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How to overcome technological challenges in e-cigarette domain?

The Vaping Industry is set on its way to progress both in terms of popularity and market capitalization. In fact, according to a report, the global e-cigarette and vape market – which was valued at USD 15.04 Billion in 2020 – is expected to become worth 104 Billion by 2028.

This is not it. The domain has also witnessed increased litigation activity. Juul is currently fighting to keep up with its market due to various changes in regulations. It is not surprising that Juul Labs, a top player in the vaping domain, came out to be a top litigator in 2020. Unified patents even quipped:

“For the first time since Unified has tracked litigation, an operating company, JUUL Labs, was the most prolific district court asserter.”

This shows how serious this industry is in terms of growth. However, the industry is still new and has just started to gain traction, as can be seen in the patent application filing trend chart below. The industry has grown exponentially over the last few years, and the application filing has increased twofold within a couple of years.

However, the industry has a lot of obstacles in its growth path, not just in terms of government regulations but also in the form of technicalities. Why?

There is a lot of detailed technology that goes into an e-cigarette. The quality of the components and parts in an e-cigarette is directly linked to the vaping experience when using the product.  

Thus, these challenges need to be solved for a better user experience, which would, in turn, lead to market growth. The good news is that a lot of companies are continuously working to solve the challenges in the vaping domain. Who are these companies and what challenges are they trying to solve? We will cover all the details in the remaining part of this article. 

Which are the major technical challenges in the e-cigarette domain?

The e-cig/vaping domain faces an array of technical challenges, with the most prominent ones being ‘Power Management’ and ‘Heating Techniques’. 

Let’s have a look at these challenges in detail and what are researchers doing to solve these pressing issues. 

Power Management

Power management deals with controlling the power-related aspects such as charging, voltage control, temperature control, and also charging methods. When charging a device, especially a vape pen, we need to control the voltage provided while keeping a check on the overall temperature of the device as well as of the battery to manage the charging parameters such as voltage and current accordingly.

In power management, charging methods and techniques are important areas that need significant improvement.  Vape pens are small portable devices that can hold a battery ranging from 280-2000 mah, but most of these vape pens take around 120 mins for a full charge and only give juice enough to last for about a couple of hours.

Now, this is both tedious and time-consuming. We are living in times where we can charge our smartphones with monster batteries of 5000mah in a matter of few minutes, and have enough charge that lasts throughout the day. Keeping that in consideration, it would be safe to say that vape pen tech is still a leap behind.

The good thing is a lot of companies are working to solve at least a part of this issue. Who are these companies and what are they doing? Let’s have a look. 

Which companies are working to solve charging issues in e-cigarettes?

Companies are trying to solve this problem by imbibing technology that can enable quick charging of vaping devices. Vaporesso, for instance, has introduced 2A quick charging which can charge the vaping device in 60 minutes, but achieving the perfect balance is still out of reach.

Vape companies have also started to adopt the USB power delivery system,

For instance – Joytech – a vaping company, has already introduced USB Type C fast charging in its device Exceed X, and another company, Eleaf provides support for QC 3.0, a proprietary tech from Qualcomm.

This shows there is ample space for opportunity. Companies can collaborate their R&D, cross-license, or collaborate, and use each other’s tech for the advancement of their products, and gain a competitive edge in the market. 

However, power management isn’t only about improving charging, there are also other factors involved like how is the device being charged.

For instance, most of the current day devices are charged through wires, though the companies have already started to opt for universal standards like USB type C for charging to make it more accessible. However, companies also need to work on enhancing the user experience. Case in point – there are vaping devices in the market in which the user needs to unscrew the head first, and then plug the charger, which to be honest, is not very user-friendly. 

On top of it, wired charging limits the portability factor

The good news is there are alternate solutions being developed by companies to overcome this challenge. 

One such solution is cases for your vaping devices that can keep them charged, similar to the ones we have for our wireless earphones. One such product is  VQvolt, a portable charging case for vaping devices. The company behind this, Vaportronix, also patented this new tech in the form of US9197726B2 disclosing a combinational mobile phone case and electronic cigarette charging solution.

Figure: Mobile phone case with E-cig charging

However, there is a whole range of charging techniques and methods that can be further explored to help solve the array of challenges in e-cigarettes and help reach a wider set of consumers. 

Wireless Charging is one such technique.  As you already know, Wireless charging has already made a stir in the market, with every new benchmark product in the smartphone world offering wireless charging.

However, there are not many vaping companies that have this feature incorporated. Wireless charging brings its own set of benefits and realizing its potential few vaping companies have taken the first step in this direction. One such company is TOQI, whose vaping device TOQI 510  supports the Qi wireless charging standard, which means you can also charge your device from the back of your Power Share compatible mobile device.

Figure: TOQI wireless charging

This sort of wireless charging is inductive, which means the devices have to be in close proximity for charging. But, the tech industry has already taken a step forward, where the devices can be charged within an area and does not require close proximity.

Case in point – A few months ago, Xiaomi introduced their revolutionary air charge technology, where devices can be charged wirelessly without the need of keeping them on any charging mat.

This can be used by the vaping companies as an opportunity to be a part of the bigger ecosystem, and gain a competitive advantage in the industry.

Heating Techniques

This is the next big issue in vaping industry. We all want our vape pens to start with just a click, and would want it to provide us the control over changing the density of the puff as needed.

Now, vapes work when the active ingredient (the liquids/vape juice) is heated, and factors like control over the density of puff is dependent on the heating technique used. Let’s have a look at some of the common heating methods, their nuances, and the solutions being researched to overcome them.  

Resistive Heating

Resistive heating is already used in a wide array of devices like incandescent light bulbs, radiative space heaters, tabletop hotplates, hairdryers, and much more, but the question is how to fit it into a small device like the vape pen.

One such work area is flexible substrates that can be formed into a tube, with one of the most commonly used being resistive metal wires.

Figure: Vape wire

Generally used metal vape wires include: Kanthal (FeCrAl), NiChrome, Stainless Steel, Nickel, and Titanium.

But there are some limitations in these resistive metal wires, such as the act of continuously heating the resistive wire causes the wire to degrade and eventually break. Also, the wire is directly in contact with the wick and as the wire reaches excess temperatures, it also burns the wick resulting in the release of unwanted aerosol particles.

Finding other elements that can provide efficient heating is a good whitespace area with plenty of opportunity for innovation. Companies working in this domain have been using different heating elements to get better results such as Ceramic and Glass Heating Elements. 

Shenzen First union tech, for instance, has a patent claiming a ceramic heater. Though glass and Ceramic heating elements offer higher temperatures than metal, they fail to offer as precise temperature control as a metal heating element provides.

Another solution to overcome this challenge is to use thin-film heating technology. We found a couple of such solutions proposed in patents. For instance, the patent US9744320B2 discusses the use of a thin-film heater. Another patent US10334878B2 discusses a novel handheld vaporizing device incorporating an electro-conductive textile heating element.   

This indicates that companies are researching better alternates to heating elements, and this is a good opportunity area that can be further explored.

Inductive Heating

You would have probably heard about Inductive heating (induction heating) used in large industrial applications like welding and furnaces. 

However, to use this heating method in vaping domain, there are different things that are considered like the coil types (flat/spiral) to be used, electromagnetic shielding, how much power to be provided to have the optimal heating of the liquid, and hysteresis effect to heat.

Gladly, companies like Loto Labs are working on bringing inductive heating into vaping industry, that too specifically for cannabis and nicotine consumption. The company has also patented its induction heating tech (US10201185B2).

Concluding thoughts

Considering how rapidly the industry is growing, and how many challenges are there yet to be addressed, there is a lot of opportunity area for both existing players and the new entrants to make a strong hold in this booming industry.

Through our analysis, we identified how knowledge transfer from different industries with similar objectives (power and heating management) can help improve tech drawbacks in vaping industry. The knowledge transfer can take shape of patent acquisition, licensing, company mergers, or acquisitions. 

Are you a player in vaping domain trying to solve some of the biggest challenges and not know which cross-domain innovation can help set things straight? Send us a quick email at [email protected] and we can together figure a strategy to solve those challenges. 

 Authored by: Aadarsh Sharma, Infringement Team.

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