inclined people might run away from those type of instructions.
I have a spare battery for my phone and it's very convenient. Swap the battery and you're back to having a 100% charged fully usable device in about 30 seconds.
Try making a call from a phone with a USB battery pack plugged in.
Also I do see quite an increase in people carrying battery packs, because their phone doesn't allow changing them.
* your/you above wasn't referring to any specific person
So if it dies, one should just shut up and buy a new phone?!
I'm sure quite a few customers would prefer switching battery rather then looking around for a power socket.
I personally used Galaxy phones instead of Nexus for the entire reason it had a replacable battery. I loved never having to charge my phone when it died, just popping in the battery into a charger with 2 backups. One always in my bag. So removing it was the reason I stopped using their phones and I doubt I'm the only one.
But that said I doubt they would recall the battery only. They'd definitely ask for the whole phone back until investigation is done. Look how long this took.
All they needed to sacrifice is about ~1mm of phone thickness...
My old Samsung Galaxy S2 is still going strong no screen protector, whatever OS version it is now, and the original battery.
I gave the S2 to my dad for a while then I gave him my old S3 so then my sister got the S2 and it still has no scratches on the screen still works great.
The S3 was my second one it was replaced after the screen spontaneously cracked now it's on it's third battery and the WiFi had stopped working. The screen has a scratch on it too I barely got it home before it was scratched I didn't even have time to buy a screen protector.
My S5 is failing even faster and I am also on my third battery soon to be fourth. The screen scratches far easier than the S2.
My next phone will not be a Samsung.
The only issue my SO and I have with our phones is that, in time, they get annoyingly slow. But I can't really blame Samsung for the absurd amount of software bloat the mobile ecosystem accrues every year. Same crap is continuing to eat desktop and web anyway.
(I'm dreading the day when someone will have the brilliant idea of porting Electron to Android...)
Couldn't be happier with my Nexus 6P. Not the most powerful phone out there, but it just works.
Or would replacing the battery and re-distributing the phone cost more than just release a new phone?
If they did, it'd be better to make it a slightly different shape and then release it under a different name.
If the result of the investigation is correct then they have different flaws in both the original and new batteries, which is quite unfortunate. The fiasco costed them something like $17B so they can't afford to have it happen again.
I'm having trouble thinking of a more poorly organized recall in consumer electronics:
- Samsung initially refused to work with US regulators (CPSC) to coordinate a recall.
- They didn't communicate to customers the danger of the situation until after people got burned and there was widespread media coverage.
- They didn't work with carriers to allow returns in stores. People who bought their Note 7's through their carriers weren't clear on how they could return the phone. In some cases, the store employees even told customers that they couldn't swap the device.
- For those who managed to swap their phones, the replacement had the same issue. They had a defective battery because they rushed Note 7 develpment -- you'd think they would have learned not to rush the recall...
no replacement or refunds for half of customers, lack of communication with public, false statements and lies. they even removed videos from youtube!
How anyone can say they did everything right is insane.
2. None of the phones "Exploded" they caught fire, big difference
3. What exactly do you believe they should have have done differently
I'll bet that if you do word associations with "Samsung phone" a lot of people will say "fire," "exploding" or something similar. Now if you were trying to create that association it would be great marketing, but I'm guessing Samsung's marketing department was going for a different association.
Like asking for the removal from Youtube of the GTA video showing a Note 7 used as a bomb?
They were radio silent for MONTHS longer than they should have been. No "we're sorry", no "we're looking into it and will update you soon", nothing, for MONTHS.
Was there independent research outside of the 3 separate companies Samsung used? Is their research available for download and how does it compare with the 4 sets of research in the linked article above?
> Who can trust this crooked company after such bs explanations...
Considering there really wasn't a lot of exploding phones they recalled pretty damn quickly. Why would they even lie here? What would they gain? If they lie, do it again and they're going have to take them all back again.
I don't get what you're going on about.
It seems to me it's a classic copy-and-paste error caused by haste/laziness. How ironic that the infographic made to explain the buggy batteries is buggy as well.