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Samsung Explains the Details Behind the Galaxy Note 7’s Fiery End

Bad battery design and questionable manufacturing were to blame, but management culture may have enabled the problem to slip through the net.
January 23, 2017

Samsung has officially announced that, yes, it was battery problems that caused its Galaxy Note 7 smartphone to burst into flames—but commentators suggest that its management style may have also played a role.

Last year, the smartphone model was recalled because many of the devices caught fire. Replacements were also found to overheat and ignite. Samsung halted production of the phone entirely and recalled every device it had sold.

Now, the company’s official investigation, which saw 700 staff inspect 200,000 phones and 30,000 batteries, has revealed a series of issues. According to Bloomberg, batteries in the first wave of phones had internal components that could sometimes become compressed in one corner, causing the cell to overheat. Replacements solved that problem, but were hastily built and welding problems in some of them gave rise to short circuits and, in turn, overheating.

But all of the batteries were designed to use a troublingly thin separator between the two electrodes that could be easily damaged, leading to short-circuit and ignition. “We provided the target for the battery specifications,” said D. J. Koh, Samsung’s mobile chief, in a presentation of the findings on Monday, “and we are taking responsibility for our failure to ultimately identify and verify the issues arising out of battery design and manufacturing.”

It’s widely believed that a desire to beat the iPhone 7 to market with a device rich in features caused Samsung to skip more thorough testing that could have prevented the problem. But the New York Times argues that a top-down management culture, prevalent across South Korea, may have contributed to the problem by leaving executives overly keen to impress their managers and meet deadlines.

Koh said that the company has “taken several corrective actions to make sure this never happens again,” though it didn’t speak about managerial process during its announcement. Regardless, Samsung will be in no hurry to repeat the incident. Along with a tarnished reputation, Reuters points out that the recall wiped $5.3 billion off the company's operating profit. That’s quite a burn.

(Read more: Bloomberg, Reuters, The New York Times, "Samsung’s Flaming Phones Will Be a Slow Burn for the Company")

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