Another new Vapcell 18650…

They’re getting pretty good at this. Here is the new Vapcell 18650 25A 3000mAh cell…

If only i had beaten them…

As normal, this is a re-wrap. This time, we know exactly what it is (more on this below). Its a re-wrapped Sony VTC6A. Its one of Sonys new generation cells primarily aimed at the EV market, much like some of the new Samsung cells (which i wont reveal just yet). I was aware of these batteries in around August last year. The first of them started popping up around November, and ive been on the hunt for a large number of them ever since. I even practically begged my contact at Vapcell to ship me a couple of thousand without re-wrapping, but obviously with supplies being short, they wanted to capitalise. I dont even think they had that many to begin with.

Whats so special?

25A and 3000mAh are two figures you dont normally find together, but technology is moving quickly. Some of the cells i source for electric vehicle clients are pushing over 100A (not 18650, but not much bigger either). Granted, the lifespan is too poor to be considered for vaping but it goes to show that lithium cell technology is advancing quicker than ever. Manufacturers are fighting one-another for contracts with major vehicle manufacturers. With competition comes diversity, and development. Im hoping for the same with the VTC6A

When can you get them?

Soon. We have 400 of these but as with any brand new to market cell, i need to do some testing first. Initial inspection shows that they 99% likely are the Sony VTC6A re-wrap i was promised. Having pulled the wraps off of a few, there are clear signs that Vapcell have tried to remove the original Sony markings from the can, mostly likely with an acetone wipe or similar. It’ll cause no harm to the cell, it just removes ink. That said, under the right light, you can still just about see the “DO NOT USE OUTSIDE OF BATTERY PACK” on one side which Sony prints on almost all cells now, along with the normal Sony markings on the otherside, complete with the VTC6A model code. The positive cap looks good, as does the can insulator, positive crimp tooling marks and it looks like the original non-adhesive insulator has been reused. With the physical aspects covered, i hope to begin load testing on these against the manufacturer specs in the next few days.

Ill keep customers updated via mailshot and Facebook as soon as I’m happy for them to be released!

Ben

 

A new look for 18650 UK cells

Take a good look…

Picture of Battery Directive Sony VTC5A 18650

…you’re going to be seeing a lot more of this!

Why? 

Covered in my recent blog post about battery compliance laws in the UK and EU ( You can read it here ) these markings are the first of their kind on the market in the EU. Fully compliant, manufacturer branded cells. No re-wraps. No laughable ratings. Honest cells, with the markings they should have always had. (Polarity markings are missing from this photo, but are present on shipped cells)

What do they mean?

The first line will be obvious to almost all users. The first part is the model code (a VTC5A in this instance), the second part is the mAh rating, and the third part is the manufacturer stated discharge rating. We have used this for continuity and on manufacturer branded cells (Sony, Samsung, etc) these are generally concurrent with those of community respected cell testers. We will of course never overstate a cell.

The second line contains information currently only important to us. The first part is a date code, the following 5 digits will be a serial number for that cell, on that day. There is also a chemistry marker.

The third line is subject to change. For cells sold via our retail website, they will all have “Supplied by 18650.UK” marked on them. There is scope further down the line for batteries sold to our wholesale customers to have their company name on them.

The manufacturer markings will remain, on the reverse side of the cell.

In the future…

We have some plans for the second line of data on the cells. We have bought several domains and will be deciding in the coming weeks what route to take however the plan is to launch another website where anyone who has bought a battery originating with 18650 UK can check the serial number against our database of marked cells. If it was initially bought from us, it will show the originator as 18650 UK. Where they have opted in to the service (which will be free of charge for our clients) batteries bought in stores/businesses across the UK that we have sold to can also be checked, and the site will display the name of the company we sold them to. Pretty neat huh?

Lastly…

We accept that any new marking on cells make people nervous. If you happen to see anyone worrying about counterfeiting having seen these markings, please do refer them to this blog post to set their mind at ease. We have invested a very large amount of time and money into this process, and its for the benefit and protection of the interests of all of our customers, retail and wholesale new and old.

That’s all 🙂

Ben

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.

Ben

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 hello@18650.uk, 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…

 

Picture of Molicel INR20700A

Molicel INR20700A

Recognise it? Probably not.. 

This is the Molicel “INR 20700A” (available to purchase here) 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 hello@18650.uk, or jumping on our Facebook page – www.facebook.com/18560uk

 

Ben Mowbray – Sales Director – 18650UK

Apologies for the delay! Its been a busy week and I’ve been keen to get on this but the needs of the business must come before the explanation of a competitors failings!

Before i go any further, these findings are based on products we have been sent by customers who purchased them in good faith from a competitor business and the views, opinions and pictures are our own and are intended solely for the education of anyone who needs to be able to tell the difference between a genuine and fake Nitecore i4 charger.

So. Fake Nitecore i4 chargers. Nothing we haven’t seen before. Nitecore are unfortunately a heavily counterfeited brand and this is nothing new in the grand scheme of things. I think this only gained the traction it did on Planet of the Vapes (Read the story here – Fake i4 Thread on POTV) and social media because of the way it was handled by the retailer in question. I wont go into it here. You can read all about it on Planet of the Vapes and make your own mind up.

Im not going to cover the plug in this. The plug was quite obviously not fit for purpose. It was a non EU standard, un-fused and totally ridiculous plug so we’ll leave it at that. What i wanted to cover, are the differences in external and internal quality. I’m not going to go too far into things at board component level because i simply dont have the time, but i will cover what’s needed.

For the purpose of this post, the chargers are orientated with the counterfeit on the left, and the genuine article on the right.

First up, the outside. 

Notice anything? I immediately spotted a few things in customer photos posted on social media before i even had one to play with. The positive posts on the charger are too far sunk into the casing and dont sit flush with it either. There are gaps all around them, the genuine ones are a tight fit. On arrival, its more pronounced than i thought. They’re also very uneven wobbly. We’ll see why later…

Embossing in the battery sled. They’re very obviously different side by side. Thick lines and different “sized” battery. Yellow model designation bar. The font is very close but not quite right, but the boldness of the letters and the printing of the logo are definitely different.You’ll also notice in this photo that the pins in the 240v input are longer on the genuine one.

Low voltage (12v) input (black). The embossing on the non-genuine product is actually better! Deeper and clearer than the genuine product. Nothing to worry about, but an obvious difference and a sign they’re not from the same mold tooling.

Underside – The genuine charger as you can see on the right, has a much glossier finish, a deeper looking black. The non-genuine product has a closer to matte finish.

Whats inside?

Inside is where i expected to find the most significant differences and while i wasn’t wrong i found myself initially laughing at the state of it, then upset and angry at the quality of some of the work that was at one point, plugged into the mains in someones house.

Bear in mind, none of these products returned to us exhibited any signs of imminent danger and the customers were only alerted to the potential danger and stopped using them due to the power of social media. The marks you can see on the board on the left are not burn marks from operation. They would have been caused in the component soldering process which at its very best is unbelievably shabby. I would be highly skeptical of anyone who tried to tell me these were done by machine in the same way the genuine ones are. The connections are barely passable, scruffy, and many of the legs of components have had to be manually snipped off, likely to get the board to fit in the casing. None of this is evident on the genuine product and would indicate to me a very manual production/assembly process.

From the underside of the board we can immediately see that they’re different boards. This in itself isn’t hugely unusual, manufacturers do make occasional changes however given how close together these were supposedly manufactured, its an unlikely coincidence. As mentioned above, the quality of the soldering is very poor. Its functional, but not as tidy as you would expect.

(Upper above – Fake i4 Charger. Lower above, Genuine i4 Charger)

The negative sliders in the battery sled are different. Its very subtle (I’ve not tested the actual material they’re made from) but they’re not from the same tooling. Edge cuts, bends and finish are all different. Also, the spring bar for the sliding contact are attached differently to each board. The genuine ones appear to be nicely resistance welded to the board. The non-genuine ones are a wraparound design and are attached with an unsightly lump of solder.

Flipping over to the topside of the board, we’re presented with more differences. Every single component is different. Even though the capacitors on the board on the non-genuine charger have Nitecore wraps on them and are the same (purportedly, basing this on the wrap only) rating/values, they’re not the same components underneath which leads me to think that the counterfeiting goes down to component level too. The first thing that caught my eye was the low voltage input power side of the board. The genuine charger uses a single 1500uF capacity next to the transformer. The non-genuine one uses two 470uF ones instead. The transformer itself is different too. While the fake one doesn’t have the previously seen “NITECOKE” wrap, its marking is on the wrong side and its notably smaller. I’ve not stripped it further as there’s no real need.

I was keen to look closely at the power input ports. Previous fake chargers had a yellow rectangular 240v input, missing the signature Nitecore branding. These new fakes have finally started using a component that looks pretty much identical. Initially i wondered if there was a possibility that these fakes have been produced with at least some genuine parts. Its happened before in China. Run the factory in the day for the original manufacturer, run it at night for yourself and knock them out cheap. Same tooling, mostly the same components, cheaper price. Looking very closely at the two input ports, they’re not the same. These are plastic parts cast in molds and the mold marks are very different and the plastic is very slightly different in colour so I’m confident in saying these aren’t the same. They’re a very good replica.

Bottom line. In my experience and looking at the differences in these products this is not an internal product evolution at Nitecore. These are almost certainly counterfeit products, potentially with some input in the way of knowledge/know how/components from the genuine Nitecore business. How it came about we cant speculate but we hope that at the very least, this post will serve to help people recognise these products when they land on our shores, and steer well clear of them.

As always, if you have any questions relating to the above, please drop us an email – hello@18650.uk

Ben @ 18650.UK