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'Ultrabook' makers squeezed by Apple's control of metal chassis supply

post #1 of 157
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Long known as a master of the supply chain for overseas components, Apple has reportedly out-muscled the competition for yet another crucial element of its products: unibody metal notebook chassis.

Intel and its partner PC makers have been "aggressively searching" for new materials to build chassis for the chipmaker's thin-and-light "Ultrabook" design. According to DigiTimes, companies have been forced to seek alternatives because Apple already controls most of the "significantly limited" capacity.

The most popular choice for Ultrabook designs is said to be magnesium-aluminum chassis, ideal for creating a notebook less than 0.8-inch thick. But a unibody magnesium-aluminum chassis requires expensive "CNC lathes," of which capacity is constrained.

Because CNC lathes are so expensive, the number of companies that can provide components to PC makers are limited. Together, Foxconn and Taiwan's Catcher Technology reportedly have more than 10,000 CNC lathes for metal chassis production.

Both of those companies are said to supply unibody shells for notebooks to Apple, which leaves Ultrabook makers competing for remaining capacity from the companies.

As a result, Intel and its partners are said to be exploring the use of fiberglass chassis instead of magnesium-aluminum. The report said that three PC makers have already decided to adopt fiberglass for their Ultrabooks.

A segment of fiberglass is said to be between $5 and $10 cheaper than a magnesium-aluminum one, and an entire notebook could see $20 in savings on the production end with the use of fiberglass. That could equate to savings of $50 to $100 at retail, according to Taiwan fiberglass maker Mitak Precision.



The DigiTimes report comes on the heels of another story which indicated that Ultrabook makers are struggling to compete with Apple's MacBook Air pricing. Intel hopes to sell Ultrabook systems for less than $1,000, but some of the first models set to become available are well above that price threshold. For example, Asustek's 13.3-inch UX31 is set to cost $1,600.

Intel's Ultrabook design is a direct response to Apple's popular MacBook Air lineup. It calls for systems to retail for less than four figures, and sport form factors that are no more than 20 millimeters thick, with "tablet-like features" in a "thin, light and elegant design."

Last month, Apple updated its MacBook Air lineup, adding Intel's latest-generation Sandy Bridge processors, backlit keyboards and the new high-speed Thunderbolt port. The entry-level $999 model has proved so popular that it prompted Apple to discontinue its white legacy MacBook, which was previously sold at the same price point.
post #2 of 157
Yet another example of sheep having to copy Apple! Jeez will it ever end? Good luck with heat dissipation with fiberglass not to mention durability and the look and feel. BTW this reminds me, I wonder what happened to Apple's Liquid Glass venture?
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Been using Apples since 1978 and Macs since 1984
Long on AAPL so biased. Strong advocate for separation of technology and politics on AI.
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post #3 of 157
Actually, it's 'CNC mill', not lathe, but carry on...
post #4 of 157
it isnt a coincidence that Apple has all that production - those milling machines probably were bought specifically to service the Apple demand. I doubt that CNC chassis milling was a very big business before Apple decided to make the Macbook Pro that way.

This is more a measure of Intel's confidence than Apple's dominance - I'm sure that Foxconn would be willing to buy more CNC machines if Intel signed a 10 year supply contract with penalty clauses for termination.
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post #5 of 157
WTF?!?! PC notebooks are trying to compete with Apple price points (and can't)?! At what point did the tables turn and where the fuck have I been?!!
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post #6 of 157
Quote:
Originally Posted by digitalclips View Post

I wonder what happened to Apple's Liquid Glass venture?

I've been wondering this too. One of the claimed benefits of the Liquid Metal technology was the ability to injection mold it to final tolerance, complete with an attractive surface finish. Apple has an exclusive license on this technology in the CE space. If it works and works well, it would be yet another distinguishing characteristic of Apple products that's hard to copy.
post #7 of 157
Quote:
Originally Posted by island hermit View Post

WTF?!?! PC notebooks are trying to compete with Apple price points (and can't)?! At what point did the tables turn and where the fuck have I been?!!

New world order.
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post #8 of 157
Quote:
Originally Posted by island hermit View Post

WTF?!?! PC notebooks are trying to compete with Apple price points (and can't)?! At what point did the tables turn and where the fuck have I been?!!

When PCs can slap together components for cheap, they are cheaper. Any old desktop with a plastic tower can go $300...

But when things like new technology, new designs, new manufacturing methods, design overhead come into play, Apple is very competitive. See iPad prices or "ultrabook" prices... Apple spent 5 years working on iPad and probably at least a few years working on MacBook Air (it debuted in 2008).

So now everyone else is trying to play catch up, but they haven't made the designs, secured the suppliers, secured the machinery, etc.
post #9 of 157
Quote:
Originally Posted by island hermit View Post

WTF?!?! PC notebooks are trying to compete with Apple price points (and can't)?! At what point did the tables turn and where the fuck have I been?!!

At the mid to high end, this is nothing too new, just even more pronounced now. The myth has been that Apple is more expensive. The reality is that Apple just didn't cater to the cheap as shit market segment. At the higher end of the spectrum, Apple was always competitive or even better value than their competitors. Now with their supply chain muscle, they are able to dictate lower prices and better supply guarantees. It's really been this way since they started gobbling up the world supply of flash memory.

As for the unibody supply...i thought Apple had a patent on this process. If so, wouldn't that already lock out competitors from trying to source the process for their offerings?

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"My 8th grade math teacher once said: "You can't help it if you're dumb, you are born that way. But stupid is self inflicted."" -Hiro. 

...sometimes it's both
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post #10 of 157
My last Apple laptop was the PowerBook 5300ce. Between then and now I've owned no less than a dozen Wintel laptops. This morning I finally pulled the trigger and ordered a 13" MBA. I expect it will outpace them all in longevity.
post #11 of 157
"A segment of fiberglass is said to be between $5 and $10 cheaper than a magnesium-aluminum one, and an entire notebook could see $20 in savings on the production end with the use of fiberglass. That could equate to savings of $50 to $100 at retail, according to Taiwan fiberglass maker Mitak Precision."

I'm most definitely not a business man. So how does this work? How does $5 to $10 turn into $50 to $100?
post #12 of 157
Yeah, lathes are to make parts that are circular (or revolved) around an axis, such as shafts. Apple's unibody aren't anything like that. They use mills to make those parts.

Ultralight books have been around before. I highly doubt Apple's demands have depleted the supply of CNC mills or various metals to make chasis, if everyone else was thinking of doing the same. As it is, a lot of chassis are made with die casting methods, dies custom to a specific part, then maybe followed up with a quick finishing for screw holes.
post #13 of 157
Quote:
Originally Posted by island hermit View Post

WTF?!?! PC notebooks are trying to compete with Apple price points (and can't)?! At what point did the tables turn and where the fuck have I been?!!

It happened in 2010 with the MacBook Airs. I freakin' love hearing PC vendors complain they can't complete with Apple on price!

Quote:
Originally Posted by Curmudgeon View Post

"A segment of fiberglass is said to be between $5 and $10 cheaper than a magnesium-aluminum one, and an entire notebook could see $20 in savings on the production end with the use of fiberglass. That could equate to savings of $50 to $100 at retail, according to Taiwan fiberglass maker Mitak Precision."

I'm most definitely not a business man. So how does this work? How does $5 to $10 turn into $50 to $100?

Markup, baby. Markup. Although I think the 10x margin is exaggerated.
post #14 of 157
Quote:
Originally Posted by Eriamjh View Post

Markup, baby. Markup. Although I think the 10x margin is exaggerated.

It might not be exaggerated, they have to ammortize the cost of designing the part, making the molds and other custom tooling, startup costs, shipping etc. The incremental cost of the part doesn't reflect the entire cost of getting the part made.
post #15 of 157
Quote:
Originally Posted by Curmudgeon View Post

"A segment of fiberglass is said to be between $5 and $10 cheaper than a magnesium-aluminum one, and an entire notebook could see $20 in savings on the production end with the use of fiberglass. That could equate to savings of $50 to $100 at retail, according to Taiwan fiberglass maker Mitak Precision."

I'm most definitely not a business man. So how does this work? How does $5 to $10 turn into $50 to $100?

With today's tight margins I doubt if it would add more than $45.

I think the manufacturer was just pulling figures out of his ass... a little hyperbole adds some drama...
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post #16 of 157
Quote:
Originally Posted by island hermit View Post

With today's tight margins I doubt if it would add more than $45.

I think the author was just pulling figures out of his ass... a little hyperbole adds some drama...

Even if the numbers are exaggerated, I still don't get it. $10 is $10. How does it become $100. Remember this is a savings, right? So the case costs $10 less to make in fiberglass than of metal. How does this become a $100 savings at retail? It's still just a savings of $10.
post #17 of 157
Aren't ultrabooks high-end netbooks? Aside from generally large screens and the CPU, what else is different? Does that really push the price from a $399 netbook to a $1000+ ultrabook? I'm trying to understand why such a large gap exists when they could make $20 off a $399 regular netbook, but can't accept similar margins on high-end netbook just to undercut Apple. Is there something else that's significantly different?
post #18 of 157
Quote:
Originally Posted by Curmudgeon View Post

Even if the numbers are exaggerated, I still don't get it. $10 is $10. How does it become $100. Remember this is a savings, right? So the case costs $10 less to make in fiberglass than of metal. How does this become a $100 savings at retail? It's still just a savings of $10.

Never mind... sorry... just re-read your post... okay... I'm stumped. Jeff might have the answer...
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post #19 of 157
Quote:
Originally Posted by digitalclips View Post

I wonder what happened to Apple's Liquid Glass venture?

I'm waiting for the transparent aluminum.
post #20 of 157
Quote:
Originally Posted by Dlux View Post

Actually, it's 'CNC mill', not lathe, but carry on...

Do you feel better now? Flexed your knowledge now you can continue your smarter than you complex. People like you humor me, comment has no real opinion on the article, just a need to be extra particular. Reminds me of Mike Tirico (not that you know who he is as I'm sure sports are beneath your IQ), if someone says the ball went 301yards he'll correct them and say actually it went 302 - who the hell cares it's in the general area. Lastly, speaking of tools, you are one.

/ghost
post #21 of 157
Quote:
Originally Posted by Curmudgeon View Post

Even if the numbers are exaggerated, I still don't get it. $10 is $10. How does it become $100. Remember this is a savings, right? So the case costs $10 less to make in fiberglass than of metal. How does this become a $100 savings at retail? It's still just a savings of $10.

They use more than 1 segment in a laptop?
post #22 of 157
there is a huge difference between fiberglass & carbon fiber.

heat doesn't kill cf. it is used to make brakes for virtually all the racing cars and also high line vehicles such as bmw. fuselage on the boeing 787 dreamliner is a major user of cf. and it's not cheap!

it is also lighter and stronger than aluminum. apple is definitely testing its potential use for their iphones & computers.
post #23 of 157
Quote:
Originally Posted by island hermit View Post

Never mind... sorry... just re-read your post... okay... I'm stumped. Jeff might have the answer...

That was quoted from the Taiwan fiberglass maker Mitak Precision - not the author. Reading for comprehension - an enduring concept?
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post #24 of 157
Quote:
Originally Posted by Curmudgeon View Post

Even if the numbers are exaggerated, I still don't get it. $10 is $10. How does it become $100. Remember this is a savings, right? So the case costs $10 less to make in fiberglass than of metal. How does this become a $100 savings at retail? It's still just a savings of $10.

$10 is the cost of the raw material. The fiberglass maker indicated it would be a $20 savings for a finished chasis to the computer maker. After they build the unit they sell it to retail at a markup and then the retailer marks it up. It still sounds too optimistic even if they use keystone pricing. But it appears this was the fiberglass production company making the savings claim(Mitek something or other) so I'm sure they want to put it in the best light.
post #25 of 157
Quote:
Originally Posted by mesomorphicman View Post

Do you feel better now? Flexed your knowledge now you can continue your smarter than you complex. People like you humor me, comment has no real opinion on the article, just a need to be extra particular. Reminds me of Mike Tirico (not that you know who he is as I'm sure sports are beneath your IQ), if someone says the ball went 301yards he'll correct them and say actually it went 302 - who the hell cares it's in the general area. Lastly, speaking of tools, you are one.

/ghost

Great. Now we have a contribution from Mr. "Proud to be ignorant."
post #26 of 157
Looking forward to telling the next whiner why they are buying such an expensive piece of shiny junk when they could have bought an Apple instead!

We'll call it the "Ultra-Tax"!!
post #27 of 157
Quote:
Originally Posted by spacekid View Post

I'm waiting for the transparent aluminum.



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post #28 of 157
I find it more interesting that Intel would be pushing PC manufacturers to copy Apple, one of Intel's customers. Why would Intel care about the design of the Chassis of PC makers provided everybody is using Intel processors? My guess is Intel is concerned Apple will switch to ARM processors for its Notebooks. Apple is already taking sales away from Intel when people buy an iPad over a traditional computer.
post #29 of 157
Quote:
Originally Posted by digitalclips View Post

Yet another example of sheep having to copy Apple! Jeez will it ever end? Good luck with heat dissipation with fiberglass not to mention durability and the look and feel. BTW this reminds me, I wonder what happened to Apple's Liquid Glass venture?

I don't know that I would call anyone "sheep". Most successful ideas & designs in the market get copied. No one copied the Air until they started selling like hotcakes.

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post #30 of 157
Quote:
Originally Posted by mesomorphicman View Post

Do you feel better now? Flexed your knowledge now you can continue your smarter than you complex. People like you humor me, comment has no real opinion on the article, just a need to be extra particular. Reminds me of Mike Tirico (not that you know who he is as I'm sure sports are beneath your IQ), if someone says the ball went 301yards he'll correct them and say actually it went 302 - who the hell cares it's in the general area. Lastly, speaking of tools, you are one.

/ghost

This is my first post. I registered just to say that this was way out of line. The article had a fundamental error, there is no foul in pointing it out.
post #31 of 157
Quote:
Originally Posted by mesomorphicman View Post

Do you feel better now? Flexed your knowledge now you can continue your smarter than you complex. People like you humor me, comment has no real opinion on the article, just a need to be extra particular. Reminds me of Mike Tirico (not that you know who he is as I'm sure sports are beneath your IQ), if someone says the ball went 301yards he'll correct them and say actually it went 302 - who the hell cares it's in the general area. Lastly, speaking of tools, you are one.

/ghost

Listen, if someone is going report a story with facts, be sure to get them right. That's what editors and proofreaders are for. They were right to critique the story. It was just dead wrong. If we didn't have our mistakes ever corrected, how would we learn. It DOES make a difference. Even if you don't think so.
post #32 of 157
Quote:
Originally Posted by Doctor David View Post

$10 is the cost of the raw material. The fiberglass maker indicated it would be a $20 savings for a finished chasis to the computer maker. After they build the unit they sell it to retail at a markup and then the retailer marks it up. It still sounds too optimistic even if they use keystone pricing. But it appears this was the fiberglass production company making the savings claim(Mitek something or other) so I'm sure they want to put it in the best light.

But the article said it would be a $100 savings at retail, not a $100 markup. How can something that only saves $10 (wholesale?) result in a $100 savings (retail)? Are manufacturers really willing to lower the retail price of their box by $90? They wouldn't just take that extra $90 in profit? Business really baffles me.

Quote:
That could equate to savings of $50 to $100 at retail, according to Taiwan fiberglass maker Mitak Precision
post #33 of 157
Quote:
Originally Posted by fecklesstechguy View Post

That was quoted from the Taiwan fiberglass maker Mitak Precision - not the author. Reading for comprehension - an enduring concept?

How about get the fuck off my back for an enduring concept...
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post #34 of 157
Quote:
Originally Posted by Kit_C View Post

This is my first post. I registered just to say that this was way out of line. The article had a fundamental error, there is no foul in pointing it out.

Absolutely right! Very good!
post #35 of 157
Regardless of the form factors the *copyist's* will ultimately deliver, they are still lacking a OS that supports that 'Ultra' form factor. Apple has gone a long way in integrating touch and gestures into OSX that bring the full power and simplicity of the user experience to life in that small form factor. I could not imagine dealing with a Win7 OS without the support of a dedicated external mouse.

Edit <Hardware> sigh...
post #36 of 157
Quote:
Originally Posted by mesomorphicman View Post

Do you feel better now? Flexed your knowledge now you can continue your smarter than you complex. People like you humor me, comment has no real opinion on the article, just a need to be extra particular. Reminds me of Mike Tirico (not that you know who he is as I'm sure sports are beneath your IQ), if someone says the ball went 301yards he'll correct them and say actually it went 302 - who the hell cares it's in the general area. Lastly, speaking of tools, you are one.

/ghost

Seems harsh. It was a simple correction with no attitude. Maybe your taking your anger at that Tirico fellow out on someone else?
btw I enjoy sports but don't know who Mike Tirico is. Not sure where that puts my IQ.
post #37 of 157
Quote:
Originally Posted by ezduzit View Post

there is a huge difference between fiberglass & carbon fiber.

heat doesn't kill cf. it is used to make brakes for virtually all the racing cars and also high line vehicles such as bmw. fuselage on the boeing 787 dreamliner is a major user of cf. and it's not cheap!

it is also lighter and stronger than aluminum. apple is definitely testing its potential use for their iphones & computers.

However the article references Mitak Precision a fiberglass fabricator, not a carbon fiber fabricator and the reference was to using fiberglass, not carbon fiber. Carbon fiber is expensive to fabricate, requires highly skilled labor and specialized equipment. Your components would cost significantly MORE than milled aluminum not less, as stated in the article. I don't know if Apple would use it as it adds significant cost to the device... just musing here.
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post #38 of 157
Quote:
Originally Posted by TBell View Post

I find it more interesting that Intel would be pushing PC manufacturers to copy Apple, one of Intel's customers. Why would Intel care about the design of the Chassis of PC makers provided everybody is using Intel processors? My guess is Intel is concerned Apple will switch to ARM processors for its Notebooks. Apple is already taking sales away from Intel when people buy an iPad over a traditional computer.

Didn't you just answer your own question?

Intel wants manufacturers to stay Intel customers. By providing them a prepackaged kit, they may persuade manufacturers from looking at alternatives (ARM-based systems for instance). It would certainly be easier to adapt an Intel-provided package than develop your own.
post #39 of 157
This thread has gone down hill in record time. I blame the Nazis.
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post #40 of 157
Quote:
Originally Posted by fecklesstechguy View Post

However the article references Mitak Precision a fiberglass fabricator, not a carbon fiber fabricator and the reference was to using fiberglass, not carbon fiber. Carbon fiber is expensive to fabricate, requires highly skilled labor and specialized equipment. Your components would cost significantly MORE than milled aluminum not less, as stated in the article.

I suspect labor costs will go way down once a process for producing millions is perfected. Once you have a method, low-cost labor could manage that assembly line. The specialized equipment is the kiln (autoclave?). A big heater. Not that expensive.
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