Dell battery recall a warning to computer industry, says analyst


The computer industry needs to fix hardware problems at source rather than issuing after-the-fact recalls, a Canadian analyst said today.

Carmi Levy, senior analyst at London-Ont. based Info-Tech Research Group was commenting on computer maker Dell Inc.’s recall of 4.1 million laptop computer batteries because of a potential fire hazard, Monday.

The lithium-ion batteries being recalled are installed in 2.7 million laptops sold in the U.S. and 1.4 million sold overseas between April 2004 and July 18 of this year, Dell said.

“Under rare conditions, it is possible for these batteries to overheat, which could cause a risk of fire,” said Dell, of Round Rock, Texas, in a statement.

Dell said it is cooperating with the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) in conducting the recall. The federal agency described it as the largest recall in the history of the consumer electronics industry, according to published reports.

Levy suggested that recalls don’t really resolve the issue, but are merely a makeshift solution.

“The propensity for these devices to explode has been known for some time,” he noted. “Regulatory bodies and manufacturers need to turn up the heat on solving these issues, rather than using recalls as a band-aid solution.”

An Info-Tech release published in June said defective computer batteries pose a threat to personal safety by users, especially during air travel. “Vendors are realizing that the potential for overheating and even fires and explosions related to these batteries is high,” Levy said.

Dell, meanwhile, has urged customers to visit the firm’s Web site or call a toll-free support number. In Canada the number to call is: 1-866-342-0011.

According to the CPSC Web site, lithium-ion batteries have been cited in recalls of other laptop models, including computers from Hewlett-Packard Co., of Palo Alto, and from Apple Computer Inc., of Cupertino, both in California.

Dell made other voluntary recalls of 22,000 laptop batteries in December 2005, 284,000 in 2001 and 27,000 in 2000, according to the CPSC.

In those instances, Dell and the CPSC urged consumers to stop using the laptops’ batteries until they received a replacement. Lithium-ion batteries are used in cell phones, camcorders, digital cameras and other consumer electronics products.

Dell reported six instances in which laptops overheated and caused fires since December of last year, although no one was injured in any of the incidents, the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal reported Monday. Dell said the overheating was caused by a manufacturing defect in the batteries made for it by Sony Corp., of Japan.

The recalled batteries were sold with the following Dell notebook computers: Dell Latitude D410, D500, D505, D510, D520, D600, D610, D620, D800, D810; Inspiron 6000, 8500, 8600, 9100, 9200, 9300, 500m, 510m, 600m, 6400, E1505, 700m, 710m, 9400, E1705; and Dell Precision M20, M60, M70 and M90 mobile workstations; and XPS, XPS Gen2, XPS M170 and XPS M1710.

The batteries were also sold separately, including in response to service calls. “Dell” and one of the following are printed on the batteries: “Made in Japan” or “Made in China” or “Battery Cell Made in Japan Assembled in China,” Dell said.

— With files from IDGNS


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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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