Groups Standard Aims to Extinguish Fears over Notebook Fires

News Analysis: The little-known IPC OEM Critical Components Committee is set to begin work on a standard for manufacturing lithium-ion battery cells used in notebooks and other electronics with the aim of increasing safety.

PC makers, including Dell, are getting to work on notebook fire prevention.

Executives from companies, including Apple Computer, Dell, Hewlett-Packard and Lenovo Group, all members of the electronic products standard group IPCs OEM Critical Components Committee, plan to meet in September 2006 to begin work on a manufacturing standard for lithium-ion battery cells they expect will improve safety of the technology, used widely in notebook PCs and other electronics.

The committee aims to take on concerns about notebook battery safety and the volatilities of lithium-ion cells, which have come into the spotlight in recent weeks, following several reports of notebook PC fires and the massive battery pack recalls by Dell and Apple Computer.

Those recalls now cover almost 6 million packs, worldwide, between Dells Aug. 14 recall of 4.1 million battery packs and now Apples Aug. 24 recall of 1.8 million battery packs.

The Critical Component Committees work, which began in early 2006 but picked up steam about two months ago, aims to help make lithium-ion battery packs safer by creating universal specifications for lithium-ion battery cell manufacturing.

The group, chaired by John Grosso, a director in Dells Worldwide Procurement Group in Austin, Texas, will meet Sept. 13 to begin discussions on the standard.

Grosso hopes to move swiftly enough to release the standard during the second quarter of 2007, he said in an interview with eWEEK.

/zimages/4/28571.gifClick here to read more about what Dells doing to help businesses replace their batteries.

"My immediate view of our deliverable does not tie into longer battery life. It ties into if youre a customer…do you feel safe buying the thing? I look at that, today, as thats our charter—making the consumer feel that theyre not getting a product that they have to worry about," Grosso said.

"If you look at lithium-ion batteries, theyre in cell phones, power tools, [and] cars. Theyre going everywhere."

The committee will not specify notebook battery pack design, however, or propose any other standards that dictate the way in which the packs are used in notebooks.

Grosso said he believed those issues should be left up to PC manufacturers. It will focus on the battery cells, which are made by companies like Sanyo and Sony and then assembled into packs by one of a number of vendors.

However, the committee aims to look deeply into the battery cells construction and also the testing methodologies that manufacturers use.

"What were looking to do here—IPC is not an enforcement body—were going to look at design guidelines, manufacturing requirements, testing and reliability," Grosso said.

"The intention is that once we get a standard in place that raises the bar—it brings all the cell manufacturers to a common performance level—we as the users of those cells start specifying specs…then our companies become the enforcement agencies."

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