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UL 62133: A Globally Harmonized Option for Portable Battery Compliance

1604_F1_coverBattery-powered devices are commonly certified under standards categories such as information technology equipment (ITE), medical devices, and test equipment. Sometimes overlooked is that the applicable standards for these categories also require independent approvals for the battery pack itself and the pack’s component cells. For U.S. compliance, cells have traditionally been tested to UL 1642 and packs to UL 2054. Both are non-trivial in their rigor and can involve significant cost, time, and effort to ensure a successful test outcome. Unfortunately for U.S. companies, these two standards are not synchronized with global requirements, resulting in the need for additional testing prior to selling abroad. However, another U.S. compliance option offering new advantages is now available.

Without much fanfare, UL released in January 2015 a new battery standard applicable to rechargeable lithium cells and battery packs. This new standard, UL 62133 (Revision 1), takes its place among other country-specific versions of the IEC 62133 international standard which has been in active use for global battery approvals for many years. Why is this important? One word – harmonization.

As released, UL 62133 is fully harmonized with IEC 62133. To be completely clear, it is an exact copy of the current IEC standard. The only exception is that, following UL’s normal practices, the UL version of the standard requires that safety critical components are third-party certified. Furthermore, it has been suggested that UL 62133 may eventually replace UL 1642 and UL 2054. This is a particularly significant change given the differences in approach between the two options.

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Figure 1: International hierarchy of battery standards based on IEC 62133
Figure 1: International hierarchy of battery standards based on IEC 62133

So how different are they? Most significant is that UL 2054 employs two test concepts that are conspicuously missing from the 62133-based family of standards, as follows:

  • Single Point Faults: Many of the electrical abuse tests in UL 2054 require that modifications be made to disable portions of the battery pack’s protection circuitry. Most commonly this involves the following but depending on the design of the protection scheme, other faults may be specified:
    • Adding a short across the charge or discharge field effect transistor (FET). FETs are used as switches to stop the flow of current in over-voltage, over-current, and under-voltage conditions.
    • Fixing the polarity of the charge or discharge FET’s gate. Essentially this prevents the FET from stopping the flow of current. Unlike the short noted above where the current flows around the FET, this fault forces all of the current to flow through the FET.
    • Adding a short across the sense resistor. Sense resistors are used to assess how much current is flowing in or out of the battery. Shorting out the resistor causes an incorrect reading of current and thus may impede a proper response by the protection circuit.
    • Shorting the outputs of the protection integrated circuit (IC) that drive the gates of the charge and discharge FET. This has the effect of sending sometimes unpredictable signals to the gates of the FET once again impeding any response to a detected fault condition.
  • Worst case operating point: In the trade, this is referred to as “trip/no-trip” testing. In addition to implementing single point faults, load testing is done to determine the maximum amount of current that will not cause the circuit to rapidly cease operation. Put another way, the goal is to find the point where the faulted circuit trips and run the testing just below this so that the maximum stress is applied to the device under test. Note that each fault type specified for a given test must be individually load tested to find this worst case operating point as it will vary by fault.

Some have argued that such a testing approach really involves three levels of faults combined. Consider first that the testing itself constitutes abuse that only occurs when something external to the pack has deviated from normal operation. Examples include shorting the output, overcharging the input, applying thermal stress, and creating cell imbalances in series circuits. The second level is the direct application of intentional faults into the battery’s protection apparatus. Finally, the third level is running the test at the highest operating current such that the resulting stress is maximized.

Creating this perfect storm of stresses requires significant time and skill on the part of the testing laboratory and thus commands increased test costs and extended test durations. Many have commented that the likelihood of such a combination of negative events in actual field performance is remote at best, and thus have questioned the real value of taking the testing to such an extreme. The corresponding opposing argument is that such testing permits assessment of the inherent safety of the battery when its primary protection capabilities are disabled. A final note is that although fault testing is commonly done in many electrical safety standards, it is not a common practice in the vast majority of existing battery standards.

UL 62133 does not involve faulting or worst case operation. Instead it is focused on abuse cases applied to the cell or battery as it would be found in actual application. This means that the safety circuit and any other protection devices are not disabled during electrical abuse testing. Criteria vary by test, but a passing result is characterized by “No Fire/No Explosion” in a majority of cases. Mechanical abuse testing is limited as the current revision draws a majority of its physical compliance from ensuring that UN 38.3 lithium cell and battery transport testing was successfully accomplished. Actual repeat testing is not required as a certificate of compliance is considered acceptable evidence.

Cell Tests

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Battery Pack Tests

Continuous Charging (7 days)

External Short Circuit

Free Fall

Thermal Abuse

Crush

Forced Discharge

Moulded Case Stress

External Short Circuit

Free Fall

Overcharging of Battery

Table 1: UL 62133 tests by cell and battery pack

Requirements to test cells and batteries are generally driven by the certification requirements for the devices that they power. Given this, what are some of the most common end device standards used in the U.S. and what do they require in terms of cell and battery testing?

End Product Type Category

Applicable Standards

Information Technology Equipment (ITE)

UL 60950-1

UL 62368-1 (Risk Based)

Medical Equipment

ANSI/AAMI ES60601-1

UL 60601-1

Measurement, Control, & Laboratory Equipment

UL 61010-1

Table 2: End product categories and corresponding standards

ITE is currently in the midst of a transition between the traditional objective testing found in UL 60950-1 and risk-based testing as outlined in UL 62368-1. A positive sign is that both standards have been aligned to two distinct options for cell and battery compliance. The traditional option of having the cell certified to UL 1642 and the battery pack certified to UL 2054 with a complimentary certification to UL 60950-1 is still a valid approach and continues to see frequent use. To some degree this is driven by the reality that most lithium cells are certified to UL 1642 as a matter of course by their respective manufacturers, thus there is a large variety of pre-existing certified cells.

An equally viable option is to obtain a CB report to IEC 62133 (this includes both the cell and battery) and then conduct the battery-related testing on the end device to the requirements found in Annex M of UL 62368-1. These tests in Annex M are tailored to explore from a safety perspective how the end device handles battery faults. It is expected as more cells are certified to IEC 62133, this option will continue to gain favor. With UL 62133 being harmonized to IEC 62133, converting an existing IEC 62133 CB report to UL 62133 should be a relatively simple administrative matter and may not involve additional testing.

For medical devices falling under either the ANSI/AAMI ES60601-1 or UL 60601-1 series of standards, the requirement is that lithium batteries are required to comply with the base standard itself and meet nationally recognized standards or internationally harmonized component standards. The latter portion of that statement governing component requirements does not preclude the use of UL 1642/UL 2054, IEC 62133, or UL 62133.

The equipment standard (UL 61010-1) is even more general. It only specifically says that lithium batteries must meet the safety requirements of the standard itself. It does not go the additional step of calling for compliance to component standards. Despite this, the common practice employed by many certification organizations is to look for such compliance. In the past it was UL 1642 and UL 2054, but it is suggested that either IEC 62133 or UL 62133 are also valid options. What is actually required in practice is generally left to the discretion of the certification body’s responsible engineer thus advance consultation between product designers and their certification organization is prudent.

So far we have discussed the current state of the UL 62133 standard as released, how it compares to the existing UL 1642 and UL 2054 standards, and how it is expected to operate in conjunction with end product standards. What does the future hold for UL 62133?

To answer that question, one must first note the upcoming changes to IEC 62133. This standard will be spitting into two separate standards in August of 2016. IEC 62133-1 will be specific to nickel chemistries, whereas IEC 62133-2 will cover lithium chemistries. Additionally, vibration and mechanical shock testing that was originally removed in favor of providing evidence of compliance to UN 38.3 is being reintroduced. Finally, faulting is being introduced, but at this point is only being included as a best practice that should be considered as opposed to an explicit requirement for compliance.

It is fully expected with certainty that UL 62133 will follow suit in terms of splitting along chemical lines and readopt the noted mechanical testing. Faulting and possibly worst case operation are being discussed for inclusion, but at this point it is unclear if they will remain as best practice recommendations or become mandatory compliance requirements formally documented as a U.S. national deviation.

So where does this leave product designers as of today? For now, it is important to realize that another option for cell and battery compliance may exist for their product via UL 62133. Depending upon the guidance provided by their certification body’s compliance engineering staff, the more common end product standards seem to allow the use of UL 62133 as an alternative to UL 1642/UL 2054. Again, situation dependent, this may offer lower test costs and shorter test durations subject to the availability of approved cells.

UL 1642 / UL 2054

UL 62133

Not internationally harmonized

Harmonized to IEC 62133 (can get a CB report)

More component tests

Fewer component tests

Faulting and worst-case operation required

No faulting or worst-case operation

80-170 cells and 55 battery packs required

45-55 cells and 21 battery packs required

Accepted by end product UL standards without additional testing

Requires additional end-device testing involving the battery pack for ITE products

Many cells certified to UL 1642 already

Few cells currently certified to UL 62133, although
many have been tested to IEC 62133 (conversion required for certification)

Longer test duration

Shorter overall test duration

Higher test costs

Lower test costs

Table 3: Summary comparison of UL 1642/UL 2054 and UL 62133

At this time, UL 62133 is fully harmonized with the existing international requirements as stated in IEC 62133, but the future still holds some uncertainty. The topics of faulting and worst-case operation are still undecided for UL 62133, but should start to move to resolution as the August 2016 release date approaches for the new revisions of IEC 62133.

An Update
The original planned release date for the new revision of IEC 62133 of August 2016 was pushed out to 2017. New standards IEC 62133-1 (Edition 1; Nickel Chemistries)
and IEC 62133-2 (Edition 1; Lithium Chemistries) have been approved and are currently being published with a projected availability date of March 2017. A one-year transition period through March 2018 is prescribed to allow movement to the new revision. Significant updates include changes in short-circuit test temperatures, differences in cell and battery charge preparation requirements, clarification of the battery over-charging test protocol, and the reintroduction of vibration and mechanical shock testing for the battery pack. Faulting is included, but only as a recommended best practice. Once IEC 62133-2 is available, the Underwriters Laboratories Standards Technical Panel (STP) for UL 62133 will begin work on a new revision to maintain harmonization. It is unknown if the two standards will remain fully harmonized or if US national deviations for factors like faulting and worst case operation will come to fruition. If typical timeframes hold, the next revision of UL 62133 should be expected sometime in 2018.

author_copeland-johnJohn C. Copeland is co-owner and technical manager for Energy Assurance LLC, an independent, fully-accredited cell and battery test laboratory. His career has included various positions in quality engineering, reliability engineering, failure analysis, project management, supplier assessment, and quality management in the electronics and portable energy sectors. John holds a BSEE from Auburn University, MSQA from Southern Polytechnic State University, and is trained as a Six-Sigma Black Belt. He can be reached at johncopland@energy-assurance.com.

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