RESCUECOM CEO Comment Used in Article on Laptop Batteries
Locals deal with Dell Dilemmas
By CATHY JETT
Date published - 9/2/2006:
A Fredericksburg businessman is among customers whose Dell laptops burst into flames.
Todd Fleming's first inkling that something was wrong with his new Dell laptop was when he heard an odd hissing sound. He thought it might be his cat--until the nearly $3,500 computer began to emit a series of loud "pops" like a popcorn popper."Literally five or six seconds later I saw billowing white smoke and then one-foot-high flames," said Fleming, who runs the Chick-fil-A franchise in Central Park.As smoke began filling his bedroom, he beat out the flames with a towel, grabbed the tray holding his laptop and headed for the bathroom. "I figured it couldn't catch anything on fire in there, but it burst into flames again," said Fleming. "I dropped it on the floor."He finally extinguished the blaze by dousing it with a pitcher of water, then alerted Dell to the danger posed by the lithium-ion batteries installed in his laptop model."Had I not been in the room when it happened, my whole house would have burned down," he said. "It happened that quick."Fleming's experience, which happened last October, was rare: Most lithium-ion batteries used in laptops simply shut down if they have a flaw. But computer companies have been concerned about their potential to short circuit, overheat and possibly burst into flames for some time. Dell, for example, had to recall 27,000 lithium-ion laptop batteries in 2000, 284,000 in 2001 and 22,000 last December, just a few months after Fleming's computer caught fire. The recalls were prompted by a total of five laptop batteries overheating and causing property damage. Fleming, for example, said his laptop caused more than $2,000 worth of damage, mainly to his carpet and linoleum.
Yet, to date, there has been no manufacturing standard for the lithium-ion batteries used in laptops. Instead, each battery manufacturer comes up with its own design, quality control and acceptance level for defects, said Kimberly Sterling, spokes woman for a Bannockburn, Ill.-based electronics-industry trade association called IPC.
That's about to change.
An IPC committee formed by such heavyweights as Apple, Dell and HP began discussing the need to develop a standard two months before Dell's latest laptop battery recall, which occurred Aug. 15. It was for 4.1 million laptop batteries, which made it the largest electronics recall in the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission's history.
"We were working on the press release for their first meeting, and the next day Dell made that announcement," said Sterling, who is IPC's vice president for marketing and communications. "We changed the wording to say we would be speeding things up due to safety concerns."And none too soon.
Close on the heels of IPC's announcement came Apple's recall for 1.8 million of its laptops. Both it and Dell's recalls involved batteries made at the same Sony manufacturing plant. Sony has admitted that the problem was due to a manufacturing error and has put new safeguards in place. The IPC committee, which meets this month, will bring together experts from across the industry to discuss such things as battery speed, the amount of heat batteries can generate and how they should be tested. The standard will be established whenever they can reach a consensus. "For the consumer, they'll end up with a safer battery," Sterling said. "We'll have a more educated supply base, and they'll be able to meet one standard instead of many companies' standards." In the meantime, Dell and Apple are urging customers to check their Web sites--dellbat teryprogram.com and support .apple.com/ibook_power book/batteryexchange--to see if their laptops are in the current recalls. If so, they should notify their company, remove the battery and use the power cord until a free replacement arrives. J.P. Montague, Caroline's information systems manager, did just that for the 12 Dell laptops the county government offices use. Only two were affected. "I took the batteries out and put them in my office," he said. "Dell will send us replacements. Right now, they can't give me a time. I don't see it as a big issue. It's just common sense."The recent spate of recalls also raises another commonsense issue: the need to back up data stored on a computer, said David A. Milman, founder and CEO of RESCUECOM, a national computer repair and services company."The number of people who do this is staggeringly low," he said. "We've found that out of all the people who call us, less than 5 percent have good, ongoing backup."Yet national research has shown that 40 percent of small to medium-size businesses that lose data due to such things as a fire or natural disaster and don't get it back within 24 hours will be out of business in 5 years, he said.Fleming was lucky. He hadn't backed up data on his computer because it was only a month old. But Businets Inc., a Fredericksburg company that installs and supports computer systems, was able to download everything off his hard drive before he sent the laptop to Dell for a replacement."Even though it was burnt to a crisp, they were able to pull off and download two CDs' worth of data," Fleming said. "Fortunately, I was able to salvage that. I couldn't believe it."To reach reporter CATHY JETT: 540/374-5407
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