Talking product development with JAC Founder, Andrew Logan
Posted on 24 April 2018 by Matt Brown.
Ever wanted to take a deep dive on how we design our products? Read on for an in depth discussion with our founder, Andrew Logan.
Who founded JAC Vapour and when?
I founded JAC Vapour in 2010. I’d been on honeymoon and was thrown out a bar for smoking after seeing, what I thought was, a smoker inside the bar. They turned out to be an e-cig user. On my return to the UK I started to research them, a lot; I discovered there were good products out there that were hard to get a hold of, and even harder to understand. I setup JAC Vapour more as a reason to get a good supply of the best gear available, to help me quit smoking, than to actually make money. It soon grew into a fully-fledged business due to demand.
What background did you come from, and why vape design?
I trained as an engineer but was working in property development at the time I started JAC Vapour. I love good products that improve or make your life easier, and technology provides many opportunities for that. If there’s something I want to improve in my life, it can nearly always be done with today’s tech. Need a haircut? Technology can do that. Need to give up smoking? Tech can do that also.
From the moment I started JAC, I wanted to have complete control over the product we sold. While other companies focused on growing their off-line retail distribution channels I focused on putting together a team that could build high quality and reliable products.
We are the only independent UK company that completely designs its own mainstream products and with that comes greater confidence in our products. We know every part of them, and we utilise good design to make better products at reasonable prices. That’s why we can give industry leading warranties, we don’t have to worry about how another company has built the device, because we completely control how it’s built and therefore know no corners have been cut. We do not make the cheapest devices, but I am confident quality wise to cost we are at the very top of the tree whether you buy a £20 device from us or an £80 one.
What was the first device the JAC designed?
The first product we designed ourselves was the SERIES-E. In order to get it made, we shared the designs with a Chinese manufacturer - they produced their version and we produced ours. We worked within certain limits at that time and didn’t have complete control.
The first one we designed from the ground up was the SERIES-B Tilt, and it still holds its own today. We’ll be doing an update of it very soon.
Where was it manufactured?
All of our design is done in the UK, and we source parts and materials from China and the USA. Most of the time this all goes to an assembly line in China. We have a partnership with a company that we have built over the years, through investment and time, and they are able to meet our standards. We also employ people directly within our partner’s business.
If we can, and if cost allows (we have to remain competitive in the market), we manufacture at least a part of a product in the UK.
It’s really a balance of cost, efficiency and the desired outcome or price we are trying to achieve.
In the case of the Tilt, we sourced the board and most of the parts in China, but moulds were manufactured in the UK and shipped to China to make sure we had the desired outcome. All the components along with packaging were then put together on the assembly line in China. It was an expensive way of doing our first device, but we were still able to produce a cost effective RRP from it. It also allowed us to have the confidence to put a 1 year UK warranty on the device, something pretty much nobody did at the time, and still doesn’t. The fail rate on the Tilt is miniscule and the build quality rivalled units double the price. I still love it.
How was it received?
The Tilt design did have a sort of marmite effect. People either loved it or hated it, and a lot of people misinterpreted why we did it. Most thought it was about putting the tank closer to the user, which it wasn’t really, putting the tank a couple of mm closer to the user was a side effect of designing the smallest replaceable 18650 available.
We’d made a tiny device and wanted it to be even smaller, if you look inside or even just pick up the Tilt you can feel there is very little dead space, so the only thing we could do to make it smaller was add the Tilt, so we did it. We trialled both the flat version and the Tilted version with a focus group and 90% picked the Tilted version; it just felt and looked better. It was a bit different without being wacky, and it was well proportioned.
It was hard to convey in pictures though. I still think people that hated the Tilt never actually picked one up and held it, as soon as you did that it made sense, and I had a problem with flat mods for a while after using it. It is still one of our top sellers and is coming up for 3 years old, and it was very highly reviewed. Luckily there were enough people who understood our point of view and wanted something a little bit different, which made it a big success. If you look at it, it’s still one of the smallest replaceable 18650 devices on the market, most manufacturers can’t even make a built-in battery device that compact.
Tell us a little bit about the design process - who does it involve and how long from idea to prototype/production?
Once you have an idea for a project, this can come from any part of the business (customer feedback, where the market is evolving, what we think the market needs), we brainstorm initial ideas to see if we can firm up a route to take for it. From there the products team and designers create concepts sketches and also start to look for routes to sourcing whatever we need, be it materials or electronics.
This stage can involve lots of scribbling/sketching/shouting , anything pretty much goes to get your idea across, and reams of paper and lots and lots and lots of phone calls.
Once we are pretty sure it can be done the way we’d like, we make a few final concepts sketches and take them to our management and finance team. If the project gets a green light the engineering team then take the concept sketches and start creating a full working design using CAD software. At this stage you are pretty much in constant contact with suppliers to make sure your design is going to work with their tolerances etc. We also use 3D printing at this stage to produce parts and check ergonomics, or we may build a simple prototype that contains the basic electronic function.
After the design is created we then assess fully what we’ve come up with, and what the product will be. If all is good then we will then create manufacturing designs, which involves adding lots of boring information required for mass production of a product, things like draft angles for moulds etc.
Once that is complete, we’ll build a full working prototype and assess. After the prototype is complete we will also have a pretty firm idea of production cost. We’ll then make up to 4 more prototypes, if required, in order to fix or adjust things, and we’ll make variations of parts for finishing or different materials to confirm everything can be achieved and look/perform the way we want it to.
Once prototyping is complete and we’re happy with the final design, we start to create mass production part moulds, and prepare for the pre-production batch. This a small production run we make up. The production run is then tested and the engineering team get feedback on any improvements that can be made or issues that have arisen. The best way we have found to do this is let groups of users (normally on the forums) try the product and let us know what they think. This brings to light any issues we have that can be fixed prior to going to full production. We then make final adjustments if needed and full production begins.
It's probably a lot longer process that most other e-cig companies, but quicker than most other industries. It ensures we don’t release half ready products, and that we’re confident in the device. We just couldn’t afford to release something we are not 100% happy with, we can’t take a ‘play the numbers and hope something hits’ approach like some Chinese manufacturers or launch a device with a myriad of issues.
The whole process takes about 9 months, and currently we are running 10 main projects with another 7 or so side projects. Our industry moves incredibly quickly, so designs can become irrelevant with market changes or trends, or just too expensive compared to competitor products, and with market fluctuation in material costs etc, projects can get dropped, re-directed or put on hold until we are sure of a way forward for them.
How many staff do you employ now?
Around 40 in total.
What is the most popular device you've ever made?
The SERIES-S17, although the SERIES-S22 now outsells it.
The SERIES-E was an early success story. Why is it no longer available?
The tank used on the SERIES-E was 2.5ml, and the TPD put paid to that. It was designed back when we knew a lot less, and we decided we could make it better. The outcome of that was the SERIES-S17 and then also the SERIES-S22.
We were one of the first companies to make a device that a new user could start on MTL, and then move to DL, and do both effectively. Now lots of devices do it, but I still think SERIES-S22 does it better than anything else on the market, and the new coils we have coming will make it an exceptional MTL device, easily better than anything else in its category.
So the SERIES-S17 and SERIES-S22 are better in every respect. They are better built, nicer looking (IMO), more powerful, more flexible etc... they are just better devices all around and cheaper to boot. The only thing the SERIES-S range lacked was the variable voltage, but that’s compensated for by the coil options. We’re just about to add another 0.45Ohm SS MTL coil and a 0.7Ohm SS MTL coil that take performance to a whole new level. You just couldn’t have had that performance on the SERIES-E.
The introduction of the S range basically made the E obsolete. If somebody really did want VV then they would be cheaper and better going for the Tilt with the S22 tank. The SERIES-E just didn’t fit anymore, but we still support it and sell spare parts as we know it was a popular device.
When did you begin making your own e-liquids and why?
Again, this was down to control of quality and wanting to do something different from every other company. When we started, we tweaked Chinese liquid to make it what we wanted. I eventually decided to move production to the UK though, so we could get complete control over the product and start fully developing our own stuff. Right from the start we tested all our stuff in the UK anyway, and it became increasingly hard to get what we wanted done in China, so it was a relatively simple decision to move production to the UK for us. It just made development easier and the resulting products far better.
TPD didn’t really affect our liquid as from the point we started producing in the UK we were already above and beyond in terms of compliance. We had to change some names, and bottle sizes, but it was minor really.
Originally, I developed flavours in early 2013, and we developed Clear Steam at the end of that year, and picNIC (which could be credited as the first shortfill) in early 2014. By the time we did picNIC we had employed our own team for flavour development and they are far better than I ever was. The team is now headed up by Bryn and he’s taken it to a whole new level and done things I just would never have thought of - like Bryn's Special Sauce - and he’s got this insanely realistic tobacco nic salt range which will hit the shelves towards the end of April.
Are your e-liquids produced in-house?
Our recipes are, and all the initial draft of the flavours. We then take it to a commercial flavouring company to recreate and mass produce, and then onto a bottling line. It depends on the product.
We are a stickler for quality and when we moved production to the UK, a lot of specialist e-liquid companies did not have the standards we were looking for. We have never produced anything outside of an ISO standard lab and that used to be harder to find.
Shortfills are a bit of an issue at the moment. What are your thoughts on them?
Short fills are only an issue because of the TPD. The fact is, users want bigger bottles, so the industry found a way to provide that via a loophole. That loophole unfortunately means vendors can circumnavigate any legislation regarding testing. There could literally be anything in a shortfill, and that’s a problem. Some companies have shown in the past they have a disregard for user safety and will mislead customers in regards to the content of liquid. This shouldn’t be allowed to happen, but at the same time you cannot legislate on flavourings? It’s just not practical.
The only way to fix the mess is to do away with the pre-mixed restrictions on bottle sizes. I also think there should be some form of voluntary scheme, so reputable vendors can demonstrate their products are safe. A sort of stamp of approval of the ingredients used. My opinion is shortfills have been made necessary by the TPD, and if the ingredients are good then I have no issue with them being sold. We are doing some ourselves, but they do have the propensity for abuse.
How did you get involved with Bryn for the Special Sauce range, and is he real or a marketing ploy?
Bryn is real, name pronounced like 'Brin', like bin with a Br. It’s Welsh, but he’s not, and he’s not Brian : )
He was a law student that worked in one of our retail shops, and made e-liquid for friends and family where he had carved out quite a following. When we tried some of his e-liquids, we decided to offer him a job before we lost him to law. A few years on he’s running the team, he’s very fastidious (probably the law degree) and has an exceptional ability with flavours. If you put a chef’s hat on him he actually looks like the logo for BSS. He refused to go around in the outfit for launch though… a real shame.
Why did you decide to go with the DNA chip?
We had decided to do a high end TC device, Evolv invented TC, and in my opinion they lead the way in board technology, so it was a pretty easy choice to design the device around their board. They also happen to be an incredibly decent group of people, and they are good to do business with. We have another 2, possibly 3, DNA devices in development and hopefully both will make it to market as I think the ‘replay’ feature is a game changer.
Any plans for new DNA devices using the 75c?
Yes, there will definitely be a 75c device later this year, maybe 2, and we are also going over the specs for the 250c to see if we can put that in another device we have. I just have to talk our CEO into it, but I think the replay feature makes this an easy choice.
Any plans to produce a higher wattage mod?
Yes, we have a dual 18650 mod in final stages of development, and I am using the first prototype as we speak. It’s pretty tiny for what it can do, but I can’t really say much more than that at present. We also have a 110w 21700 device in development as well.
Good to see you're backing VApril. Have you been doing anything special for it?
Yes. We think VApril is a great awareness campaign as more smokers need to know the ease and success rates of quitting using vaping only. We have created 6 x VApril specific offer bundles, sold exclusively on-line and they are all under £20 – so, for less than the cost of 2 packets of cigarettes, smokers can try vaping and see if it’s right for them.
We also have a recommendation tool on the home page of our site, which means customers can tell us about their smoking habit and what they want to achieve from vaping which allows us to recommend a tailored set-up to give them the very best chance of switching and staying switched.
Our Retail stores are supporting the VApril Challenge and we are offering masterclasses and free starter kits to anyone who signs up. This can be done on the VApril website.
What's next for JAC Vapour?
Next up is the VIM, it’s a tiny AIO style device that can take pods or a rebuildable VIM tank, but we matched it with a massive 2600mAh battery. It’s a very flexible system that’s easy to use and very cost effective.
We’ve also got its wee brother, known as the WEE VIM (see what we did there?), which is even smaller and so affordable it should hopefully mean that nobody ever has to purchase a crappy ‘ego’ ever again.
We have also got Bryn’s ultra-realistic tobacco nic salt range coming, and we’ve just added a nic salt base to picNIC.
Also, the Turbo coils for the VIM and S devices have recently gone up on our site for Beta testing, which completely transforms MTL performance in small devices. So, plenty happening in the next month or 2.
Anything you'd like to say to your extremely loyal customer base?
Thanks very much for your support. We’ve been around for a long time in now, in vaping terms we are very, very old, and we’re only here because of our loyal customer base. I still see reviews and get emails from customers I knew back in 2010, which is really nice. I still read and reply to all reviews posted on our site (good and bad) and also answer all the forum posts, so please keep supporting us and sending in the feedback, it’s always welcome and we love to hear from customers.