September 06, 2016 10:30
The spontaneous combustions of Samsung's Galaxy Note 7 smartphones were due to technical faults and cutting corners on quality checks during rushed development and delivery schedules.
Samsung was desperate to make the phone slimmer and boost battery life to eke out a small advantage in a market where all products are now more or less the same. Early rave reviews and bumper sales proved its instincts correct, but they came at a heavy price estimated in the region of W2 trillion for the recall (US$1=W1,106).
The Galaxy Note 7 was unveiled on Aug. 2, 11 days earlier than its predecessor last year. Samsung was hell bent on stealing a march on rival Apple, which usually launches its latest iPhones in early September.
One industry insider said, "Pushing forward a product's release date by around 10 days translates into huge pressure and sleepless nights for developers."
Then Samsung became a victim of its own success. "There was a huge amount of pre-orders, but battery production couldn’t keep up with the demand," a Samsung staffer said. "Samsung SDI, which was the sole supplier for the initial batch of orders, had a really tough time trying to keep up."
That seems to have resulted in a failure to thoroughly test the rechargeable batteries.
"We have internal rules on how many recharging and discharging tests we need to conduct and how many samples to use," the staffer said. "If we'd had more time, we would have tested our product more thoroughly. There is no excuse."
Management pushed developers to make the Galaxy Note 7 slimmer than its predecessor and radically extend battery life.
"To boost battery life, Samsung had to add more anodes and cathodes, which forced them to decrease the thickness of the membrane dividing the two components," a source said.
A portion of the insulation tape in the batteries also shrank, and together that made the batteries much more prone to catching fire during recharging.
Industry watchers say many Samsung SDI battery engineers have bolted to rival LG Chem or to automakers after the company laid off around 400 staff, and the brain drain is starting to affect products.
What is even more embarrassing for Samsung is that batteries supplied by China's ATL did not malfunction. Samsung is not recalling the Galaxy Note 7s sold in China, because all were equipped with ATL batteries.
The Chinese company has supplied batteries for the iPhone for more than a decade.
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