Dec 15, 2016

The Samsung Galaxy Note 7 situation is instructive for the lighting industry, as Jerry Plank points out in his “Product Safety” column in LD+A December. An excerpt follows:

Insight is defined as “the capacity to gain an accurate and deep intuitive understanding of a person or thing.” In quality control circles, insight is simply the ability to see a problem before it happens and to enact an action or actions to prevent an unwanted action.

Sounds easy, but as many manufacturers know, having consistent outcomes of processes is like trying to hold Jell-O in your hands. So what does quality control have to do with product safety testing? In a word, everything. Samsung Electronics, whose Galaxy Note 7 cell phone has overheated and caught fire, is just a recent example of how products cause problems, not only for the user, but also for the manufacturer’s reputation and bottom line. Samsung is learning an expensive lesson about deficient product testing, as estimates are in the billions of dollars for missing the battery problem during the design phase.

The introduction of LED products resulted in less than desirable results, as early products were plagued by field failures. The lighting industry needed to get up to speed quickly in those early LED days on how to handle hybrid electronic and electrical products. To the industry’s credit, much progress has been made since, but we still have work to do.

If the lighting industry learns anything from the Samsung cell phone disaster, the main point should be that all problems that may occur in the field should be identified and flushed out during the development and design phase. How? Manufacturers of all electrical products, not just lighting, have traditionally relied too heavily on published safety standards to identify potential field and reliability problems that could occur once the product is installed. While the published safety standards are a good starting point for a quality program, the testing outlined in safety standards is specific to uncovering only electrical shock and fire hazards.

Safety standards do not address potential product or reliability faults. Uncovering these types of problems requires stress testing and/or accelerated testing methods. For most lighting products, electronic drivers or LED arrays that may self-destruct in the field have not been vetted carefully through stress and accelerated test methods.

As an example of where safety standards clash with reliability standards, just look at some electronic components that have thermal limits, which are different from warranty limits made by the component manufacturer. More to the point, often LED driver temperature limits given by the component manufacturer for warranty purposes are lower than those allowed by the NRTL (Nationally Recognized Testing Laboratory).

Product testing programs that include quality and safety parameters together will significantly reduce field problems by validating components for performance and not just safety. It is imperative that the safety standard(s) be reviewed closely to see where reliability issues are not addressed and make adjustments accordingly.

It will take a while to determine the root cause of Samsung’s cell phone battery fire dilemma, but it’s clear that their quality and safety system failed enormously. Here are some thoughts for lighting manufacturers to ponder in light of the Samsung debacle:

  1. Our industry needs to work harder to establish reliability standards that will serve the growth of new products and technologies introduced. Customers need to have confidence that these products are free of operational defects that will shorten product life.
  2. Reliability standards need to encompass stress and accelerated life-testing methods that our industry agrees will serve us best. As an industry, it is our responsibility to be proactive rather than reactive, allowing outsiders to dictate reliability programs.
  3. Component manufacturers and lighting manufacturers need to coordinate and agree on steps to decrease operational problems.

The quote by John Ruskin, the 1800s English critic, essayist and reformer, “Quality is never an accident. It is always the result of intelligent effort,” captures the essence of what quality control and product safety testing performed seamlessly could mean for our industry.

December 2016


Jerry Plank

Jerry Plank, LC

Jerry Plank, LC, is the CEO/founder of Wilger Testing, an accredited third-party laboratory testing for product safety and... More info »