Dell, Others Working on Battery Standard

To some observers, it may seem like closing the barn door after the horses have escaped, but next month a group of high-tech companies — including leading notebook computer makers Dell, Lenovo, Apple and Hewlett-Packard — will be holding a summit meeting in San Jose, Calif., to get the ball rolling on manufacturing standards for lithium-ion batteries for portable and handheld electronic devices.

The companies are part of the OEM Critical Components Committee of the IPC-Association Connecting Electronics Industries, of Bannockburn, Ill. The organization has some 2,400 members involved in making, designing or using electronic components.

The move comes after Dell, on Aug. 14, announced the recall of 4.1 million lithium-ion batteries with cells manufactured by Sony because, under some conditions, they may overheat and cause a risk of fire.

Broadening Reach

The panel began to focus on battery standards long before Dell’s massive recall was announced, according to the chairman of the committee, Dell’s Director of Supplier Engineering and Quality John Grosso.

“About two months ago, I put out an urgent request to the other companies that sit on this council with us and asked that we expedite a battery standard moving forward,” he told the E-Commerce Times.

Although the IPC has been in the standards business since 1957, it’s only recently that it has tried to broaden its reach into other components, Grosso explained.

Quick Turnaround

The first such venture into unfamiliar waters was launched in May 2005, when the committee worked on a standard for computer fans. Less than a year later, there was a standard in place, which, as standards watchers know, is a very fast turnaround time.

“Normally, standards take three or four years to come out,” Grosso said.

Bolstered by the committee’s earlier success, the Dell executive predicted similar speed for the battery standard. “We’re going to have a standard out on batteries by no later than July 2007,” he forecast.

A Long Wait

Asked why it has taken the electronics industry so long to recognize the need for battery standards, Grosso responded: “I think things got in the way, like fear of IP (intellectual property).

“We’ve just got to realize that we’re not talking about IP, we’re talking about process control,” he contended.

Any standard adopted by the committee would require the voluntary acceptance of the battery makers to work, but that won’t be an obstacle, according to IPC Vice President of Marketing and Communications Kimberly Sterling.

“Standards make things easier on suppliers because they have one set of preferences for how effectively a thing is supposed to perform,” she told the E-Commerce Times. “It takes you out of the realm of every company having its own individual specification.

“You also end up with something where there’s a lot more technical expertise going into it because you’ll have the experience of more than one company participating in making the standard,” she added.

Consumer Apathy

Even with a standard, there may still be batteries with dubious bloodlines sold at enticing prices on the Internet by third parties. Buying such batteries, even now, isn’t a good idea, argued David A. Milman, CEO and founder of Rescuecom, a national computer service company based in Syracuse, N.Y.

“Rescuecom always recommends to our customers that they buy only original equipment manufacturers’ products, as opposed to knock-offs or third-party add-ons, because of the safety and security issue,” he told the E-Commerce Times.

However, consumers seem less concerned about those issues than Rescuecom’s techies.

“Even though it’s been in the news, my understanding is that there’s been only 150,000 orders placed for these batteries, which represents less than four percent of the recalls out there,” he observed. “You would think people would be jumping on this, but they’re not.”

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