The story of how we developed the new-to-world vaping technology in the Vype iSwitch is a great example of our collaborative and inclusive approach.
Watch the video below to find out more about our collaborative approach to product development
As part of our efforts to make a step change in vaping technology, we established a Technology Scouting Unit to search for novel, potentially disruptive, technologies that could help to address the following two key issues.
Vapour devices generally use coil-and-wick systems to heat e-liquids. Unfortunately, poorly designed systems have the potential for “dry wicking”, when wicking systems dry out or overheat, which could result in the formation of toxic compounds during use and result in an aversive taste. Additionally, consumers are looking for a satisfying sensory experience, which we aim to achieve by considering areas such as aerosol characteristics and nicotine absorption.
Enter Helmut Buchberger, at the time a senior engineer at Bombardier in Austria, who had invented a new plate-based vaping technology that could potentially replace the coil-and-wick mechanism widely used in vapour devices. To turn his idea into a product, he quit his job and spent his life savings setting up Buchberger Laboratories.
In July 2011, one of our technology scouts, Dominic Woodcock, discovered Buchberger’s company and gave him a call. "Our first conversation lasted two hours," recalls Woodcock. "Whether it was the technology, Helmut or his passion, something just sparked." Woodcock immediately arranged to visit Buchberger at his laboratory in Enns, Austria, where he and another colleague spent a couple of days evaluating and working on the technology with the inventor.
Six months later, Woodcock asked Buchberger to bring his prototype to our R&D hub in Southampton, where our Director of Scientific Research, Dr David O’Reilly tried it out and instantly saw its potential. "I was amazed – it was the first vaping technology I had ever come across that combined the sensation and satisfaction of a cigarette, and was like nothing I’d ever experienced with a coil-and-wick," said O’Reilly. "It was clear this new technology could potentially lead to more satisfying vape."
The prototype, however, was clunky and awkward, the size of a large glasses case and had to be plugged in to mains electricity to work. To make it consumer ready, it would need to be miniaturised and every component redesigned from scratch. Buchberger felt that BAT had the vision to transform his prototype into a product and signed an initial six-month Joint Development Agreement. "Right from day one, BAT scientists rolled up their sleeves and started working with me," says Buchberger. "As well as being passionate about quality, they took care to listen to me and make me feel part of the BAT family."
A substantial number of chemists, toxicologists, biologists, chemists, microbiologists, aerosol physicists, neuroscientists, flavourists and mechanical, software and chemical engineers worked with Buchberger over the next five years to develop his invention into the dynamic vaping technology (puretech) around which the Vype iSwitch is built.
As mentioned earlier, one of the drawbacks with poorly designed coil-and-wick systems is that the cotton wick can run dry (usually when there is not enough e-liquid for the wick to absorb), which can thermally degrade the aerosol-generating glycerol and propylene glycol, producing some of the toxicants typically associated with combustion. Another issue is poor nicotine delivery, leaving some consumers dissatisfied. Puretech overcomes both these challenges through the use of a single, flat metal heater that acts as both heater and wick. The way it is constructed and constantly fed e-liquid by a capillary system means there is no drying out.
The dimensions of the heater mean that under certain conditions much larger vapour droplets are produced that seem to carry flavours better than traditional coil-and-wick e-cigarettes. We made the final decision to acquire the patents to Buchberger's invention in late 2012, and he remains a key part of the our team who we can call on as necessary. "I fell in love with working with BAT – they made me feel welcome and part of an innovative team," he said. "It’s only through this collaboration that my invention has become a disruptive piece of technology that is set to revolutionise vaping and transform the industry!"