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Mech mods exploding: history repeating, with no end in sight

Mech mods exploding: history repeating, with no end in sight

About the author
Oliver Kershaw

Oliver Kershaw

Founder of e-cigarette-forum.com and co-founder of vaping.com

In February 2012 a Florida man, Tom Holloway, suffered extensive injuries after his vape device exploded, gaining the unfortunate distinction of being the first person to be injured by vape mod. By today’s standards, this device was primitive: it was a closed tube with a button on the side and a screw thread on the top to connect the atomizing unit. Variations on this same technology still in wide use, known as “mech mods” because they close the electrical circuit in a purely mechanical fashion.

This injury didn’t come as a surprise to many in the then small but fast-growing vape community. Indeed, E-Cigarette-Forum had tried to create a standard which would mitigate the fallout of so-called “thermal failures”; simple things like ensuring vents could allow explosive gasses to escape and be directed away from the user. It didn’t take off, with only one or two manufacturers managed to build to the spec. 2012 saw the introduction of advanced microelectronics and a big change in battery chemistry, reducing the impetus for making mech mods safer.

The reason for the existence of mechs at all was simple: vapers had discovered that by reducing the resistance of the heating coil, a higher power vape could be created. These devices required larger batteries than were standard in the mass-manufactured e-cigs of the era, and so enthusiast-entrepreneurs in the US and across Europe started going to machine shops and having their own designs made up.

The majority of people purchasing these early devices were strongly attached to one or other of the vaping user-communities around the world. To these users, the risks involved were clear and present. To anyone outside of this community, the safe usage of mechs depended entirely on whether or not they conducted their own research, or whether they were directly educated on safe usage by the retailer.

In 2012, Evolv released the “Kick”. For those with less appetite for risk, the Kick a was a small microelectronic unit which sat in-line with the battery and the device, and which could shut a mech down if it detected dangerous events. It’s not clear how many users actually used a Kick, but Evolv went on to become pioneers of much of the technology used in today’s products. Today’s regulated devices (sometimes referred to as Advanced Personal Vaporizers, or APVs) ensure that the batteries are not overstressed, will not continue to operate if there’s a short-fuse event, and are in the main affordable and widely available. Some of these devices have eye-watering performance characteristics, far exceeding what can be safely achieved with mechanical devices.

Why are mechs being used today?

Many product categories have a hobbyist/purist consumer base. Think automatic watches: the technology is pure artful engineering with no microelectronics. They’re purchased less for the accurate telling of time than to own something made in a time-honoured fashion, allowing the wearer to participate in the centuries-old and ever-developing world of horology. In a similar way, mech’s are superseded technology; you don’t need to buy a mech mod to experience the performance that was only available through mechs if you were vaping five year’s ago. But you might choose to buy a mech for a number of reasons.

The fashion for mech devices is typically generated by the community of small manufacturers in the US or Europe who gain loyal followings from their users. Mechs are the vanguard of the vaping subculture: the image of a twenty-something vaper clutching his mod having become totemic during the rise of vaping.

In terms of declared motivations for using a mech, many do so because they enjoy the hobby side of vaping, because they want precise control over their experience, or maybe just because that’s what they were recommended by their retailer. Given that most regulated mods are made in China today, there’s also a “buy-domestic” motivation. That said, many the mechs in circulation are cloned versions of the originals, also made in China.

Is the issue overblown?

All said, the average mech user today is much safer than one five year’s ago. The chemistry of batteries is totally different, with many handling an output that would have sent the original batteries into instant thermal meltdown.  If this battery technology were not available it’s likely mechs would have been banned some time ago.

So, what’s to be said about the explosions we’re seeing currently? The first thing to note is that they are not exclusively occurring amongst mech users. The data is thin, but it appears that the majority of events are related to the inappropriate storage of batteries. It doesn’t matter if the device you’re using is a mech or a regulated device, carrying these batteries loose in pockets or bags runs the risk of short-circuiting them on coins, keys or other metal objects.

Of course, there’s a dramatic difference in outcomes between having a battery going thermal in your pocket and a device explode an inch or two from your face.

Do consumers understand the risks?

The batteries themselves contain a massive amount of energy. Consumers really haven’t had wide experience of batteries like these up to now: they are not AAAs! I calculated that a typical 18650 contains around as much energy as two 50 cal rounds. These batteries are inherently dangerous products and consumers need to understand what they’re dealing with.

This has to be a piece the industry addresses. Consumers must be made aware of the risks and taught to use them safely. The information is out there and available to consumers, but they have to educated that they need to understand the products before using them.

Murphy's law dictates: "if it can go wrong, it will go wrong". Accordingly, mechs will always cause injury no matter how much education there is. I personally can't see regulators tolerating this, given the existence of technology which is cheap and safe, but prediction's a mug's game so I won't try to say what I think's going to happen.

  • Adarious Mistdancer

    You forgot a pretty obvious motive for getting a mech mod, especially in the wake of the FDA's actions. That is ...regulated mods contain electronics..those eventually wear out. Mech mods don't have these and as such will survive substantially longer. It's the same argument with RBA/RTA vs tanks using pre-built heads. If availability of supply is cut or reduced, it's more about what's going to last the longest without being able to replace it.

  • Adrian Fetterley

    As you said, regulators are more likely to favor regulated devices because there is less inherent danger. But it is more likely that you will be injured by a car accident than by a battery meltdown incident. One of the reasons for the age restrictions on both activities is to make sure the users are able to assume the risk. Regulators should look at driving in conjunction with Murphy's Law as well. Things are always going to go wrong and people are always going to get injured, but that doesn't mean we should ban the activity. The users should be made to understand the risks of misusing a mechanical device, even if they won't educate themselves about battery safety. There is much more risk in driving but no one wants more restriction on their car or on the road, so they ignore the problem for the sake of convenience.
    Sorry just thought that needed to be added.

  • Cheryl Detar

    So, ignore all the deaths that smoking cigarettes cause? Ban cell phones because a few caught fire?

  • Adam Friedman

    Wait a minute. Apples Phone's are blowing up all over night stands right now especially their newer units. So maybe the world should ban Apple phones, right? Sounds like apple might be in bed with big tobacco now or something. Google Vape lovely....

  • Edward Newman

    The moment the vape industry sold itself the obvious BS justification that education of a volatile product is more important than re-engineering it to simply make it safer. You become as delusional as the anti-vapers.

  • Niel Jo Evony

    I was lucky enough to have a learning moment without injury. I vape, but i also fly small radio control airplanes. I had a small lithium polymer battery, wired 3 in series, where one of the batteries was beginning to go bad. I know how powerful these batteries are, but complacency set in as I was disassembling it. While cutting off the connector, my metal snips went through both the positive and negative lead at the same moment. It was a very short duration "closed circuit," but the flash was something I won't soon forget. Luckily the snips had plastic ends, and I didn't get the shock from my idiocy. A lesson I'll never forget however.

  • Paul Muad'Dib

    I thought IMR chemistry batteries were safer than Lithium-ion batteries because they don't explode. Do IMR chemistry batteries explode?

  • Asylumsix

    For me and why I still keep a few mech's around is more than for show or nostalgia, the vape I get from a mech despite having tried many mods with bypass is much more organic, you can feel the voltage drop in the temperature and flavor of the vape something I've never been able to get from a chipped mod...

    Not saying I use them all the time but I do use them from time to time if that's the vape I feel like... 95% of the time you'll find me vaping 50-60 watts with the 75 watt 1/2 second preheat...

    Why are mech's still so mainstream? The price! Why are faux hybrid mech's becoming popular? Again the price but even lower... you can get a decent mech for 7$ on sites like FT... With the right coils/battery's it can hit as good as a 200$ setup for 20$...

    A big part of the problem is not just with mech's but more so "faux" hybrid mech's (a true hybrid mech is where the atty is permanently attached to the battery tube), with a faux mech you can use any atomizer on it, ones with short positive pins can dead short your battery, ones with the correct pin can be over tightened and damage the battery leading to a venting...

    Faux Hybrid's honestly I don't see the need for them other than for advanced cloud competitions, in the hands of not only experienced but very advanced vapers, the performance difference is so small compared to a normal mech that it's not even noticeable from a quality mech it's more science than anything at that point...

    I have no problem whatsoever with Hybrid Mech's being removed from the market, but normal mech's with standard 510's still have a place in the hands of advanced vapers...

  • boxer30

    I, myself, have been vaping for 5 years and have tried both. I think the key ticket to all of these incidents are simply educating people on battery safety. I've seen people change their batteries in my local vape shop that are completely unsafe. The wraps are dented, nicked and one persons wrap was almost completely off. This is so incredibly dangerous. Most vape shops I used to frequent don't want to sell battery wraps because of the obvious. They want to make more money by selling new batteries. I feel, consecutively, as a group, we need to unite and possibly have posters created educating people on battery safety and make it MANDATORY to be posted in all vape shops. I'm not quite sure who to contact or how to go about this, but maybe CASSA can get involoved. I can't tell you the amount of times I educated a Vaporer on the facts of battery safety and the simplicity of changing a battery wrap.

  • teryn0069

    Um, ONE injury?? There are other things that are not bitched about that can injure. I do not believe this story much. They cannot find anything wrong with e cigs so they are making things up now.

  • http://TobakkoNacht.com Michael J. McFadden

    I'm primarily a smoker, but have experimented with vaping over the past year or two to varying degrees. Don't really know much about the tech details so that's the basis of my double question here:

    1) Are all the units with a battery with a button you press (Like EGO, Revolver etc) considered "mech mods"?

    2) Do the problems ever occur during what most vapers might consider "normal" button presses of a second or two for a mouthful as opposed to five to fifteen+ second draws for people taking lungfuls? Or are they triggered only during such long presses?

  • Tim Hadfield

    Knives are sharp - should we ban knives too?
    Stupid or careless people are always hurting themselves (and others).
    Ban stupid people ... Ban everything, just to be safe. Stay in bed, do not get up, you'll be safe there.

  • Mandy

    What's a mech, mod and kick? This is a great article but not everyone knows what those things are. This article is a great way to start the education but if people don't know what these things are then they may think, "ohh don't even know what that is so it doesn't effect me"

  • http://www.infowars.com BrotherFreedom

    Vested interests will be jumping on this story in the hopes of banning vaping or regulating it to the point where it dies as a free market. How many stories have we heard of cell phones exploding and catching fire, burning houses down and severely injuring people? Were any companies or governments pushing to ban cell phones? No.
    The giant tobacco corporations want to either destroy or control vaping and as I'm concerned, they can go to hell because I'm never going back to cigarettes.

  • Stosh

    So we're banning all the mobile phones, tablets, laptops, flashlights, electric toothbrushes, electric cars, solar energy backup battery packs, etc that use the same style batteries and have the same danger of explosion and fires?!?

    Pardon me while I get my flint and striker to light a fire to cook dinner...don't need any of the dangerous modern stuff....lol

  • Kugel Bauer

    Not everyone wants to vape 20ml/day of 3mg at 50w. Some of us are cavemen who like their 18mg juices at 5w and mechs are perfect for us.

  • http://YouTube.com/VapeLovely Vape Lovely

    This is just ridiculous! Vaping gear has come such a long way since mechanical mods. By the way, isn't Apple having problems with the iPhone 7 exploding and catching on fire nowadays? Do they hire cigarette smokers knowing that cigarette smoking causes cancer? Maybe the world should boycott Apple!

  • ZenZephyr

    This article right here is part of the problem. "I myself will never use one" in reference to mechanical mods. First I would ask how long have you been vaping? And why are you just spreading more fear? It's one of the same issues that has plagued this industry from as long as I've been part of it. The sub ohm craziness "Oh my god what are they doing going below 1.5 ohms!!?", The diacetyl scares with popcorn lung "That stuff is chemicals and will kill you!", Mechanical mods "People will hurt themselves! We're all gonna die!". It's the same affliction I see in all media, TV, magazines, social media. Everyone is pushing an agenda of fear because fear makes great eye catching headlines and sells more clicks more comments more arguments etc. This article is completely irresponsible for continuing to push that fear based agenda instead of looking at the facts and data as well as taking this opportunity to actually educate. In every instance where a mod has blown up the biggest issue has been user error, not the mod's fault it's the user's fault for doing something completely wrong because they didn't learn what they were doing. You as a writer have a platform which you chose to use to sell more fear and further divide the community and give the FDA and all those against us more ammo. In every one of the above mentioned controversial topics that I mentioned we have been our own worst enemies. Each problem resulted in months of heated arguments and division within the community that took our attention off of the real issues like taxes being passed that were designed to crush and wipe out this industry or backdoor deals to create unfair hurdles for small business. All because people don't bother to do any of their own genuine research to find some hard data and facts from an accredited source before writing an article or reposting a video of something blowing up. Do your own research, question everything, and think before opening your mouth otherwise you may end up dragging us all down with the best intentions. I'm amazed everyday by how little people think about what they repeat and say. This does nothing to help when you're creating more doubt based on little bits of information and your personal feelings about some clear fear that you have about using a mechanical mod. What we all need right now is to band together to educate and support one another in participating in advocacy and going to any sort of State rallies against unfair business taxation and unfair laws enacted by the FDA. The problem is that just isn't as headline-grabbing is it?

  • Bill Godshall

    Unfortunately for public safety in the US, the Deeming Regulation imposed by Obama's FDA banned the sales of all safer new vapor products in the US on August 8, 2016, and redefined vape shops as "manufacturers" to ban them from assembling (i.e. manufacturing) any new vapor product after August 8, 2016.

    Just as I repeatedly informed the FDA would occur since 2011, the Deeming Regulation threatens public health and safety by encouraging vapers to DIY their own mechs and to mix their own e-liquids (because most vape shops are complying with FDA's ban on these same "manufacturing" procedures).

    Even worse, millions of more US vapers will begin DIY manufacturing their own vapor products
    (and/or will begin buying them from black/gray markets) after August 8, 2018 when the sale of all vapor products will be banned in the US (unless overturned by the courts, by US Congress and/or by the Trump Administration.

    FDA is hosting a conference on vapor product fires and explosions (to further demonize the vapor industry and to advocate even more unwarranted regulations on vapor products), but there is no reason for anyone in the vaping industry to attend the event (other than to point out FDA's irresponsible actions and counterproductive regulation), since FDA has banned all vapor product improvements six months ago.

  • John E Bench

    7 years of vaping and I never had a problem with mech mods or batteries but after that happened to you I started carrying my bats in a battery case. Hope you healed up ok.

  • jlew

    I'm in agreement with everyone on the issue of this simply spreading more fear and needs to stop... Simply walking out the door is dangerous, so do we ban walking?
    Facts remain... it is generally misuse and lack of knowledge that cause the problems yet only a handful of injuries or accidents in several years is still insignificant considering cigarettes STILL TAKE hundreds of lives and injure hundreds more EVERY year... and cigarettes do this with no interference or misuse on the part of the consumer.
    Vaping is STILL 1000 times safer than smoking and 100 times better and healthier.
    I will take my chances.

  • deb22

    I will support vaping til I die! (which will be longer now that I vape) I have converted several smokers..starting with myself 7 yrs ago...I don't use mech mods as a regular but do have one and used only after extensive research...As with any new thing I want to try ...Vaping or otherwise, I do my research...Guess I didn't research smoking when I started at age 13! Cigarettes weren't banned even with all the hazards (btw I don't condemn any smoker as I was there once, heavily)......Vaping saved me...no inhaler, no out of breath from going up stairs...can walk, run...Enjoy Life. Build my own coils, make my own juice, use the right batteries and use common sense....I own 25 mods and triple that in rda's/rta's with NEVER a problem...... I don't need Apple products to live...I was given an Apple Iphone awhile ago...I am now looking forward to purchasing a new replacement phone...Sorry Apple...I am Pro Vaping...

  • Swerve

    Holy shit

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