Botched and Dangerous

Safety concerns mount after more lithium-ion batteries burst into flames

Lithium-ion batteries power some of today’s latest and greatest electronic gizmos and gadgets: hoverboards, e-cigarettes and drones, just to name a few. But in the rush to capitalize on the high-power applications, some products equipped with inferior, low-quality battery parts have made their way to market—with disastrous results.

Since December, there have been 52 reported incidents involving hoverboards catching fire. More than two dozen incidents of explosions and fires caused by bad batteries in e-cigarettes between 2009 and 2014 have been reported to the U.S. Fire Administration. The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration has documented hundreds of cases involving batteries from e-cigarettes, laptops, digital cameras, cellphones, electric bicycles, flashlights, GPS trackers, drones—and even a cordless drill—catching fire or overheating on passenger planes.1

"What we are seeing right now is a situation where many of these batteries are simply not made to the same standards as the batteries that are made, say, at Sony or Panasonic, which have much more stringent quality control," said Jay Whitacre, a professor of materials science and engineering at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh.2

"These are known as ‘low cost li-ion batteries’ by most in the industry. They are not knockoffs or copies, but are instead just mass-manufactured cells," Whitacre said.3

Fire marshals around the country have issued warnings and tips to minimize risk with hoverboards. The Consumer Product Safety Commission, too, has warned that hoverboards "pose an unreasonable risk of fire to consumers." Some college campuses, airlines and New York City subways and busses have banned hoverboards, too.4

Battery industry advocates downplayed the situation and said these incidents are rare. The advocates reminded users to always have compatible batteries and chargers for the items, and that the battery should not be in contact with metal objects such as coins, keys or jewelry to ensure safety.5

"Blaming reputable battery manufacturers for the hoverboard’s safety problems is incorrect and unfair," said George Kerchner, executive director of the Portable Rechargeable Battery Association (PRBA), whose members produce 70% of the world’s lithium-ion batteries. "We see very few safety problems with lithium-ion batteries or devices powered by them from reputable suppliers that have met stringent testing requirements, rigorous quality control standards and tough regulatory safeguards.

"We do have concerns about a handful of companies willing to manufacture and ship products containing poorly manufactured lithium-ion batteries rushed to market to meet consumer demand during the holiday season," he said.6

Unless the user has altered the device or handles it improperly, Whitacre said the blame clearly lands on the manufacturer.

"In general, with this kind of technology, it’s very difficult for the user to be at fault. There is a well-controlled charging circuit and there should be a good package that the cell lives in. Both of those things should be designed to protect the user," Whitacre said.7

What can consumers do? Experts say spend a little more money to buy quality gadgets, hold manufacturers accountable if something short circuits and avoid leaving devices unattended while they charge.

Trouble in the air

One scenario consumers don’t have control over is what airlines can carry as cargo during passenger flights. Safety concerns over lithium-ion batteries are forcing aviation authorities to address the very real hazard of transporting the items in bulk shipment cargo holds.

About 5.4 billion lithium-ion cells were manufactured worldwide in 2014. A majority are transported on cargo ships, but about 30% are shipped by air. Fires from lithium-ion batteries have the potential to take down airplanes because they are extremely volatile and difficult for on-board fire extinguishers and systems to put out.

Since 2006, three cargo planes have been destroyed and four pilots killed in in-flight fires that accident investigators say were either started by batteries or made more severe by their proximity.8

Last month, the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), a top-level U.N. aviation agency, voted to ban cargo shipments of these batteries on passenger planes because of the serious hazard. The ban, which takes effect April 1, isn’t binding, but most countries follow the agency’s standards.9

One theory about the cause of the Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 crash involves the plane’s cargo holding a carriage of lithium-ion batteries, which may have sparked a fire or exuded lethal fumes that incapacitated those on board.10

Most U.S. airlines already have banned the batteries as cargo on passenger flights, but millions of passengers still fly in and out of the United States every year aboard foreign airlines carrying them as cargo.11

An official from the U.S. Department of Transportation lauded the ICAO ban as a "necessary action to protect passengers, crews and aircraft from the current risk to aviation safety."12

The PRBA, which opposed the ICAO ban, said in a statement that the industry is preparing to comply, but there may be "significant disruption in the logistics supply chain," especially for batteries used in medical devices.13

"The decision also ignored ICAO’s ongoing efforts to address the safe transport of lithium-ion batteries" through more stringent packaging and labeling requirements, as well as "the development of a groundbreaking lithium battery performance-based standard," the PRBA said in a statement.

"Unfortunately, (the ICAO) completely failed to address the most important safety issue associated with lithium batteries in transport: the lack of compliance and enforcement of the existing lithium battery dangerous goods regulations," according to the PRBA statement.14

ICAO said the ban will act as a stopgap until the organization writes new packaging standards for shipping lithium batteries, which might make batteries safe enough to be shipped on passenger planes again. The standards are expected in 2018. "Our goal is to find a solution which will permit the lithium-ion industry and its customers to continue to benefit from rapid and reliable global air transport," the group’s statement said.15

—compiled by Mark Edmund, associate editor


  1. Nick Bilton, "The Risks in Hoverboards and Other Lithium-Ion Gadgets," New York Times, March 2, 2016, http://tinyurl.com/nytimes-hoverboard.
  2. CBS News Transcripts, "Many Rechargeable Batteries Are Now Bursting Into Flames," March 1, 2016, http://tinyurl.com/cbs-transcript-bursting.
  3. Tim Moynihan, "Why Hoverboards Keep Exploding," Wired, Dec. 12, 2015, www.wired.com/2015/12/why-hoverboards-keep-exploding.
  4. Bilton, "The Risks in Hoverboards and Other Lithium-Ion Gadgets," see reference 1.
  5. CBS News Transcripts, "Many Rechargeable Batteries Are Now Bursting Into Flames," see reference 2.
  6. Portable Rechargeable Battery Association (PRBA), "PRBA Statement on Hoverboards and Lithium-Ion Batteries," Dec. 18, 2015, http://tinyurl.com/prba-battery-statement-holiday.
  7. Ibid.
  8. Ruwantissa Abeyratne, "Flight MH370 and the Lithium Battery Theory," Air Cargo World, April 29, 2014, http://tinyurl.com/malaysia-crash-theory.
  9. Associated Press, "UN to Ban Lithium Battery Shipments on Airliners," Feb. 23, 2016, http://tinyurl.com/cbs-un-ban.
  10. Associated Press, "UN to Ban Lithium Battery
    Shipments on Airlines," see reference 8.
  11. Thom Patterson, "Lithium Batteries Banned as Cargo on Passenger Planes," CNN Money, Feb. 24, 2016, http://tinyurl.com/cnn-battery-ban.
  12. Ibid.
  13. Associated Press, "UN to Ban Lithium Battery Shipments on Airliners," see reference 8.
  14. PRBA, "PRBA Statement on ICAO’s Air Navigation Commission Decision to Ban the Shipment of Lithium-Ion Batteries on Passenger Aircraft, Jan. 28, 2016, http://tinyurl.com/prba-statement-ban.
  15. Patterson, "Lithium Batteries Banned as Cargo on Passenger Planes," see reference 11.


WCQI Speakers Lineup Finalized

Best-selling authors, a behavioral scientist, a psychologist and prominent business leaders form an impressive lineup of keynote speakers scheduled to address audiences at ASQ’s World Conference on Quality and Improvement (WCQI) May 16-18 in Milwaukee. They are:

  • Stephen J. Dubner, an award-winning author, journalist and radio and TV personality best known as co-author of Freakonomics, SuperFreakonomics and Think Like a Freak—books that deal with changing decision making and challenging conventional wisdom. He is scheduled to speak Monday morning, May 16.
  • James Kane, a behavioral scientist, consultant and the author of two upcoming books, The Loyalty Switch and Virtually Loyal. He is scheduled to speak Monday afternoon, May 16.
  • Liz Wiseman, a consultant and trainer of leadership to executives and emerging leaders around the world. She is scheduled to speak Tuesday morning, May 17.
  • Brian Little, a psychology scholar known for his research and teaching at the University of Cambridge in the Department of Psychology and Judge Business School, as well as his books Me, Myself and Us: The Science of Personality and the Art of Well-Being. He is slated to speak Tuesday afternoon, May 17.
  • Josh Linkner, a tech entrepreneur and author of Disciplined Dreaming and The Road to Reinvention. He is scheduled to speak Wednesday afternoon, May 18.

For more information about the speakers and the conference, visit http://wcqi.asq.org.

ASQ News

TRAINING VIDEOS ASQ’s Inspection Division has released a series of 14 YouTube instructional and educational videos. The videos cover basic measurement and test equipment and how to use them. They are intended to help viewers prepare for ASQ’s quality inspector and quality technician certification exams. You can access the videos by searching YouTube using keywords "ASQ Inspection Division" to locate the channel. Visit the division’s website at www.asq.org/inspect to suggest more topics and video content.

AUTO DIVISION EVENT ASQ’s Automotive Division will hold its annual award symposium June 27 at the Automotive Hall of Fame in Dearborn, MI. This year’s conference theme, "Automotive Challenges; Managing Risk and Improving Our Image," will be covered by several speakers, including Alistair Deane, chief technology and quality officer for TI Automotive, who will present the keynote speech.

PACT WITH KOREA SCHOOL ASQ’s Design and Construction Division (DCD) and Korea University’s Global Engineering Leaders (KU-GEL) recently announced they have formed an alliance to jointly promote construction quality training and exchange programs for South Korean construction engineering managers from the infrastructure and commercial building sectors. With the pact, both sides agreed to develop construction quality training programs tailored to benefit design, engineering and construction managers from the South Korean construction industry, as well as exchange programs using the existing ASQ and ASQ-DCD professional conference venues to expose Korean professionals to the latest developments in quality-related practices in the United States.

STUDENT BRANCH OK’D ASQ has approved the formation of its first student branch in Europe. The student branch at the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki in Greece was approved earlier this year.

NEW QMJ EDITOR Tom Foster has been named editor of Quality Management Journal, a quarterly journal published by ASQ. Foster is chair of Brigham Young University’s marketing and global supply chain department. He succeeds Lawrence Fredendall, who served as the journal’s editor for three years.


Parents Show Concern About Stem Teaching Careers

While 90% of parents said they would encourage their children to pursue a science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) career, 87% said they would be concerned if their student decided to pursue a career as a K-12 STEM teacher, according to a recent ASQ survey.

Six years ago, President Obama introduced a national campaign to recruit and prepare 100,000 new effective STEM teachers by 2021 to spur higher science and math achievement among American K-12 students.

While 90% of parents say they would steer their kids into a STEM career, only 9% would encourage their children to pursue STEM teaching as a career, according to the survey. The top three careers that parents said they would want their children to pursue are:

  1. Engineering—50%.
  2. Doctor—41%.
  3. Computer/IT analyst—27%.

Reasons that parents said they worry about their children eventually teaching STEM as a career include:

  • Their child may not make enough money as a teacher.
  • STEM teachers may not be compensated enough for their heavy workloads.
  • A STEM teaching career may not be worth the cost of a college degree.
  • STEM teaching positions may not offer a path for career advancement.

"While STEM careers like engineering and software development are getting more well-deserved attention in recent years, it’s STEM teachers who will equip our youth with the knowledge and skills to gather and evaluate evidence, make sense of information across a wide range of fields, and solve tough problems," said ASQ CEO William Troy.

The online survey was conducted earlier this year by the Harris Poll on behalf of ASQ. Nearly 650 parents of children under age 18 living in the household responded. For more details, visit http://tinyurl.com/asq-stem-survey.

Who’s Who in Q

NAME: Jd Marhevko.


EDUCATION: Master’s degree in science administration from Central Michigan University in Mount Pleasant.

CURRENT JOB: Vice president of quality, lean, and environmental health and safety at Accuride Corp. in Wixom, MI.

INTRODUCTION TO QUALITY: Marhevko’s first role in quality was as a quality technician at a high-volume plastics injection company where she managed statistical process control charts.

PREVIOUS JOB: Before she landed her first engineeringrelated role, Marhevko worked in a group home with 12 mentally challenged adults. Each person’s needs and abilities were different. This shaped her approach to working with people. She’s also served as a director of operations, which helped her understand the entire process of running a business from the floor to the profit and loss statement.

ASQ ACTIVITIES: Member of six divisions. Involved in ASQ’s Quality Management Division (QMD) for about 28 years and served in several roles, including chair. Member leader in the ASQ Automotive Division. Participated as performance awards and recognition reviewer, conference moderator, conference paper reviewer, certification board member, certification workshop participant and ASQ-certified instructor. Member of the ASQ Ann Arbor, MI, Section.

OTHER ACTIVITIES/ACHIEVEMENTS: Part of leadership team at Accuride that has developed a North American best-in-class formula of quality and lean systems. In the past two years, Accuride has had three sites win the Association of Manufacturing Excellence (AME) Excellence Award for lean systems.

PUBLISHED WORKS: Co-authored and collaborated on the publication of three books and several articles. Books include Sample Size of One (CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, 2013)—the story of her family’s journey with a son who is autistic, Certified Manager of Quality/Organizational Excellence Handbook, fourth edition (ASQ Quality Press, 2013) and Principles of Quality Costs, fourth edition (ASQ Quality Press, 2012).

RECENT HONORS: Recipient of QMD’s Howard Jones Award and ASQ’s Dorian Shainin Medal—both in 2015. Also, last month received the STEP Ahead Award from the Manufacturing Institute of the National Association of Manufacturers, which recognizes the top 100 women in manufacturing across the nation. STEP stands for science, technology, engineering and production.

QUALITY QUOTE: Quality and lean management systems must be linked to a business’s finance and governance structure. It is not only about the “what” that comes out the back door. It is also about the “what, where, when and why” across each step of all of the business’s processes that is supported by the “who.” Plan first, then do.

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