My Thunder Power experience

Let me start by saying thanks to Jason Merkle at TP for taking the time to give me a tour of their facilities, and for helping me get my hands on a TP820CD and couple of packs to use and review. Thank you! 

This is going to be a little different type of review 
I saw an interesting opportunity recently. I met with some of the TP employees while at the Fabulous Las Vegas Fun Fly and got a tour of their facilities. On top of that I now have one of their new chargers and a pair of packs from their most recent line. Since all this is new to me, I have decided to put together a "My Thunder Power experience" article to give my thoughts on TP, as well as a review of 2 of their newest products, the TP820CD charger and G6 Pro Performance packs.

The bread and butter of TP
Thunder Power makes and sells lipo battery packs. Yes they make and sell other products but their bread and butter is lipos. To that end, they make arguably the best lipos available. Of course the best is never cheap and that is very much true with TP lipos. So, with prices 3-4 times as much as cheapest packs, are TP packs really 3-4 times better? Some say absolutely and won't touch anything else, but others believe they are just too expensive, that TP is just lining their pockets with our cash. Well I got the chance to talk to Jason Merkle at TP and what I found out both surprised and impressed me. Read on to find out what I learned. 

Visiting the TP facility
Before I start let me explain that I was not allowed to take any photos while at TP, so I will do my best to paint you a picture with words. Okay now on to the TP facility. I spent most of the day at the fun fly and made plans to meet Jason at TP afterwards. About 4pm I left and headed to across town. TP is located in a fairly small sized building about 2 miles west of the Strip in Las Vegas and I ended up getting there at 5:30pm. One of the biggest surprises about being at TP was seeing just how modest it all was. The sign over the door reads ADVANCE ENERGY and there's not a single word mentioned about Thunder Power. Inside are a few offices and a warehouse. That's it. No fancy office furniture and no Ferrari's parked out front, just a basic building with normal people working inside. The feeling I got was that people work at TP because they love it, not because of the size of the paycheck. 

I spent most of my tour in the warehouse area where they assemble packs, store raw cells and finished packs, and box up the outgoing orders. The warehouse/assembly area is not large and it is mostly dedicated to shelving filled with boxes. I was not allowed to walk through the assembly area because of trade secrets, but from a distance it appeared to contain simple tables with piles of raw cells on them, supplies and a few tools. My favorite part was the "Wall o' packs" as I refer to it. It was just one of the many shelves but instead of cardboard boxes, it had many, many bins on it, and each bin held a good number of finished packs. That was the moment something clicked in my head. Of course I knew that TP made batteries but until I saw 1000s of them in bins, it just wasn't real. 

Jason informed me that they assemble every pack they sell right there in that building with the exception of the tiny micro packs. Each and every cell undergoes a series of tests to characterize it, and then it is matched with like cells and assembled into packs. Instead of soldering, the cell tabs are welded together with a very special and expensive welder to prevent damage to the cells from excess heat build-up. I was shown an assembled, but not yet covered pack, and I was impressed with their attention to detail. They are careful to make sure the leads have proper strain relief and that everything is held down tightly to combat failures from vibration. Once a pack is assembled, it is covered and packaged in all American made products. Jason put great emphases on the fact that they use as many American produced products as they can. I guess the biggest thing I took away from it was that they make a very solid battery and they don't cut corners. 

I also got to see the other things TP is making and selling these days. I was surprised to find out that they are making waves in the rc car market. TP now sells a full line of hard case lipos with pre-soldered connectors on them, as well as a new line of rc car motors. Next Jason showed me the new line of planes they are selling. They are expensive but very high quality models.  Of course they also sell chargers and accessories. 

In the end I spent over 3 hours talking to Jason and seeing the facilities. I had a really nice time and learned a lot. Jason is a great guy and I was really glad I got to meet him. Unfortunately not long after my visit, Jason left TP in favor of other opportunities. That doesn't change the fact that he took the time on a busy Friday night to show me around and answer my questions. Thank you Jason and all the best!

So why the high cost?
So why are TP lipo packs so expensive? Now that I have talked to Jason, gotten to see TP and have had time to think about it, here is what I believe. First off it's not a simple question to answer, especially when you compare them to brands like those found at HobbyKing. It starts with the cells themselves. TP makes a great effort to only use the best cells they can buy. Next every pack is made up of tested and matched cells. That equates to very good batteries and it costs more but that is far from the end of this answer. The next, and biggest expense comes from the fact that TP is not a reseller but a manufacturer. A large portion of the cost of TP packs comes from both the distribution of their products and the actual reseller. Then on top of the high quality parts, labor intensive assembly and distribution costs of the lipo itself, you get one of the best warranty's in the industry. Lastly, and lets not forget, this is all done by Americans, in a building located in America, using as many American products as possible. Simply put, it all adds up, but in the end I believe TP does the best they can to give hobbyists the highest quality lipos available. Add in the warranty and the fact that they are made here in America, and they just may be worth it. At least that is the conclusion I am coming to. 

Time to sum up my thoughts on Thunder Power
Thunder Power is one of the last American based manufactures of rc products. I knew this going in. I also knew they made good stuff, great stuff really, but it was questionable whether it was worth the extra cost. Now that I have seen the effort they put into their products, and have a better understanding of how difficult it is to make a competitive product in America these days, I have a whole new respect for the company. They're most definitely not lining their pockets with cash, they are just surviving, but they are doing it on their terms. That means they still hold very high standards for their products and stand behind them. I think that is pretty impressive in a time when you can buy similar products directly from China for 1/4th the cost. Time will tell but so far I am very impressed, I may just be the newest TP convert ;)

Before I get to the reviews, I wanted to share a few pieces of info I learned during my tour
  • I asked Jason if they had ever had a fire in the warehouse, you know since they are a lipo assembler. He said the last fire they had was from an over-taxed electrical strip in an office. It did spread to the warehouse though, and they lost a great deal of their inventory from it. He said the fire burned for a whole day and firemen could not put it out. Since then they have rebuild the burnt parts of the building and have taken the opportunity to change the floor plan some, as well as add a sufficient number of outlets ;) 
  • Jason spent a little time basically complaining about something a few customers do. They decide to ship back bad lipos without first contacting TP. He said, while laughing at the horror, how some just show up in manilla envelopes! Each business day starts by going though all the mail and taking all the returned lipos outside for safe keeping. He said they never request a damaged or badly failing lipo to be returned. Most times a picture and some info is enough. So if you have a problem lipo, please call them and talk to them BEFORE shipping anything to them! Plus you might save the shipping costs ;)
  • I asked Jason why there was no Thunder Power sign on the door or building. He said the parent company is called Advance Energy and that they used to have a TP sign on the door but removed it. He then told me more about Advance Energy. Turns out the business started out by making lithium ion batteries for cells phones back when they used to ship with NiCd batteries. The li-ions were so much better than the stock batteries, that the business did quite well. 
  • When I was in the "tech" room, I noticed a stack of charger boxes from competing brands. Jason informed me that they test their products against most of the competing products on a regular basis. This includes chargers, batteries and more. It makes perfect sense but I just didn't expect to see a pile of iCharger, FMA and Hyperion charger boxes in a TP office. Then later the more I thought about it, the more I was impressed by it. Not only can they compare their products to other competing models but they can also use them for tech support. They never know what charger the customer may be using and having one nearby allows them to better help customers.

Now on to the reviews
It's my time to try what many consider to be the best of the best, Thunder Power! Can you tell I am excited?