BU-1009: Battery Paradox - Afterword

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In closing, the author stresses the importance of observing battery performance. The battery begins to fade the moment it comes off the assembly line; it is also one of the most prone parts to fail. While a faded pack in a personal device may only cause mild inconvenience, loss of mission-critical power can have serious consequences.
 

Safety falls under regulatory authorities and being labeled uncontrollable, the battery tends to evade the scrutiny of inspection. This allows weak batteries to hide in a system and cause havoc. Meanwhile seemingly less important regulatory issues are being tightened to the hilts with only moderate benefit. The battery is a scapegoat.

Batteries should receive the same treatment as a critical part in an aircraft or machine where wear-and-tear falls under strict maintenance guidelines. This is not the case with batteries.


 

Jet engine life is measured in flight-hours and flight cycles. One cycle is a take-off and landing. An Airbus 330 needs maintenance after 200-400 cycles.

A biomed technician said: “Batteries are the most abused components. Staff care little about them and only do the bare minimum. References to battery maintenance are vague and hidden inside service manuals.”

A new device is approved with a perfect battery, rendering the procedure flawed. Batteries will fade in use and field personnel ask, “At what capacity should I replace the battery? How much spare is enough? How often should I test the pack?”
 

An AAMI (Association for the Advancement of Medical Instrumentation) survey of medical professionals states: “Battery management emerged as a top 10 medical device challenge.” A US FDA survey says, “up to 50 percent of issues in hospitals are battery related.” (FDA regulations are very tough in other fields.)

date stamp A Li-ion battery in a medical device lasts for about 5 years. In the absence of battery maintenance, the manufacturers mandate a 2-year life span. Most packs still have over 90 percent capacity when being discarded. DOE reports that “every year roughly one million usable Li-ion batteries are sent in for recycling with most having a capacity of up to 80 percent.” 
 

Battery developments fall into two categories: Birth-to-graduation and workforce-to-retirement. Striving for higher capacities is desirable but battery fade must also be observed. Capacity is the leading health indicator, a measure that is poorly understood. When battery users are asked, “At what capacity do you replace the battery?” most reply in confusion, “I beg your pardon?”

Battery maintenance has a good return rate, but when demonstrating a battery analyzer, the manager of a US railway company quipped, “Our guys could not be bothered testing batteries; they throw them out with the radios.” (The company maintained 10,000 high-end radios.)
 

Battery diagnostics and monitoring have lagged behind other technologies but an industrial revolution in batteries is looming. In the 1970s, the world had computers but little software. Bill Gates changed this around. Today, the world evolves around batteries but lacks control technology. Modern systems will assess battery performance while charging and make the results transparent to the battery user and fleet manager alike.

 

Last updated 2017-05-11


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