Sony battery problems could go beyond Dell laptops

Faulty batteries produced by Sony like those that caused Dell to initiate a huge recall this week could be present in laptops from other companies and other portable electronics products.

The Dell recall of 4.1 million batteries, which is being called the largest recall ever in the consumer electronics industry, was ordered after the computer maker received reports from customers of laptops overheating and catching fire. An investigation led to the discovery of a problem in the battery cell manufacturing process.

“Under certain rare conditions there is an elevated risk that the battery may overheat or catch fire as a result of the presence of metallic particles in a critical area of the battery cell,” said Takashi Uehara, a spokesman for Sony in Tokyo.

The cells in question were produced between January 2004 and February 2006 at Sony Energy Tech in Japan and were sold by Sony to Dell and other companies. Sony wouldn’t name the other companies citing confidentiality agreements. It acknowledged that some of the cells have been used in batteries inside its own Vaio laptop computers but that the company is not issuing a recall for those.

The risk depends on the system configuration, said Uehara. Typically a short-circuit inside the battery renders the battery useless but in some cases can cause the fires reported to Dell.

Factors that play into this equation include whether the battery cells are aligned in parallel or perpendicular order, and their proximity to heat sources like the processor and power supply, a Sony spokesman in the U.S. said Tuesday.

Sony said Tuesday that it will share the cost of the large battery recall with Dell. It declined to provide an estimate of the financial impact on its full-year results and promised to make such a disclosure “as appropriate.”

Dell customers can find out more about the recall by visiting the company’s Web site at http://www.dellbatteryprogram.com or by calling toll-free to 1-866-342-0011, Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. U.S. Central Daylight Time. Customers outside the U.S. should contact their local Dell subsidiary or sales agent.

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