You wouldn't believe how many questions we get
from folks searching for a rolling machine that can mass produce cigarettes. It so happens
that we undertook such a search a couple of years ago when it became evident that our
ability to acquire a good tube injector might be in jeopardy. The Supermatics were getting
scarce and CTC was producing few, if any, and as far as we knew no one else was producing
a comparable machine in the US. So we attacked the internet with vigor, concentrating on
Asian manufacturing from which many interesting products find life at reasonable
production costs. Since smoking in Asia is every bit as popular as in the US, we figured
there must be a manufacturer who might be looking for a distributed entry into the fat US
market. We posted several hundred requests on the various trade BBS systems like Asiannet
requesting information from anyone who was currently manufacturing, or interested in
manufacturing a small cigarette making unit. Our primary concern emphasized that it be of
very high quality and, as an after thought, mentioned that it would be nice if it could
produce more than one cigarette at a time. After six months, we had received dozens of
responses but the least expensive unit (if you could call it a unit) was for a
manufacturing machine capable of producing 4 million cigarettes per month. The cost of the
machine was $1,200,000. Not a single response from anyone who made a simple one-at-a-time
injector like the Supermatic. The point of all this is we know of only one multiple
cigarette making machine on the market and that is the Filtermatic.
Therefore, it is the subject of this review.
We first saw this machine on a tobacco website two years ago at about the same time we were looking for the manufacturing possibilities mentioned above but after contacting the site, we were told the machine was no longer available. And then, a couple of month's ago, Jan at Cascade Cigar & Tobacco, knowing that we were always interested in new and unusual products, informed us that the machine was again available. She generously sent us one to examine and play with for a couple of weeks.
Having hands-on, personal experience in developing and marketing new products, we are always extremely appreciative of the effort and commitment involved in bringing any new item to market. Manufactured by AE Gibbs, the Filtermatic is a noble effort and by the time we sent the machine back to Cascade, we had become fairly adept at rolling cigarettes with it. No filters were included with the test machine, so we had to settle for rolling filterless ones. The packaging says explicitly that you can roll 10 cigarettes with one "loading." However, when we originally saw this machine two years ago, that particular website touted the machine as capable of rolling 10 cigarettes at a time. Not the same thing at all!
Here's How It Works
Using a measuring cup (provided), you fill the five tobacco chambers with a pre-measured amount of tobacco. At that point, you slide the chamber down into position over the rolling blanket one chamber at a time. The tobacco drops into the recessed blanket pocket and you begin the rolling process. Only one, very long 170mm cigarette can be rolled at a time which is then cut in two (giving you two 85mm smokes) as the last part of the process. You then move the chamber assembly into the "second" position and repeat the procedure. Do it five times, and you have ten cigarettes. We found that, using various tobacco cuts, it was difficult to keep the rather loose fitting chamber assembly in exactly the right place to prevent tobacco from one of the chambered slots from spilling into another. Consequently, we mostly used the machine to roll one long cigarette at a time and cut it in two. Excellent rolls were achievable. The filters, as you can see in the photo (above left), slip into the smaller side slots on either side of the chamber and should be fairly easy to incorporate into the roll. Not having filters, we can only speculate, but the filter part should work well. The oversize 170mm papers are of good quality but not cheap - about $2.50 for a pack of 50. Considering you get two cigarettes from each paper, the paper cost per cigarette alone comes to about a nickel apiece. This doesn't include the cost of filters. By comparison, filtered cigarette tubes average between one and two cents apiece. The cutter blades would logically need to be replaced occasionally as a dull blade would tear the cigarette in half at the point of cutting.
Is this rolling machine faster than a tube injector? In our opinion, No! Although our performance did improve as we used the Filtermatic more and more, a tube injector like the Supermatic is instantaneous (once the tube is inserted and the tobacco added). This brings us to the crux of the situation with not only this machine but all future and possible multi-cigarette makers. The tobacco. If, for instance, you had a five chamber injection machine, it would take you 5 times as long to load the 5 chambers and 5 times as long to load the tubes compared to a single unit. The injection part of the process is nearly instantaneous. The setup is what uses the bulk of your time. Central reservoirs that held tobacco and tubes would not be feasible. The very fact that tobacco differs so much in consistency (cut, moisture, density), makes it very difficult to have an automated system that will work with any but the most consistently prepared and specifically shaped tobacco. In commercial cigarette mass production machines, the tobacco is prepared very carefully so that it will slide into the proper channels for positioning on the roller. I can't imagine using a long shag cut easily in this situation as it simply doesn't cooperate when trying to "feed' it into any conveyance path. It sticks, hangs out and up, and bunches up and well . . . you see the point. So filling any multiple path manufacturing machine from a single reservoir of tobacco is a very difficult proposition indeed. Solid objects (like bottle caps, grain, dry powders, screws, pins, etc.), and liquids, perform with a consistency that is predictable. Not tobacco. And the sheer flimsiness of the tubes would be even a bigger nightmare. Which is why we received only very high prices for our query regarding mass production units and why mass production injectors may not ever be feasible. But rollers might be. They are much more forgiving as to tobacco characteristics . . so . . .
Returning to the Filtermatic, while it is not an injector, the tobacco must still be placed carefully and, as we said, when you move the sliding multi-chambered tobacco reservoir forward, it is difficult to be precise enough not to spill tobacco from adjoining chamber slots. The paper must also be carefully put in place and the filters dropped into each slot. If you have ever used a traditional hand roller, you realize that the hardest and most time consuming part of the process is getting just the right amount of tobacco and then tamping it down so you can get the rollers to perform the initial shaping operation. Then you still have to slip the paper in, just so, right between the rollers, then lick, and then roll. With a good injector you simply slip the tube on the nozzle, tamp some tobacco into the slot and crank. In side by side testing, we asked minimally experienced, relatively coordinated friends to roll with the Filtermatic and inject with the Supermatic. Production rates averaged nearly 5 to 1 or better in favor of the injector.
Finally, as mentioned above, there is the issue of cost. If you pay $20 per pound for tobacco (a good to medium high average - using 1gm of tobacco per cigarette - there are 458 g/lb - so the tobacco cost per cigarette is about 4.4 cents) and $3.00 for a box of 200 filtered tubes (on the high end of street price - but figures out at about 1.5 cents per cigarette tube) and given the cost of of papers for the Filtermatic mentioned above at about 5 cents/paper which makes 2 cigarettes or a total of about $.025 cents per cigarette, the comparison would look something like the example in the table below.
Cost Comparison Table
In an effort to be fair, the RYO Filtermatic like all rollers, will handle a MUCH wider range of tobaccos and cuts. It also costs somewhat less than the top of the line Supermatic, perhaps as much as $10-$20 less depending on where you buy either of them. And for those who like well rolled, extra long (85)mm non-filtered cigarettes, will invest some time in learning the technique and perhaps find larger quantities of papers at a much more reasonable price, the Filtermatic is a useful system. Nonetheless, a good deal of dexterity is required to succeed. On the other hand, the filtered tube injector machine makes perfect cigarettes almost immediately, does not need replacement cutting blades, although it will eventually wear out (2+ years?), is much faster, AND a little careful shopping (starting with our advertisers, thank you very much) as well as ordering supplies in larger amounts (a case of 25-50 boxes of tubes - that's 25-50 cartons of cigarettes - you will use them eventually) and tobacco at least in pound quantities, preferably larger, can further reduce the cost of a carton of RYO cigarettes to under $7.00, even with today's outrageous taxes.
Consider for a moment if CTC, the Clinton Tube Company, who is the maker of Supermatics and the Excel tube injectors, were to go belly up tomorrow, there would literally be NO high quality, truly easy to use injectors on the market. Most of what would be left are smaller, less efficient hand crankers and a lot of cheap (but useful to a degree) top sliders. We should be VERY grateful to folks like AE Gibbs, the maker of the Filtermatic and all other gutsy entrepreneurs whose time, efforts, and vision reduce the risk of our relying completely on one source for anything.
Just imagine if there was only one computer maker, or one car maker. Imagine if there was only one company that made/controlled medicine, or food, or water. Worse, imagine a government in that position of power. We like choices, the marketplace is driven by choice, our very freedom depends on choice. So, we hope that the foregoing will serve as a positive force for improvement and further innovation by the Filtermatic folks. Someone needs to make a high quality alternative to the Supermatic. There is a huge potential market as more and more folks (there are 50 million smokers in the US alone) discover the advantages of RYO cigarettes when compared to the costly manufactured brands.
And lastly, I would like to repeat an interesting phenomenon I mentioned in last issue's Roller column. Every time my spell checker gets to the word Supermatic, a word I seem to use frequently of late, it doesn't recognize the word and gives me, as an alternate, the word Spermatic. I don't mind so much as I know what I mean, but I am not familiar with the word Spermatic and my partner, Linda, wants to know where she can get one. Who does she see about this? We've not yet received a coherent answer. - RYO
|EDITOR'S NOTE: These reviews are solely for the convenience of people of legal age who already smoke, are trying to cut down on smoking, wish to spend less money on their smoking, want to roll their own cigarettes from high quality tobacco, and, in general, wish to have a far more satisfying, and economical smoking experience when compared with smoking pre-manufactured cigarettes. We, in no way, encourage people to smoke. Further, we prescribe to a sane, more logical approach to smoking that involves common sense as to quantity coupled with a strong desire to manage the habit until it becomes an occasional, freely chosen, diversion, that can be fully enjoyed with minimal health risks. Finally, we strongly encourage those who do smoke to take it outdoors, or to appropriate environments where tobacco can be enjoyed away from those who do not smoke, most especially children. We do not sell tobacco or related products from this site; We distribute information about our perceptions of the quality of what is available and where it can be obtained. If you are under 18, it is illegal to buy tobacco and you should immediately exit this site. If you do not smoke, it would seem illogical to start.|
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The Andromedan Design Company