Dell Details on Notebook Battery Recall

Dell announced a recall today of lithium-ion batteries sold in many of our notebook computers over the past two years. You may have seen the recent New York Times story or have seen other details in the blogosphere.  As the leader of the mobile business for Dell, I wanted to share my thoughts on this recall.

Lithium-ion is a proven technology which has been widely used in our industry for over ten years. These batteries are not just for notebook computers – they are found in many electronic products including cell phones and music players. For more information on lithium-ion safety, you can visit the Portable Rechargeable Battery Association.

I don’t mind telling you this recall follows an extensive investigation, but the decision to err on the side of safety was never in doubt. My team and I come to work in Austin and around the world every day so we can put great products in the hands of our customers. There were very few incidents to go on here, and it would have been easy to justify them as anomalies. However, we’re not willing to do that, because in everything that we do, it is absolutely about safety first.

This is a voluntary recall of approximately 4.1 million batteries, making it one of the largest in Dell’s history. Many of you are thinking that this action is a direct result of the notebook fire at a business meeting in Osaka, Japan back in June, as well as a couple of other incidents that have been posted on the Internet.

The fact is, we are looking at safety data every single day, and this did not start when we heard about the incident in Osaka. Our technical support agents are trained to look out for anything that comes up on a call that might be indicative of a safety matter, no matter how small. When we hear about these things, we work with the customer to get them a new replacement system right away, so they can get back up and running. We then work with the customer to get the affected system back to Dell (we call this a “capture”) so we can take a good, hard look at it. Dell has a global safety organization with engineers and experts at our centers around the world. In most of these cases, we are able to determine that the cause of the customer complaint is not a hazard for other customers. Nevertheless, we learn a lot from our customers’ experience and we use this information in the future development of our products. That’s one reason it’s great having a direct relationship with our customers.

In very rare instances, a real safety hazard does present itself. In these cases, the customer captured systems are sent through a detailed forensic analysis, kind of like what you would see on “CSI.” Dell has extensive lab capability for these investigations and a lot of the work is done right here. We also work with third-party labs to complete and verify this analysis, because we value independent outside opinions. In any case, our safety engineers are involved every step of the way.

Analyzing the data is the tricky part—that’s what brought us to where we are today. We’re lucky that in being direct we have access not only to real-time customer data, but also can correlate that information with data from our component supply partners such as Sony, who is the manufacturer of the battery cells in this particular case. We look at product performance data all the time, but we give it extra scrutiny when there is a problem that might impact our customers and their well being. In this case, there was not much to go on, especially considering how few incidents there were in relation to how many notebooks Dell sells as the largest notebook brand worldwide. Since we engage directly with our customers and build every system to each customer's unique order, we know what product we have shipped to whom. We are now focused on communicating to those notebook customers impacted by this recall and making the replacement process as simple as possible. Some might say we are being conservative and even overreacting in taking this broad action, but even one more incident is too many.

On behalf of Dell, I’d like to apologize to all affected customers. Above all else, your safety is important to us. We also understand that the work that you do on your notebook is invaluable to you, and we’re committed to getting replacement batteries shipped out to you as quickly as we can.

To determine if your laptop battery is part of this recall, you can go here. This website will be live shortly after midnight Central Time. This site is now live.  You’ll find answers to FAQs and new information as it is available here on Direct2Dell.

About the Author: Alex Gruzen