Hoverboard fires put battery certification in the spotlight
An electronic device is only as powerful as its battery – without a reliable power source, users won’t travel far from the nearest outlet. Battery safety is also a primary concern for device manufacturers: Overheating, punctures and other malfunctions can cause serious hazards like shocks, fires and burns. As electronic devices become more sophisticated, there must be measures in place to ensure batteries are adequately effective and safe.
Unfortunately, recent headlines would suggest that hasn’t been the case. The latest and greatest gadgets have failed without adequate battery oversight. Still, there’s reason for optimism.
Dangerous devices raise questions about battery safety
If a battery is functioning well, the end user doesn’t ever have to think about it. Ideally, it powers the device quietly, consistently and safely – the user can charge it overnight and be done with it. However, if that electronic device bursts into flames and causes injury to whoever happens to be nearby, that’s cause for concern.
Hoverboards are the latest electronic fad, though they don’t hover – the two-wheeled platform automatically stabilizes itself thanks to a bit of ingenious engineering. Unfortunately, that same ingenuity didn’t always apply to the “plug, cabling, charger, battery or the cut-off switch within the board, which often fails,” said the U.K.’s National Trading Standards. The organization tested 17,000 hoverboards since October 2015 and deemed 15,000 – 88 percent – unsafe.
Irresponsible international manufacturing practices allowed these products to fly to the market without undergoing the necessary inspections. It’s a gaping hole for the electronics industry and one that has allowed other products – like e-cigarettes – to bypass the necessary standards. As a result, we see the recent headlines on hoverboards lighting a fire while charging overnight.
Testing in the hands of third-party organizations
Unfortunately, there isn’t adequate policing when it comes to battery protocol – if any. When manufacturers overseas can bypass common standards in favor of cheaper, faster production, distributors and end users are the ones who suffer if a malfunction occurs.
However, the market has a way of regulating itself. Newsworthy or otherwise notable events – in this case, exploding hoverboard – may cause distributors to think twice about where their products come from. Not only are their consumers at risk, but the companies themselves are also on the hook if a product causes injury. By looking for the stamp of approval from an accredited third-party organization, distributors guard themselves from litigation and also provide safer devices for the end user.
The best third-party organizations have the expertise and equipment to test for a range of defects in batteries ranging from lithium ion to nickel–cadmium and numerous others, in addition to the charging circuit and anything else that contributes to such malfunctions. These organizations – Nationally Recognized Testing Laboratories – test device performance according to regulations like IEC 62133, UL 1642 and UL 2054. Both manufacturers and distributors have a vested interest in outside testing as it can prevent unsafe products from going to market, harming end users, causing costly lawsuits and ruining reputations.
In the case of these hoverboards, a sharp rise in popularity created massive demand, which manufacturers and distributors hastened to fill. Because they neglected safety testing along the way, several high-profile distributors are now paying the price. The smart money is on careful, professional assessment by third-party testing organizations before any such electronic reaches the end user and becomes a safety hazard. Now, with the popularity of online sales, distributors must pay close attention to their manufacturer and look for the seal that indicates a device has been tested to the highest standards.