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Making a Smoke Machine for Bubble Shows

Making a Smoke Machine for Bubble Shows

The author of the article: Daryn Alexey.
Bubble artists are a very inventive people. They have used all sorts of gadgets to blow smoky bubbles:
  • Zero-blaster shooting smoky rings
  • E-cigarettes
  • Someone even practiced regular cigarettes as well
  • You can use a standard smoke machine for discos
When I approached the development of this kind of props, the following requirements sprang up:
  • 1
    My smoke machine had to be hermetically sealed. Old devices' contacts and batteries were constantly oxidized by a green coating later turning into rust.
  • 2
    The smoke machine had to be stylish and eye-pleasing for the viewer.
  • 3
    The smoke machine had to be small and light to fit into a women's handbag. I really wanted to make it just 15 cm tall.
  • 4
    The smoke machine had to be powered by batteries. It is inconvenient to mains outlet every time, especially if the event takes place outside.
  • 5
    The smoke machine had to be reliable. Nothing burns or gets wet inside unbreakable housing.

The most difficult condition to meet was the leak tightness. Our detergent is such a mean substance that easily penetrates any cracks, poorly dries up, oxidizes and destroys everything except plastic and stainless steel. For this reason, Zero-blaster, electronic cigarettes and hookahs fail very quickly as soon as the detergent gets in there.
I wanted it to be a device made from scratch. Without any spare parts from other devices.

I chose plastic for the housing because:
  • 1
    It is light
  • 2
    It is not oxidized by detergent
  • 3
    It is black
  • 4
    It is easily processed
First, the first prototype of the housing was made.
Then I still did not know what would be inside and how it would work. The diagonal two-sided notching was made around the housing. It was supposed that this would help the artist to firmly keep the smoke-machine in soapy hands. Then it turned out that this kind of plastic was not slippery by itself, even coated with a detergent, so I ditched the notching. All in all, I quite liked the resulting housing.

After two days of studying different gadgets and equipment that make smoke and steam, the principle of an electronic cigarette was taken as a basis: when cotton wool or thread is wetted with glycerin and then heated with a nichrome coil. Besides, it was possible to implement the principle of a large smoke machine for discos. There, glycerin, mixed with water and alcohol, is run through a heated copper tube. As a result, the liquid turns into steam.
Why glycerin?
You can use water as a liquid for any smoke machine, but water vapor dissolves very quickly in the air, so the effect will not be lasting. Glycerin vapor stay in the air for a long time in an unchanged state, so you get a long-lasting effect of white smoke. Glycerin is harmless in reasonable quantities, it is added to medicines, cosmetics and even food.
I really wanted to make sure that there would be no problem with the burned spirals, the way it was in the blue gun. After that, the gun has to be thrown away. It was not subject to restoration.
The basic part was a conventional light bulb.
Its contacts are hermetically sealed, and the spiral is separated. I managed to do it like this.
I thought that we would get an additional plastic evaporator module, which could be replaced in case of a spiral burnout. That's how the battery pack would have looked like.
And that's how the replacement interchangeable evaporator would have been inserted; it is white in the photo.
Here is a better graphic representation of the place of their connection.
But I failed to make the replacement module compact and simple, the height of the hosing increased by 22 mm. The cost of manufacturing and assembling the smoke machine increased too, so the replacement module was abandoned. The central part and the bottom of the evaporator were joined together to make a single part.
And the process of the spiral replacing was not as difficult as expected. Therefore, if the spiral burns out, the client is advised to replace it. It takes only 5 minutes.

If it was a removable evaporator module, it would have to be bought separately. Its cost would have been no less than 1,500 rubles.
I chose the most common batteries so that they could be bought in any part of the world. Since there were 6 batteries in the Zero-blaster, I also decided to keep up and originally planned to use 7 batteries.
In my mind, there was a stereotype that the liquid was necessarily to be fed from above or below by pressing a button similar to the one in a flashlight.
And then the location of the parts would have been like this.
But it got much easier when I began to experiment with glycerin. Glycerin itself rises along the thread to the spiral.
The second prototype was like this:
After optimizing the dimensions, the third prototype significantly decreased in size compared to the second one.
КAs it turned out, the spiral is not so easy to burn out. Maybe, because nichrome is thicker than the one in the Zero-blaster, or because the spiral is always cooled by glycerin.
Water and solution tests were carried out.
When all the parts were refined it turned out quite well.
After the first sales, several customers broke the tubes. The old tubes were replaced with aluminum ones.
It seems that everything is simple, but in fact, every part is made with hard mental and physical labor. Especially frustrating is the waiting, when the prototype has already been pained and drawn, and you have to wait for 3 weeks until its produced.
Sometimes we detect some shortcomings, which we correct and finalize. Perhaps this is the only way to achieve perfection.

The development process lasted for 7 months. And improvements are still underway. Since January 22, 2017, the new generation smoke machine was launched.
Changing the design.
It seemed to me that the previous smoke machine was not quite ergonomic and falls behind in terms of design. To be more precise, I was not happy about the shape that was too wide, it was inconvenient to hold the machine. So, it was necessary to make it narrower.

There were also difficulties with the button. To make the smoke machine tight and small at the same time was very difficult. An additional concern was the abundance of parts in the old smoke machine, it affected its cost. The production cost was quite high, so we could discount it or reduce the price.

Our customers had inconveniences with the spiral replacement. Hence came the desire to make practical contacts for the spiral, which would be convenient to attach. To make the machine run at full power, I needed good quality contacts on the spiral and mounts. In the old version there were nuts, which were inconvenient to screw. The spiral, respectively, was stretched relative to the blowing hole and moved slightly to the side.
Instead of 4 batteries – 1 powerful rechargeable battery
There were problems with the power of the smoke machine. I wanted to make the smoke pour out of it in a thick stream. I tested a very powerful battery and a spiral, but it turned out that a rich thick smoke bursts bubbles. It was impossible to blow a bubble of 10-15cm in diameter on a palm. I think that glycerin from inside the smoke penetrates the walls of the bubble and changes its composition, so the bubble bursts.

The solution was as follows: very little power for the spiral and at the same time a powerful battery. This is necessary so that the battery voltage during the operation of the smoke machine does not decrease from the load and the power remains constant.

Regular saline or alkaline batteries under heavy load lose the voltage dramatically. Therefore, their capacity and working life are lower than stated.
I wanted to use rechargeable batteries in the smoke machine; the ones that serve for a long time and are charged quickly. As a result, the solution was to use a high-current rechargeable battery in place of our disposable alkaline batteries.

We chose a battery with the power 7 times greater than the permissible load when the smoke machine is in operation. But there is one issue: such a battery cannot be completely discharged. And to charge it a certain voltage is required. Therefore, for stable operation of the new smoke machine, we use 2 electronic boards.
Also, we replaced the switch with a more powerful one, replaced the rubber gasket that seals the switch. I had to completely rework the insides, the design and make a new housing.
Why does the smoke machine have different tubes?
In addition, there was a problem with the tubes. Earlier we used aluminum tubes. It turned out that even after the powder coating, the detergent penetrated the paint, the aluminum was oxidized and the paint started to peel off.

Stainless steel is certainly heavier than aluminum, but we decided to use this material anyway. As a result, we got a different weight distribution: the smoke-machine housing became lighter, and the tubes got heavier. When we put the smoke machine on the table, it immediately fell. Because of its length, the frontend tube outweighed the smoke machine in one direction.
Those who have already purchased the new smoke machine can look closely to see that the tubes walls are of different thicknesses. The front one is longer and thinner, and the rear one is shorter and thicker. This is done to properly distribute the weight of the smoke machine. Now the device stands even on its small footing.

In addition, the thread on the stainless-steel tubes is not painted. They precisely fit the thread of the smoke machine housing and do not oxidize.

I can say that I am completely satisfied with the design of the smoke machine. It turned out to be unexpectedly successful. Initially, we took the "principle of a light bulb" as a basis, now the smoke machine shrank to the size of that light bulb. The new smoke machine is charged from any USB port on a computer or a charger with a USB output. Maybe you will charge it in your car.
The new smoke machine is unbreakable
The evaporation chamber was also changed. The place where glycerin is. The chamber became much smaller, there are no unnecessary Plexiglas parts, which can break.

I recommend to refill the smoke machine more often, preferably before each show. To do this, you need to turn the smoke machine over and remove the top cover in upside down position. Otherwise, the glycerin will pour on your hand.
Changing the spiral has become more convenient
Now the smoke machine has mounts with holes where you can insert the ends of the spiral and tighten the screw with internal hex. The spiral is replaced very rarely. The kit has a spare spiral.
The new smoke machine boasts increased apparent power due to the improved spiral blowing. Now the air does not meander inside the smoke generator.

If earlier the blowing was organized through a network of tangled holes, now the air from the tube gets under pressure directly onto the spiral, and then immediately flies with smoke into another tube. The movement of air is directed along a straight line from one tube to another. Smoke does not remain on the walls of the smoke machine, but directly goes into the front tube.
Rubber rings instead of thread
Another important change has affected the unscrewing of the covers of the smoke machine. Previously, this caused difficulties, for example, the top cover was unscrewed, and the lower one was difficult to unscrew or vice versa.
In case with the new smoke machine, we completely abandoned threads and replaced them with sealing rubber rings.

They are very tight; plus, we have provided an additional cover in the battery compartment for complete tightness of the product. The ingress of glycerin or detergent into the battery compartment is completely excluded.
If the new smoke machine falls into the tray with detergent it can be used further. You just need to remove the lid, drain the detergent and the smoke machine will work again. Inside is a thread that is soaked with glycerin. Glycerin is not so easy to wash out of the thread, so the machine will work even with the remnants of the detergent inside.

Full description, price and instructions for use can be found on the smoke machinepage.
The new smoke machine has become narrower, now it is convenient to hold it in your hand.
Instead of alkaline batteries in the smoke machine there is one powerful rechargeable battery.
The interior has been completely reworked, the housing replaced.
Aluminum tubes are replaced with stainless steel ones, they are no longer oxidized.
The smoke-machine is charged from any USB port, it can be even charged in the car.
The evaporation chamber with glycerin no longer contains glass parts, it cannot be broken.
The spiral replacement in the new machine is less frequent and takes a couple of minutes.
The smoke-machine has become more powerful due to the system of spirals blowing.
Removing the covers is easier now, they do not have threads.
The rubber rings make the smoke machine completely tight.
Props from my store
Props, with which the artist looks decent
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