S10 Blog

What is Zirconia Ceramics & Why Is It Different from Standard Ceramic 510 Cartridge?

Published Date:
February 16, 2022

As the vape industry continues to balloon in popularity, cannabis extraction teams are looking for new ways to differentiate themselves from the competition.

Of course, achieving high THC percentages, desirable terpene profiles, and experimenting with newly-popular concentrates like live resin can help brands stand out, but what about the physical hardware? Subpar cartridges can ruin the flavor of premium concentrates and extracts and even potentially endanger customers. Meanwhile, high-quality cartridges actually accentuate taste and make for a more pleasant consumer experience overall. 

So how can brands separate the wheat from the chaff when sourcing cartridge hardware? It starts by forming a deeper understanding of current cartridge technology. This article will go on to detail the role of each individual component in a 510 vape cartridge, the advantages of different cartridge materials, and introduce the benefits of utilizing zirconia ceramics in vaporizer devices. 

What Is A 510 Thread Vape Cartridge? 

The unparalleled convenience afforded by pre-filled and refillable 510 cartridges make these small electronic devices some of the hottest-selling items in dispensaries nationwide, but what exactly are they? 

Almost all cartridges currently on the market are 510 cartridges. The numbers 510 refer to the size and number of threads on the cartridge’s male connection point—10 threads at .5mm intervals. By standardizing cartridge thread size, consumers have more flexibility to experiment with different batteries and brands. 

Your standard 510 cartridge comprises three main components: 

  • The Mouthpiece: As the name suggests, the mouthpiece is the part of the cartridge where users place their mouths to inhale the vapor produced by the cartridge. Mouthpieces come in a wide variety of shapes, sizes, and materials. Longer mouthpieces allow the vapor more time to cool, resulting in smoother hits, while smaller mouthpieces make the device more compact and portable. Mouthpieces made from plastic may be cheaper for manufacturers to produce; however, they can easily break or melt and can potentially compromise the flavor of your extract. In contrast, higher-quality materials like ceramics better withstand heat and consistently deliver unadulterated flavors.  
  • The Tank: The tank, also sometimes simply referred to as the cartridge, is the part of the device that will house the extract or concentrate. These are almost always made from transparent material so consumers can visually inspect the concentrate inside. We recommend a cartridge with a sturdy tank material like impact-proof quartz over fragile plastic.
  • The Heating Element/Atomizer: The cartridge’s heating element is arguably the most important component inside the device as it is responsible for converting the extract into an inhalable vapor. Heating elements operate differently depending on what materials they’re constructed from. Conventional low-quality heating elements use a cotton wick wrapped in a metal coil. The cotton absorbs the extract, and then the metal wire heats up, converting the extract absorbed by the wick into vapor. Higher quality cartridges employ ceramic heating elements, which don’t require cotton wicking due to their porous nature. 

Advantages Of Cartridge Based Systems 

Consumers have several options when shopping for a cannabis vape. With dab pens, disposable vaporizers, and pod systems all available, what makes cartridges so appealing to cannabis users?

Unlike dab pens, which require users to manually load their concentrate into the device's heating chamber with each use, cartridges are mess-free and easy to use. Because consumers don’t have to go through the hassle of preparing each individual hit, they are more able to discreetly use their vape device while on the go. Plus, almost anybody can intuitively operate a cartridge-based vape with little to no instruction, broadening the appeal to wider audiences. 

As stated earlier, the standardization of 510 threading for both batteries and cartridges allows consumers to mix and match brands. In contrast, pod systems like PAX are only compatible with proprietary pods, significantly limiting consumers’ range of choice. 

While disposable vaporizers offer similar levels of convenience as cartridges, they produce substantially more waste and wind up costing consumers more money in the long run. By making the one-time purchase of a reliable rechargeable battery, cannabis users only have to purchase cartridges going forward, which are both cheaper and better for the environment than single-use devices. Many of these cartridges, even those labeled disposable, can be refilled, making them even more sustainable and economical.  

Metal Vs. Ceramic 510 Cartridges

Manufacturers construct cartridges from a wide variety of different materials. The materials they choose have a drastic impact on the device’s performance and safety. 

A large portion of the cartridges currently on the market today are made from a combination of metal, plastic, and cotton. However, these kinds of cartridges have several concerning design flaws. 

Cannabis testing labs have recently discovered dangerous levels of toxic heavy metals in several different brands of vape cartridges. Small parts manufacturers typically fashion metal cartridges from a blend of nickel, copper, chromium, tin, lead, and other metals. Due to the acidity of cannabis extracts and the heat produced by vape devices, these heavy metals can leach out over time from the cartridge hardware into the cannabis extract. Ingesting heavy metals is toxic to humans, and this leaching is creating additional health concerns for the vape industry. 

In the wake of the 2019 EVALI outbreak, it’s more essential than ever that leaders in the cannabis and vape industries prioritize consumer health. The best way to prevent any potential for heavy metal leaching is by avoiding metal components entirely, making full ceramic 510 cartridges the clear choice for health-conscious consumers and extractors. 

The lack of heavy metal contaminants isn’t just a health benefit. Master extractors and their teams work tirelessly to develop concentrates that aren’t only potent, but also taste good. Heavy metals can compromise flavor profiles, undoing all the work performed in the extraction lab. 

In addition to being safer, full ceramic cartridges outperform their metal counterparts in multiple ways. Cotton wicks are finicky. They’re subject to fail after multiple uses or if they become oversaturated with cannabis oil. When this occurs, consumers experience what’s known as a dry hit—an unpleasant plume of smoke (not vapor) that tastes like burnt cotton and can irritate the mouth and throat. 

Cotton wick oversaturation can also lead to a phenomenon referred to as spitback in the vape community. When the wick becomes oversaturated, it causes the excess extract to boil and bubble up through the mouthpiece. Not only does this waste precious concentrate, it also tastes unpleasant and can burn the mouth and lips.

Because ceramic coil cartridges don’t require cotton wicks, they eliminate the potential for both dry hits and spitback. 

Ceramics are also an extremely heat-resistant material. As a result, ceramic cartridges last much longer than metal ones, giving consumers the option to refill their cartridges more times and cut down on waste. 

They also offer better heat retention and better heat distribution, providing bigger, more flavorful hits, and making them compatible with viscous concentrates that metal cartridges simply can’t handle. 

What are Zirconia Ceramics?

When you hear the word ceramics, you may instantly think of pottery or your cabinet filled with coffee mugs. However, ceramics are a broad category. Technically speaking, a ceramic is any inorganic, nonmetal material that’s been shaped and fired. 

The S10 Labs Zirco Cartridge utilizes zirconium dioxide (also known as zirconia)—one of the strongest ceramics known to humankind. This crystalline oxide of zirconium is often used in the dental industry to create crowns and bridges due to its hardiness and is also used as a thermal barrier coating in the construction of jet engines. 

Unlike many other forms of ceramics, zirconia is extremely tough. It doesn’t shatter when dropped, has very low thermal conductivity, and is even used to simulate the hardest material on earth—a diamond. This natural resilience has earned zirconia the nickname ceramic steel, and it’s why S10 Labs uses it to create our signature cartridge. 

How Are Zirconia Ceramic Cartridges Different Than Other Ceramic Cartridges?

Not all ceramic 510 cartridges are created equal. Many cartridges which advertise as ceramic still utilize plastic and metal components but have simply added a layer of porous ceramic coating on top of a metal center post. While this does eliminate the problems created by cotton wicking agents, it doesn’t necessarily remove the danger of heavy metal leaching. 

Ceramic coil cartridges with other metal components can still create health risks for consumers and potentially adulterate the flavor of your extract. Similarly, ceramic coil cartridges with plastic mouthpieces create the potential for flavor compromising deterioration. 

Only a truly full ceramic cartridge without any metal components like the S10 Zirco can consistently deliver completely pure flavor, and the medical-grade zirconia ceramics used in its construction provided unparalleled performance and durability compared to other forms of ceramics cartridges. 

Why Choose Zirconia Ceramics For Your Extracts?

If you take pride in your extracts, you want a cartridge that will highlight the concentrate, not contaminate it. 

Zirconia is one of the purest forms of ceramics available and doesn’t contain any contaminants that could potentially interact with the extracts it contains, resulting in better overall flavor profiles compared to inferior ceramics or metals. It’s also an extremely durable material, meaning there’s no concern of shattering or microfractures like with low-quality ceramic alternatives. 

Ultimately, zirconia ceramics represent the gold standard in vaping hardware. If you want the safest, strongest, best-tasting cartridge available, look no further than zirconia ceramics. 

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