ANSI - American National Standards Institute
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Widespread Recall Spurs ANSI Groups to Assess Battery Safety Standards

New York, Nov 20, 2006

A widespread recall of laptop batteries affected nearly ten million products from five major manufacturers when it was found that some batteries were causing notebook computers to overheat and in some cases cause fires. Several ANSI-accredited standards developers are looking at possible solutions to help prevent manufacturing glitches and improve battery safety. This article highlights several leading efforts:

Batteries for Portable Computing
Announced earlier this month, the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) has kicked off efforts to build improved measures into its existing lithium ion standard. Updates to IEEE 1625, Standard for Rechargeable Batteries for Portable Computing, will aim to improve the overall performance of laptop battery systems to make them more reliable and robust. To do this, IEEE will look not only at aspects specific to the battery, but also more broadly at the laptop environment in which it is used. The revised standard, for example, will address such elements as the electrical and mechanical construction of battery packs, cell chemistries and packaging. IEEE says that it will also look to define methods for evaluating and verifying the quality and reliability of batteries, and to develop a compliance program to support this effort.

Lithium Ion Batteries
For its part, Underwriters Laboratories (UL) has begun partnering with laptop and battery manufacturers on an upgrade to UL 1642, Lithium Batteries, which it submitted to ANSI in September for approval. As described in the proposed scope of the new standard, the requirements are specifically intended to reduce the risk of fire or explosion and resulting injury to persons. In support of this effort, three UL task groups are looking at ways to introduce relevant component requirements, production line testing specifications and lithium battery pack requirements into the standard.

UL is also seeking input from its lithium battery standards technical panel and standards subscribers on the potential harmonization of UL 1642 with related ANSI and IEC (International Electrotechnical Commission) standards. In addition to the update, UL has also said that it will increase the frequency of its audits of battery manufacturers and will take steps to enhance its auditor training program.

In a related effort, a battery working group within the Information Technology Industry Council (ITIC) has been culling and weaving company-specific standards from laptop makers into a single list of recommended requirements. This harmonized list, the ITIC group says, will be shared with UL as input into the 1642 update. Ultimately, the ITIC endeavor seeks to resolve varied and inconsistent protocols among laptop manufacturers.

The ANSI C18 Accredited Standards Committee, for which NEMA (National Electrical Manufacturers Association) is the secretariat, has long been involved in standards development related to lithium ion batteries. The group met recently to identify ways that its current standard, ANSI C18, 2M, Part 2 for Portable Rechargeable Cells and Batteries – Safety Standard, could be updated to contribute to a solution.

According to NEMA contacts, the ANSI subcommittee on safety standards, C18-5, has been watching the developments surrounding the recent lithium ion battery recalls and is positioning itself to revise its battery safety standard once a full technical understanding is achieved vis-à-vis the purported defect in the recalled product.

Quality Control Standard for Testing Cells
A new effort within IPC—Association Connecting Electronics Industries (IPC) is seeking to develop a quality control standard for testing cells. The IPC stepped into the lithium ion playing field last August, with a newly formed group led by IPC’s established OEM (original equipment manufacturer) Critical Components Committee. Members of the IPC Lithium Ion Battery Subcommittee, representing major laptop manufacturers as well as independent research and development firms in the portable power industry, met in October to lay the groundwork for its standard, which will cover process requirements, quality control and assurance for lithium ion battery cells. The IPC standard is expected to establish a uniform test method for identifying battery cells that have too many contaminants in the electrolyte. Such tests are currently handled differently by each vendor.

To monitor standards developments in this area, please visit upcoming issues of the Standards Action newsletter for updates.