Independent QA firm digs into the causes of Note 7 battery fires


— 11:20 AM on December 6, 2016

Remember the Samsung Note 7 battery issues? Instrumental, a company that produces tools for remote quality assurance, certainly does. On its blog, Instrumental used its proprietary processes to tear down one of the recalled Galaxy Note 7 phones and figure out some possible reasons Samsung decided to cancel the product rather than work out a fix.


Image: Instrumental

Samsung initially claimed there was a problem with the batteries' manufacturing and ordered a recall in order to replace them. As you gerbils are no doubt aware, the "fixed" phones started catching fire too. Samsung then recalled every unit and canceled the product entirely—an unprecedented move for the company and even the industry. Instrumental dug into a sample phone to offer its take on why sourcing different batteries didn't provide the expected fix.

In a surprising allegation, Instrumental asserts that Samsung consciously pushed safety limits in order to create the final Note 7. Though that's a pointed accusation, it seems plausible given the team's findings. The company found that its test unit lacked the generally-accepted amount of expansion space above the battery, a decision that could cause pressure on the pack with age and regular use. Instrumental's engineers go on to note that their sample Note 7's battery may have already been under pressure even without those factors. That pressure could cause the battery's positive and negative layers to make contact through the thin polymer separating layer, thereby causing a fire.

Instrumental believes that Samsung could have resolved the Note 7's problems simply by using a smaller battery. Unfortunately, doing so would have likely put the handset's battery life below that of the Note 5's—and more specifically, the iPhone 7's. The company writes that "it's clear to us that there was no competitive salvageable design."

It's important to keep in mind that this is just one company's take on the matter, and this report was produced with processes that Instrumental would doubtless like to publicize. Still, the well-reasoned conclusion that the company presents reads like a modern-day version of the classic tale of Icarus, and it's a neat insight into some possible reasons that the Note 7 failed the way it did.

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