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Catcher hoping to reopen Chinese MacBook unibody case plant in November

post #1 of 12
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After local officials ordered the suspension of operations at a Suzhou, China factory that supplies Apple with chassis for its laptops, Taiwanese manufacturer Catcher Technology will invest $2-3 million with the goal of getting its facility back online in November.

Earlier this week, details emerged that Catcher had temporarily closed a plant that provides 60 percent of Apple's unibody enclosures for the MacBook Pro and MacBook Air product lines, as well as the iMac all-in-one desktop. DigiTimes reports that the company is spending to "modify equipment and manufacturing processes" to resolve complaints from nearby residents regarding "odorous gas emissions."

"Catcher aims to resume operations at the plant in November," the publication noted. The manufacturer's president, Allen Horng, had previously said that total shipments would fall 20 percent in October and could drop by as much as 40 percent in November if the local government refuses to allow the plant to resume production.

"Shipments to our customers will inevitably be affected," he said in a press conference Monday. "We already asked them to make adjustments to their (casings) procurement."

According to the report, Catcher is now considering increasing its investment in Taiwan in order to diversify operations and reduce its operating risk. The manufacturer recently ratcheted up production at a plant in southern Taiwan and purchased a new lot for further expansion in the area.

Catcher's production woes could restrict an already limited supply chain for metal chassis. In August, it was reported that laptop makers looking to build machines to Intel's "Ultrabook" specifications were having trouble securing production capacity for unibody magnesium-aluminum chassis. Foxconn and Catcher reportedly have a combined total of 10,000 CNC lathes required for the process, with most of their supply going to Apple.

During Apple's quarterly earnings call on Tuesday, CEO Tim Cook said that the company is "investigating and assessing" the potential shortage of Mac unibody casings. In the most recent September quarter, Apple had its best quarter ever for Mac sales, selling 4.89 million during the period. Portables now represent 74 percent of the company's sales.

In 2008, Apple detailed the new unibody manufacturing process, calling the design "in many ways more beautiful internally than externally."




Apple is expected to release a modest update to its MacBook Pro line later this month. The laptops will likely receive a speed bump to tide them over until Intel's next-generation Ivy Bridge chips are ready next year.
post #2 of 12
I know that labor costs and regulation plus taxes makes it desirable to produce these products chassis in china and other labor favorable countries. I would suspect that if the factory was in the united states this issue would not be happening. We need the jobs here in this country. Yes the cost of product would go up and the competition in this country would gain a stronger foothold. But really how much more would a MacBook Pro costs if the chassis was milled here in the US? Can any one answer this question?
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post #3 of 12
China is now moving up the industrial value chain steadily. Gradually, they going to phase out this type of labor intensive and environmentally polluting industries from the country. But these jobs will be moved to India and Vietnam, not the US.
post #4 of 12
Quote:
Originally Posted by AppleInsider View Post

Foxconn and Catcher reportedly have a combined total of 10,000 CNC lathes required for the process, with most of their supply going to Apple.

No one at Apple Insider knows any more than Digitimes about manufacturing, apparently. The cases are produced by CNC machines - not CNC lathes. A common - ignorant - mistake.

Labor costs? Chinese manufacturing wages have already surpassed Mexico.

Labor involved in the production of the cases? A human being puts the metal slug in the machine, tightens it down, pushes the start button. Probably services a hundred machines or so. Comes back at the end of the machining cycle, loosens the fasteners and removes the case.

There is a skilled line mechanic who does the set-up.

The most significant difference between Chinese manufacturing companies and American companies? Profit margins. Chinese corporations function quite happily with margins that are a small fraction of their American counterparts.
post #5 of 12
Quote:
Originally Posted by tylerk36 View Post

I know that labor costs and regulation plus taxes makes it desirable to produce these products chassis in china and other labor favorable countries. I would suspect that if the factory was in the united states this issue would not be happening. We need the jobs here in this country. Yes the cost of product would go up and the competition in this country would gain a stronger foothold. But really how much more would a MacBook Pro costs if the chassis was milled here in the US? Can any one answer this question?

No.... No one has an answer except it's cheaper. Sigh. I don't even know if we make the machining machines any more. Double sigh. I personally think a fairly automated factory of maching and assembly, testing, packaging of electronics could be done here. But that's the engineer in me talking, not the business person/company that could/would do it. Those people are in.... Yup china, Taiwan, Japan etc. I don't know what factory wages are in Brazil, but some how they got Foxconn to open a factory there. Here's to the crazy one that thinks it can be done.
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post #6 of 12
Given the general Chinese disregard for bad odors and worse, and the Chinese government's general disregard for its citizens' health and safety, Catcher's closing begs a question: Is this simply harassment by local politicos or part of a Chinese/US trade war, or has Catcher in fact been running such a shoddy and irresponsible operation that even the Chinese can't take it? If the latter, it's going to do Apple no good in the long run to continue using Catcher unless they clean up their act, wherever they produce.
post #7 of 12
Quote:
Originally Posted by gbdoc View Post

Given the general Chinese disregard for bad odors and worse, and the Chinese government's general disregard for its citizens' health and safety, Catcher's closing begs a question: Is this simply harassment by local politicos or part of a Chinese/US trade war, or has Catcher in fact been running such a shoddy and irresponsible operation that even the Chinese can't take it? If the latter, it's going to do Apple no good in the long run to continue using Catcher unless they clean up their act, wherever they produce.

Why can't it be that the problem is so bad that even non-responsive Chinese government had to pay attention to it?
post #8 of 12
Quote:
Originally Posted by Eideard View Post

No one at Apple Insider knows any more than Digitimes about manufacturing, apparently. The cases are produced by CNC machines - not CNC lathes. A common - ignorant - mistake.

Common? I've never seen it except here, and it's been pointed out more than once before that a lathe is not a milling machine.

On topic, I wonder what that smell is all about. What else are they doing to the aluminum? Are the parts anodized?
post #9 of 12
Quote:
Originally Posted by tylerk36 View Post

I know that labor costs and regulation plus taxes makes it desirable to produce these products chassis in china and other labor favorable countries. I would suspect that if the factory was in the united states this issue would not be happening. We need the jobs here in this country. Yes the cost of product would go up and the competition in this country would gain a stronger foothold. But really how much more would a MacBook Pro costs if the chassis was milled here in the US? Can any one answer this question?

You're missing quite a few things.

You're right that the direct labor component might not be much higher since it's a highly automated process. But the following costs can be huge:

- Environmental costs. The complaint from neighbors could cause a 7 figure fine here. Not to mention the costs of environmental compliance
- Health and safety rules. Not only does compliance cost out of pocket money, but it also slows the process somewhat
- Legal issues. It only takes one workman's comp case to easily exceed the cost of a few laborers. And heaven forbid if someone were to get injured. Liability is HUGE
- Shipping. If they make the cases here and then assemble in China, they have the cost of packing the units, shipping to China, and then unpacking them.
- Overheads. While direct labor costs might not increase much, the overhead cost of operating a factory here is huge.

Unless we want to get serious about competing for manufacturing jobs, we're always at a huge disadvantage - which is a decision that we, as a society, made.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Flaneur View Post

On topic, I wonder what that smell is all about. What else are they doing to the aluminum? Are the parts anodized?

Could be cleaning fluids. Or cooling fluids. Or hydraulics. Or just the smell of burned parts from high speed milling tools in operation. I've been in machining operations and there's a definite smell - even with just a few lathes or mills. It's not offensive or a problem in a small shop, but I could set it being a problem if there were thousands of mills running side-by-side.
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post #10 of 12
Quote:
Originally Posted by xsu View Post

Why can't it be that the problem is so bad that even non-responsive Chinese government had to pay attention to it?

Indeed it can, and that bothers me, and ought to bother Apple.
post #11 of 12
Quote:
Originally Posted by gbdoc View Post

Given the general Chinese disregard for bad odors and worse, and the Chinese government's general disregard for its citizens' health and safety, Catcher's closing begs a question: Is this simply harassment by local politicos or part of a Chinese/US trade war, or has Catcher in fact been running such a shoddy and irresponsible operation that even the Chinese can't take it? If the latter, it's going to do Apple no good in the long run to continue using Catcher unless they clean up their act, wherever they produce.

The Chinese hate bad odors as much s Americans hate odors. Where do you get the idea that Chinese disregard bad odors? This is just typical American ignorance and arrogance.
post #12 of 12
Quote:
Originally Posted by peter236 View Post

The Chinese hate bad odors as much s Americans hate odors. Where do you get the idea that Chinese disregard bad odors? This is just typical American ignorance and arrogance.

I didn't say they like it, but that they disregard it. Been there often, done that. In the alleys, in the markets, near industry; in the cities, right behind some breathtaking and pristine facades, and in the sticks, it's all the same. Not to mention the grime in the air, and who-knows-what in disposal areas. And it's not just offensive to Westerners; the Chinese don't like it, either, but shrug it off, like the weather. You're wrong - about me, too.
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