How the company who will soon be the worlds largest producer of lithium based cells are going to be upsetting the vape industry in the next quarter…
Many people are already starting to see problems with supply of 18650 cells. Whether its cost or instability of supply, everyone is feeling the pinch but many are unaware of why, so heres a little update.
Its recently been reported that Tesla are struggling with their own production. If you’re not familiar with it, Tesla have built their “Giga Factory” factory in Sparks, Nevada. Its the largest facility of its kind anywhere in the world and in 2016, started producing cells for its Powerwall products. The factory was designed to be completely self reliant for energy, using a combination of wind, solar and geo-thermal sources. Handy, given its in the middle of the desert. Not so handy when you start having problems with it.
Along with the above reported power supply problems to the plant, they’re also reported to be struggling with manpower. A factory in the desert is difficult to reach.
So how does this affect us?
To understand how, its important to understand that the cells used in vaping were never designed for vaping. All of the stock sold in the vape industry is simply overstock from the accumulator industry. For example, if Sony (Murata) are supplying Bosch for their e-bike power packs and Bosch change the design, or the cell completely, there will be an amount of cells over the required production amount that will become available. This can be millions. This is happening in all industries that use these cells, so normally there’s a healthy number on the open market.
Until recently, Tesla have relied heavily on Panasonic for the production of their cells. With the recent problems, Tesla have once again called on their friends at Panasonic to pick up the drop in production, with Panasonic having signed over most if not all cell production capacity to them. There’s even rumor that once this run is finished Panasonic will no longer be manufacturing cylindrical cells, so we could see the end of things like the NCR18650B.
Obviously this has a knock-on affect. Large companies who were buying Panasonic cells will now be knocking on the doors of Samsung, LG, Sony (Murata) and others meaning we’re going to see less available cells. It also means the cost of them are probably going to go up. We’re already seeing this with the Sony VTC5A.
What are 18650UK doing to combat it?
Along with large investment in lots of new in-house equipment for compliance marking and systems to better process orders for both wholesale and retail, we will be working even more closely with suppliers to make sure we have a clear idea on what will be available and when. Previously this has never been an issue. Whether we ask for 200, 2000 or 20,000 of something, we can have it in a week. Going forward we will obviously need to to keep a much closer eye on things to continue to meet the high bar we have set for service.
I’ll provide updates on this where i can over the coming weeks as things develop.
Compliance. Us and You.
I wanted to provide an update and break this down to make it a bit easier to digest for our customers while outlining the how and why of some changes being made to our service/products. Digesting the legislation even during a voluntary meeting with a representative from the EU Battery Directive and calling in a third party compliance advisor was like trying to swallow bad medicine. Unpleasant, but wholly necessary. I should point out to readers that this applies to EU/UK sales of cells ONLY. Much of this post will relate to wholesale clients, but retail customers should be aware of the changes being made.
How did this come about?
I attended a meeting along with another reputable company similar to ours with the UK Government Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy this month. This was based on the use of the WEEE (Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment Directive) bin logo that should be appearing on cells in compliance with The Restriction of Hazardous Substances Directive. This opened a can of worms we didn’t expect, given we were already working above and beyond the level the majority of battery/cell suppliers in the UK are in terms of batch testing, safety and quality of shipping. Complying with the WEEE regulations also means making a contribution to the collection and recycling of cells. This currently stands at around £1,300 for every ton of cells placed on the market. We hit this upto several times each month and not complying or paying for this has serious consequences.
What are the minimum requirements?
Based on the information from the above government representative and our compliance company, the minimum requirements for cell compliance when placed on the market are as follows;
- The WEEE Bin logo (min 5mmx12mm)
- Polarity ( + and – symbols)
- Capacity (mAh rating)
- Chemistry (Li-ion, for example)
Further to the above, we will also be putting the manufacturers maximum discharge rating displayed in Amps. We will likely also be putting unique serial numbers on the cells for full trace-ability. The marking must be indelible. You must not be able to pull, rub or otherwise easily remove the marking. This means (and in their owns words), that stickers on cells are “no longer good enough”, especially those annoying little white ones China seem to think are doing us a favour. There are three options. Re-wrap, laser-etch or print.
Do ALL cells have to be marked?
No. Only those being sold to end users must have these markings. Vape stores are covered in this though. If they are being built into accumulators/battery packs and the end product being sold, then the marking must be on the outside of the pack instead. The vast majority of our cells are sold wholesale to accumulator builders and so we’ve not been marking these. For those selling to end users, we have been offering a Retail Ready service with cell information on the box. This is no longer deemed sufficient for compliance but was looked upon favourably and was confirmed that cells wouldn’t be confiscated from stores but advice given.
I have cells that aren’t compliant, what do I do?
First of all, don’t panic. Almost all 18650 bare cell sales In the UK are currently non-compliant. We are only aware of one company who re-wrap cells for compliance. Others simply aren’t bothering/interested. An awareness of the legislation (for shop owners) will get you a long way with all but the worst that Trading Standards can offer in the way of their officers on a visit but the best thing to do is at least have them labelled. Until our new equipment is commissioned, we will be offering free labels to our wholesale customers. The reason they are non-compliant is on the basis that they are designed for use in battery packs but are being used individually in vaping so we have to make them compliant for individual sale.
How are 18650UK going to implement this?
We ruled out re-wrapping immediately. End users (especially those in the vaping industry) are normally (and often rightly) wary of re-wrapped cells, and the time and cost wouldn’t be economically viable with the number of cells we ship each month and would mean significant price increases. We initially considered laser-etch, however scale of economy rules this out too. We have opted for a Thermal Inkjet print system (A VideoJet 1560 for those interested in the technology!) which will sit on a conveyor in our packing process line and will mark around 2000-3000 cells an hour with instant drying and almost impossible to remove ink. Once our equipment is commissioned, ALL cells leaving us will have these extra markings on the factory wraps. The markings will look almost identical to factory markings. Again, for those interested, the cost of machinery/equipment to do this at a reasonable rate is in the region of £7000-£10,000. We are at the latter end of this scale based on the volume we need to process each day.
Will your prices increase?
No! Of the many reasons we chose the TIJ system, the best part is that despite the very expensive equipment, the processing effort is minimal and will have no impact on cell cost! What a time to be alive huh?!
My supplier isn’t providing this service, where do I stand?
If you are happy with the service and price you are getting, we would recommend putting pressure on them to be doing the above or at least getting the process started. It’s their duty by Law, whether they sell retail or wholesale. If they won’t, and you don’t have the facility/time to do so yourself, we would recommend switching to a company who does. While highly unlikely, its entirely possible for Trading Standards to simply confiscate non-compliant stock in stores and has happened on a handful of times to businesses in the UK.
I hope that the above proposed changes to the service serve to further prove our commitment to our clients both current and new in being at the front line of service delivery. As always, if this has generated any questions or you need any further information, please dont hesitate to get in touch by dropping us an email to firstname.lastname@example.org, or jumping on our Facebook page – www.facebook.com/18650uk
If you would like to join us as a wholesale customer, please fill in the form here
Ben Mowbray – Sales Director – 18650UK
So here it is…
Recognise it? Probably not..
This “INR 20700A” (available to purchase here) is a very commonly available cell if you know where to look and who to talk to (The sticker is ours, for compliance with the EU Battery Directive, you’ll be seeing more of these going forward, and will get more info in an upcoming blog post). Its been available on the market for close to a year but for around the last 9 months, its been strutting around the vape industry wearing a now quite staggering number of different outfits. Its worn wraps by iJoy, Efest, Ampking, EBAT, Vappower, Ampsplus, and Keepower to name a few. There’s even talk of several more doing the same, including Wismec in order to ship them with their new regulated 20700 devices that are currently in testing.
So why this cell?
Its a solid choice of cell for the vape industry. At 18650.UK, we liken it to a slightly higher CDR than a Sony VTC5A, but with the life of a VTC6. Two industry leading cells with two different but equally fantastic defining characteristics, now available in a combined package. With the ever growing popularity of 20700 platform devices and the absence of any other major cell producers offering something, this has become the industry’s most widely used 20700 cell.
Why havent we seen it like this before?
Much like all cells used in the vape industry, they were never actually designed for use in vaping. With many manufacturers actively trying to distance themselves from the industry, its not hard to understand why we’ve only ever seen this cell in different wraps. We’re not actually allowed to say who makes it for this reason, but it wont take a genius or a more than a very quick Google search to find out its made by a somewhat unknown (to the vape industry at least) but equally very reputable cell manufacturer with a HQ in Canada and a manufacturing facility in Taiwan.
Why has it taken so long?
As above, the cells used in the vape industry aren’t designed with vaping in mind. They’re made for accumulators, battery packs, electric vehicles and powerbanks etc. Because of this, all cells used in the vape industry are either direct from manufacturer overstock (like ours) or re-wrapped overstock (Like the companies listed above). There are actually very few proper battery manufacturers. There are at least 20 companies re-wrapping for every “OEM” battery manufacturer. This has meant that like everyone else, we’ve had to wait for them to become available direct from the manufacturer themselves. While there was speculation from the outset about who made the first version (the re-wrapped iJoy) and iJoy themselves telling everyone “its a secret” or leading people to believe its was a Sanyo 20700A re-wrap, we were one of very few who knew within the first month who was actually making them. We just couldnt get them straight away.
Is it a Sanyo 20700A?
No. The INR 20700A from 18650.UK performs close to but it is 100% not a Sanyo 20700A (or 20700B) re-wrap. As above, there has been plenty of speculation about this from the start; especially given the 20700A became almost immediately unavailable in any reasonable quantity almost at the same time Ijoy came to market with their 20700 cell. The rumor is that there was an initial overstock of around 70,000 Sanyo 20700A cells, and they were all bought up by a company in the USA. Since then, supplies have been hard to come by in amounts of more than a dozen at a time.
I hope this helps to clear up any questions surrounding their origin, their history in vaping and what they are capable of. As always, if this has generated any questions or you need any further information on them, please dont hesitate to get in touch by dropping us an email to email@example.com, or jumping on our Facebook page – www.facebook.com/18560uk
Ben Mowbray – Sales Director – 18650UK