The Worst Tech Blunder of 2016: Samsung’s Galaxy Note 7
There’s no doubt that Samsung took a hit with its exploding Galaxy Note 7, but there never seemed to be a truly definitive answer as to why it exploded in the first place. To find that answer, a manufacturing engineering company dissected the device. What they found explains a lot.
Instrumental, the company who acquired a Galaxy Note 7 and dismantled it, released a report of their findings. This report may just help to explain many of the issues that the device had, and might help provide insight as to why those issues were able to pass through manufacturing checks without being caught.
In September of 2016, the first reports of volatile Galaxy Note 7s first started ‘blowing up’ on social media. In the beginning, Samsung pointed the finger at the manufacturing process employed by Samsung SDI, claiming that they used too much tension while manufacturing the lithium polymer batteries that powered the phone. As any responsible company would do, Samsung quickly offered replacements to those customers, only to have some of these replacements also explode. This implied that the battery itself was not the lone culprit in the phone’s failure. However, this became a moot point, as Samsung then discontinued and recalled the entire line of phones.
Despite Samsung’s efforts to simply remove the danger from the hands of consumers, Instrumental still wanted to unearth what exactly caused the devices to fail. Getting their hands on one of the devices and dissecting it, the Instrumental team discovered just that.
When designing the lithium polymer batteries to use in the phone, Samsung utilized a layered battery layout, positively-charged layers of lithium cobalt oxide separated from the negatively-charged graphite layer by two polymer electrolyte-soaked layers. This complex separation is crucial, because if the positive and negative layers were to touch, the electrolyte would heat up and explode. Unfortunately, this is precisely what happened, due to a few different design factors.
Samsung also disclosed that the separating polymer layers may have been too thin from the get-go because of their attempts to make the battery as small as possible This thinness was exacerbated when combined with the battery’s natural heat expansion.
As Samsung designed the interior workings of the Galaxy Note 7, the engineers enclosed this expanding battery in a pocket built into the phone’s structure, with very little room for expansion. Furthermore, as a battery’s charge is accumulated and depleted, chemical processes lead to natural swelling over time.
Or, a Simpler Explanation
So, to review the factors that Instrumental discovered:
- Thin protective layers within the battery.
- Naturally-occurring heat expansion of the battery.
- Containing the battery in a too-small compartment.
With these design considerations are listed out, it becomes apparent that the Galaxy Note 7 was designed to fail. Combining the natural expansion of the battery with an insufficiently large enclosure created a pressure cooker, of sorts, within the device.
However, the question remains: how did Samsung let a device with such a critical issue pass its inspection requirements? Instrumental had a few thoughts on this as well, concluding that the battery issue was the result of an attempt to rush innovation.
Their reasoning was simple: the pressure to remain competitive lead to manufacturing shortcuts and insufficient testing before the devices were released. Instrumental hypothesized that as new prototypes were created, the new versions of the battery simply didn’t receive the rigorous testing that batteries usually undergo.
From a strictly business standpoint, this makes sense, as Instrumental stated that proper testing could take up to a year. However, Samsung’s decisions clearly put customers at risk, and the company paid for it in lost business and the cost to recall the massive amounts of phones it sold. In addition, both retailers and consumers have been inconvenienced, as they have lost time due to resolving this technology issue.
Which device did you replace your faulty Galaxy Note 7 with? Let us know in the comments!