Insider: Dell Knew of Battery Problem for Years
By Joseph S. Enoch
August 15, 2006
Burned Laptop • Insider: Dell Knew of Battery Problem for Years
Robert Day, Dell's lead acoustic technician from 1997-2005, said the computer company received hundreds of laptops that were charred or melted as a result of the defective battery, which Dell is now recalling.
Day shared hundreds of photos of laptops with ConsumerAffairs.Com that he downloaded prior to leaving the company in January 2005. His lab was next to the Product Safety Investigations lab (PSI).
Day says Dell tried to hide the problem from the public for years. "They didn't want anyone to know how serious of a problem it was," Day said.
The photos are from one of PSI's technician's archives. By 2005 there were 14 technicians in that lab.
The findings of each lab, including the PSI, were submitted monthly to executives, so Day said there is no way many of the senior executives at Dell have not known about this problem for years.
He said after Dell started using the Sony batteries in 2003, the PSI started receiving so many charred laptops that Day's lab, located next to the PSI, had to store many of the laptops.
Day said he didn't know how many charred laptops Dell received as a result of the batteries, but said it was, "in the hundreds."
Day sent ConsumerAffairs.Com over 300 photographs of about 100 different laptops. It appears that about 12 of those melted laptops were the result of the battery while the rest were from various other electrical shorts and CPU fan failures. He said there were many more battery-burned laptops than that, but he only had access to one technician's archives.
Day now works as a technician for Apple and said he left Dell after he turned in a Dell executive involved in a sex scandal. Dell did not return two phone calls.
Sony Batteries Blamed
The recall of the batteries is the largest electronics-related recall ever conducted by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission.
The batteries were made by Sony Corp. and placed in in some models of Dell's Latitude, Inspiron, XTS and precision mobile workstation notebooks that were shipped between April 1, 2004, and July 18 of this year.
On August 3, ConsumerAffairs.Com reported the story of Thomas Forqueran, stranded at Lake Mead State Park in Nevada after a Dell laptop set his vintage truck ablaze.
That story came in the wake of two other summer Dell laptop blazes -- one in which cameras caught an exploding Dell laptop at a conference in Japan. The other took place in Illinois where a Dell laptop spurted flames for over five minutes and forced an evacuation of an office building.
Airline regulators have also become alarmed and may ban laptops in planes.
Ronald Riley, president of the Professional Inventors Alliance USA, said the battery is the prime suspect in the laptop fires.
Riley gave two possible reasons for the battery combustion. He said the battery could have an internal short, as part of a manufacturer's defect, causing the battery to explode. He said any number of variables could trigger the flames.
He also said it's possible that when the battery gets hot, it "wants" to expand, but has no room.
"As the temperature rises, the conductors and plates buckle because they have no room to expand," Riley said. "If Dell used a thermometer that would automatically shut down the computer when the battery gets too hot, this could be avoided. ... The point is, the computer should not be able to get hot enough to do that."