It’s amazing how many experts are claiming to have solved the mystery of the Samsung Galaxy Note 7 and it’s even more ridiculous how many news outlets repeat the same old junk.
The latest story to be picked up by countless tech media outlets is “Aggressive design caused Samsung Galaxy Note 7 battery explosions” put out on a company blog by a team of engineers from a company called Instrumental. This team of nine total people, which is made up for six software engineers, a CEO and CTO is making bold claims based on one single Note 7 and is using its blog as a way to advertise to potential clients. If you look at Intrumental’s Team Blog page, it claims to “have designed and shipped tens of millions of things and built software from the ground up at the world’s most admired companies”.
That’s where it gets its expertise from, and it’s claiming to have solved the mystery of the problem with the Samsung Galaxy Note 7. That’s a bold statement with nothing to back it up, nor does it state what kind of “things” it has designed and shipped. Why does this matter? Because if a company is going to claim it solved the great mystery of the Note 7 recall, it better have the credentials to undermine the work of real phone engineers, designers and manufacturers if it’s going to make such a bold statement.
Let’s look at the report Instrumental produced and evaluate whether the scientific method was actually followed.
“We acquired a Galaxy Note 7 and with a fire extinguisher close at hand, tore it down. We used an Instrumental station to document the process. What we found was surprising: the design can compress the battery even during normal operation (see footnote).”
What Note 7 did Instrumental acquire? Was it an original Note 7 or was it a Note 7 from the second batch? This matters immensely as the first and second release were different devices. Also, can one Note 7 be a representative of all of the Note 7s? I highly doubt Instrumental has access to the design specs of the Note 7 and the tolerances required to prevent fires.
Just because a battery can compress, it doesn’t mean it will catch fire. No where did Instrumental use actual weights to determine at what compression rate does it combust. For all I can see, its “instrument” it used to evaluate the Note 7 looks like a light box with a camera inside.
“Why does this matter? The Note 7’s lithium-polymer battery is a flattened “jelly-roll” consisting of a positive layer made of lithium cobalt oxide, a negative layer made of graphite, and two electrolyte-soaked separator layers made of polymer. The separator layers allow ions (and energy) to flow between the positive and negative layers, without allowing those layers to touch. If the positive and negative layers ever do touch, the energy flowing goes directly into the electrolyte, heating it, which causes more energy to flow and more heat — it typically results in an explosion.”
For a company that claims to be experts, they should know that claims should be backed up with references. In this bold statement from the CEO, there isn’t one reference to any facts to support her claim.
“Compressing the battery puts pressure on those critical polymer separator layers that keep the battery safe.”
She also needs to define what “compressing” actually means. Does it mean compressing of 1mm, 2mm? What are the tolerances of compression that cause a battery to typically explode? If you’ve ever watched videos on YouTube of batteries catching fire, you would realize that it takes a heck of a lot of pressure to break the battery.
“Battery testing takes a notoriously long time (as long as a year for certain tests), and thousands of batteries need to be tested to get significant results.”
This kind of statement also needs a reference to backup the claim. This statement also insinuates that Samsung did not develop its batteries over a year. It also suggests that Samsung did not test thousands of units when the conclusion is “innovation means pushing the boundaries“. “It’s possible that Samsung’s innovative battery manufacturing process was changing throughout development, and that the newest versions of the batteries weren’t tested with the same rigor as the first samples.”
Of course it is possible that Samsung’s batteries changed, but this blog claims it didn’t do the proper testing that Instrument’s nine employees did with one sample Note 7.
“The design and validation process for a new product is challenging for everyone. In this case, Samsung took a deliberate step towards danger, and their existing test infrastructure and design validation process failed them. They shipped a dangerous product. That this is possible at one of the top consumer electronic companies in the world is humbling — and demonstrates the need for better tools. Instrumental is building them.”
This is the most absurd claim of them all. Instrument is claiming it can develop “better” tools than Samsung which is a clear marketing ploy to attract customers. For a company that makes bold claims like this, it needs to reference its work with actual data rather than using anecdotal evidence. This is the type of information that Google and Facebook are fighting as fake and the media needs to be more responsible in repeating as readers will believe it. The least Instrumental could prove is showing exactly how much the battery expands under heat to show the battery compartment is too small for expansion. If the battery only expands .05mm, the tolerance of .1mm between the battery and the metal frame does not matter.
If Instrument is so sure of its claims, it needs to reproduce the fire on the Note 7 with its device. It should document the phone catching fire under high speed cameras and x-rays showing the battery collapsing under pressure.
Lastly, I question if Instrument even planned to use the proper type of fire extinguisher while it evaluated the Note 7. Any battery expert would know to use a class-D extinguisher as metal fires are a whole different animal than standard fires. For the most part, class-D extinguishers are typically painted in yellow – the one Intrument shows in its image is red indicating it is a standard extinguisher for home use.
Let’s wait for Samsung to divulge actual information on the research it’s doing on its smartphones before judging them with amateur software engineers from Instrument.