Samsung compromised on safety to make a slimmer battery on the Samsung Galaxy Note 7

According to Instrumental.ai, Samsung actually compromised on safety in the race to make the phone as slim as possible.


Samsung has not yet released results of its investigation into the Galaxy Note 7 battery explosion fiasco, and there is no official explanation yet. Instrumental.ai, a company that provides analytics services to manufacturers to identify and fix problems in the production line, says it has figured out the problem with the phone.

Samsung rushed the devices to the market to make their flagship devices available to the public before the Apple iPhone 7 launch. The rush to get the device out was one of the speculated reasons for the exploding batteries. Samsung compromised on safety to get the device on the market sooner. According to Instrumental.ai, Samsung actually compromised on safety in an effort to make the phone as slim as possible.

If the problem was with the batteries, then the replacement phones should have not exploded as well. The fact that the phones were replaced, and still exploded, shows a fundamental design flaw in the device, one that is not restricted to just the battery.

Inside the battery is a positive layer made out of lithium cobalt-oxide, a negative layer made out of graphite, and two polymer layers soaked in electrolyte to separate the positive from the negative. If the positive layer and the negative layer touch each other for any reason, the flowing energy heats the electrolyte, causing the battery to explode.

Other theories on the Samsung Note 7 Explosion

  • Batteries supplied by two companies were both defective according to a report in Bloomberg
  • Pressure on contact plates, report in CNET, which is similar to the Instrumental.ai report
  • Curved edges on the phone put pressure on the batteries, according to Phone Arena
  • Industrial Sabotage, according to speculation in Hackaday
  • Overcharging due to fast charging feature, according to a report in Financial Times 
  • Rectangular batteries are inherently unsafe in slim smartphones according to a report in Forbes 

According to Instrumental.ai, Samsung was so aggressive in designing a slim phone, that they compromised on the safety of the polymer layers in the batteries. The positive and negative layers can touch each other over the course of regular use, the battery swelling, or pressure on the casing. Samsung Engineer pushed the limits of the thinness of the polymer layers, to make the device slimmer, but compromising on the quality.

Battery testing is a time consuming process, and can take up to a year for thorough testing. Samsung apparently just did not have enough time to rigorous testing of the batteries. Charging the batteries leads to mechanical swell. Apparently, the batteries were such a tight fit, that over the years, natural mechanical swelling of the batteries would have pushed the phone apart, even if the batteries did not explode.

The battery in the Samsung Galaxy Note 7 is just housed too close to the body to be safe, according to a teardown that Instrumental.ai did with a fire extinguisher nearby.

Samsung could have reduced the dimensions of the batteries, but that would mean lowering the capacity well below that of the iPhone 7 or the previous device in the series, the Note 5. Alternatively, Samsung could have made a thicker phone. The Vivo V5 Max, the Oppo R5, the Gionee Elfie S5.1 and the Huawei Ascend P6 are some of the devices that are considerably thinner than the Galaxy Note 7, and yet did not have any problems with spontaneous smartphone combustion.

This is not the first time that Samsung has recalled defective phones. According to Android Authority, the very first wireless phones by Samsung were revolutionary technology, but suffered from an alarmingly high defective rate of almost 12 percent. Samsung recalled 150,000 phones from the market and destroyed the phones in front of 2000 employees. The company went on to attain great success after the incident.

The damage to Samsung has not been much, with fans demanding a replacement device, and Note series users looking at the episode as a one time problem, but battery supplier and affiliate Samsung SDI is struggling. Samsung and affiliate Samsung SDI are expected to announce the results of their own investigations into the Galaxy Note 7 battery explosions by the end of the year.

 

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