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Ultrabook makers turn to plastic as Apple controls unibody aluminum supply - Page 2

post #41 of 94
Quote:
Originally Posted by Niko03 View Post

The whole problem with this whole Ultrabook initiative is the simple fact that the 11" MacBook Air is currently Apple's lowest cost Mac notebook. Even if the PC makers can undercut Apple's price by $200 on a similarly spec'd computer, (20% of $999), a $800 ultrabook is an expensive PC when the average price is around $400 to $600. (This may be for desktops but I can't imagine notebooks are that far off)

Great point!
post #42 of 94
That would be with a general purpose mill too. A custome built machine would likely be faster.

Quote:
Originally Posted by JoeBean View Post

There is no way it takes 3 hours in machine time to make a unibody frame. With anodizing and other finishing work, maybe it'll take 3 hours total. But machine time? 30 minutes tops. And that would be slow by todays standards.

More importantly Apple can't control access to all of the aching shops on the planet. This idea that there are no alternatives is simply BS.
Quote:
But yes, Apple obviously controls supply, and that's affecting these other guys. Frankly I'm glad. My sides were hurting from all the laughing at Acer et. al's attempts to clone the MBA.

Apple controls nothing in this technology area. As I see it the other manufactures are just looking for excuses or aren't willing to commit to the development of the required infra structure.
post #43 of 94
Apples competitors lack the monetary funds to secure the machines and raw materials to compete.
post #44 of 94
Quote:
Originally Posted by zindako View Post

Apples competitors lack the monetary funds to secure the machines and raw materials to compete.

They need government bailouts.
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post #45 of 94
Apparently it is easier to make a counterfeit Rolex than to copy a MacBook Air.

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post #46 of 94
Quote:
Originally Posted by mstone View Post

Apparently it is easier to make a counterfeit Rolex than to copy a MacBook Air.

That's food for thought.
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post #47 of 94
Quote:
Originally Posted by iVlad View Post

What other materials can they turn to except plastic?

Carbon composites.

Other companies will get their chance with aluminum when Apple move on to carbon fiber.

4 hours to mill a unibody chassis, no chance. The right side of 20 minutes maximum.
post #48 of 94
I wouldn't be surprised if PC makers start making their laptops out of recycled garbage!

That would suit them and their customers perfectly.

Introducing the newest Macbook Air clone, using a new and revolutionary material called plastic! This plastic originally came from the city's dump, and it's mostly comprised of old 2 Liter Coke bottles. Get your Mac clone today! Don't hesitate!
post #49 of 94
Quote:
Originally Posted by Evilution View Post

Carbon composites.

Other companies will get their chance with aluminum when Apple move on to carbon fiber.

4 hours to mill a unibody chassis, no chance. The right side of 20 minutes maximum.

Carbon fiber looks shabby.

Producing a chassis involves a little more than just milling. The original rough cutting of the stock, perhaps two or three mountings in the CNC, several QC steps, polishing, machine clean up between runs, and there may also be a few defects thus the 8 per day per machine may actually be realistic. Furthermore you can't cut it too quickly otherwise you may end up with distortions from heat even though it is being cooled. The really tight tolerances and thin clearances require slower cutting.

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post #50 of 94
Quote:
Originally Posted by jragosta View Post

More like 10 minutes - I've done plenty of CNC milling.

Why do they even bother listening to Digitime? They're wrong 99% of the time. Not to mention that it doesn't make any sense. There are tens of thousands of shops that can to CNC milling of aluminum. I could find 30 shops within 15 miles of my house. There's no way Apple has the entire industry locked up.

I agree. Just go to any of the major machine shop forums online, most of which are dominated by North American machinists, and you'll see plenty of production shops desperate for work. And then there's the fact that the machines that any sane shop would buy to run these processes are nearly entirely automated, including robotic loaders, so one guy can run dozens of machines.

And that same equipment is available all over Asia.

So if, for example, Dell or Acer really wanted to have aluminum unibodies I'm sure they'd have plenty of shops begging for the work. The real issues are:
1) They're too cheap to pay for it, and
2) They didn't/don't want to commit to a large enough production run to justify a company buying machines for it.

Machine orders from most major manufacturers these days have lead times of 6+ months, so while it may be true that they can't get them made right now they could have if they acted 6 months or a year ago, and they could have it in the future if they wanted.

Sounds like it's a simple matter of nobody wanting to risk taking on Apple, and so are leaving the premium market to them. Which is probably a very sound business decision.
post #51 of 94
Quote:
Originally Posted by sranger View Post

IMHO, I think Apple has pushed the Aluminum based chassis about as far as they can.

I agree with this. While Unibody Aluminum based chassis is currently the best technology, I don't see much, if any, future improvement down that road. A year or 2 from now Apple will have to ditch Aluminum to further improve their cases.
post #52 of 94
Quote:
Originally Posted by mstone View Post

Producing a chassis involves a little more than just milling. The original rough cutting of the stock, perhaps two or three mountings in the CNC, several QC steps, polishing, machine clean up between runs, and there may also be a few defects thus the 8 per day per machine may actually be realistic. Furthermore you can't cut it too quickly otherwise you may end up with distortions from heat even though it is being cooled. The really tight tolerances and thin clearances require slower cutting.

While it's true that there's more than the milling involved in producing the chassis, most of the rest of what you say is not current for any production environment.
1. No production shop is going to require "2 or 3 mountings" to machine something this simple. Each section may have to be flipped once, which would be handled robotically by the machine. No manual resetting required.
2. Most cleanup of the machine is going to be done by the machine. Material is removed by conveyor or other means. Even tooling will be replaced automatically on modern production machines as the spindle load increases or it reaches it's hour-life. Occasionally the machine will have to be inspected and possibly cleaned/serviced manually, but this would be more like once a month.
3. QC would be done at different stages during the process, with most of it being done by machines as well. Surface finish, cracking, etc. can all be measured by machines better than by people. One part out of X many would be taken to manually inspect, but this wouldn't slow production. Anodizing and polishing would be the final steps. Some extra time would be eaten up here, but minutes not hours.
4. You'd be surprised how fast Aluminum can cut. It's not true that you "can't go too fast". Major heat buildup in aluminum comes when you cut too slow, not too fast. Modern machines are limited in their cutting speeds only by how fast you can physically move the cutter or table, and the required HP to sling that much metal.
5. The tolerances and "clearances" are not even remotely tight. For starters, really tight tolerances would require other machining methods than milling.
post #53 of 94
Quote:
Originally Posted by JeffDM View Post

How did IBM & Lenovo do it for Thinkpad shells? For that matter, Compaq business notebooks? I've had several that were die cast shells.

Really? I wasn't aware that castings could hold up to impact, but I haven't had to deal with that sort of thing in a while.


Quote:
Before the Unibody, Apple used a lot of die cast parts inside their machines.

Inside, certainly.


Quote:
I have a ten year old business notebook still in occasional use with a die cast shell that is not showing signs of such cracks. I have three other machines of similar construction that don't show the problem. It's a valid concern, but it seems to me to be a manageable problem.

I'm wondering if we're talking about the same material and process. Everything I've seen as a casting has generally been somewhat brittle in an impact. Are you sure you're talking about cast metal? (As opposed to plastic or composite, which are actually molded in most cases.)
post #54 of 94
Quote:
Originally Posted by mstone View Post

Apparently it is easier to make a counterfeit Rolex than to copy a MacBook Air.

Well, consider the quality expectations of the respective buyers...
post #55 of 94
Quote:
Originally Posted by Dlux View Post

I'm wondering if we're talking about the same material and process. Everything I've seen as a casting has generally been somewhat brittle in an impact. Are you sure you're talking about cast metal? (As opposed to plastic or composite, which are actually molded in most cases.)

Ok, following up to my own post, I'm looking at my old TiBook. The lighter-colored band inside the 'sandwich' certainly looks cast, but as far as I can tell it appears to be painted plastic. Meanwhile, the hinges for the screen are almost certainly die-cast metal (probably zinc). The large panels themselves are presumably Titanium, which is a difficult material to work with, and probably too costly to continue which is why Apple no longer uses it. But the Ti holds up well to impact (I'm looking at a few dents here), this its appropriateness for use as an enclosure.

Bear in mind that aluminum can be cast as well as rolled and machined from stock. The current MacBooks are obviously machined, whereas earlier versions used sheet aluminum as shells. I'm still curious to hear that anyone has used cast aluminum as a shell, though.
post #56 of 94
Quote:
Originally Posted by JoeBean View Post

I agree. Just go to any of the major machine shop forums online, most of which are dominated by North American machinists, and you'll see plenty of production shops desperate for work. And then there's the fact that the machines that any sane shop would buy to run these processes are nearly entirely automated, including robotic loaders, so one guy can run dozens of machines.

And that same equipment is available all over Asia.

So if, for example, Dell or Acer really wanted to have aluminum unibodies I'm sure they'd have plenty of shops begging for the work. The real issues are:
1) They're too cheap to pay for it, and
2) They didn't/don't want to commit to a large enough production run to justify a company buying machines for it.

Machine orders from most major manufacturers these days have lead times of 6+ months, so while it may be true that they can't get them made right now they could have if they acted 6 months or a year ago, and they could have it in the future if they wanted.

Plastic molds are a minimum of 3 months for a simpler product, I wouldn't be surprised if it's a 6 month turnaround for a complicated chassis.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Dlux View Post

Are you sure you're talking about cast metal? (As opposed to plastic or composite, which are actually molded in most cases.)

I'm pretty sure. It's not a new idea for notebook chassis and shells. I really don't care to disassemble one of the computers in question to demonstrate it.
post #57 of 94
Quote:
Originally Posted by JoeBean View Post

4. You'd be surprised how fast Aluminum can cut. It's not true that you "can't go too fast". Major heat buildup in aluminum comes when you cut too slow, not too fast. Modern machines are limited in their cutting speeds only by how fast you can physically move the cutter or table, and the required HP to sling that much metal.
5. The tolerances and "clearances" are not even remotely tight. For starters, really tight tolerances would require other machining methods than milling.

Perhaps I chose the wrong term. Slow. Actually I meant less material removed with each pass resulting in more passes. With respect to tolerances. You do realize that the metal is milled so thinly at one point, that an LED can shine light through the metal without any opening. Personally I don't have much experience with CNC other than helping to produce a documentary and educational video on the subject. My only other knowledge about it is from a close friend who designs and programs CNC parts for aerospace, which is where I learned about the warping from heat caused by cutting. May not apply but just suggestions as to why the article states that so few are able to be produced in a day.

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post #58 of 94
Quote:
Originally Posted by JeffDM View Post

I'm pretty sure.

News to me!

Quote:
I really don't care to disassemble one of the computers in question to demonstrate it.

No need to do that. I've just never heard of castings used for this sort of application (especially with such thin walls as used for the top & bottom of a laptop.)

Every non-Mac laptop I've ever seen has been plastic, but there again I don't come across many (most of my friends use Macs) or look at them closely at stores.
post #59 of 94
Quote:
Originally Posted by mstone View Post

You do realize that the metal is milled so thinly at one point, that an LED can shine light through the metal without any opening.

The ones I'm aware of (such as the Apple wireless keyboard) uses tiny laser-cut holes for the LED to shine through. In that case it's not because of thinness.
post #60 of 94
Quote:
Originally Posted by AppleInsider View Post

"...all the internal parts will be made from plastic stuck to metal parts using glue," the report said."

Wait plastic and glue? Can't wait till these puppies literally melt in your hands!
post #61 of 94
Ladies and gentlemen, may I introduce to you the new

Mimetic Poly-Alloy MacBook Air
!!






Excuse my basic Photoshop skills...
post #62 of 94
Pretty sure the titanium powerbook parts were stamped metal.

There are alternatives, but few companies give a damn about risking capital to make a superior product. They only want to copy the current tech. One wonders if anything would progress without Apple :-\\
post #63 of 94
Quote:
Originally Posted by Dlux View Post

The ones I'm aware of (such as the Apple wireless keyboard) uses tiny laser-cut holes for the LED to shine through. In that case it's not because of thinness.

I see. Well the wall still needs to be very thin as well.

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post #64 of 94
Quote:
Originally Posted by Dlux View Post

The ones I'm aware of (such as the Apple wireless keyboard) uses tiny laser-cut holes for the LED to shine through. In that case it's not because of thinness.

The magic trackpad does that do.

I never gave much thought to the green light on my magic trackpad until I read an article about how it was made with the laser holes through the metal.

It's pretty amazing I have to say.
post #65 of 94
Quote:
Originally Posted by sranger View Post

You can get as many CNC machines as you want right now. The down economy has cause a lot of shops to shut down. There is actually a glut of CNC mills on the market right now....

I suspect that it is a problem of scale. Other companies simply do not want to spend the time and resources to "tool up" to make the aluminum housing right now.

I suspect that they (if they have any sense) are going to put their time and resources toward the next generation of composite (probably carbon fiber/kevlar) materials and manufacturing. Even Apple seems to realize that they have carried the Aluminum chassis about as far as they can with weight savings.

Who ever prefects the manufacturing of the composite chassis first will win the next "Mine is lighter and stronger" title...

Quote:
Originally Posted by Dlux View Post

This is where competition is good. Most of the PC makers will flail and produce sub-standard designs, but one or two might 'think different' and come up with a better way to make enclosures.

The problem for them, though, is they don't have the resources and production/purchasing scale of Apple (Thanks, Tim Cook!) nor necessarily the fortitude to invest in the long term, as has been pointed out elsewhere in this thread. Also, it will be more difficult for anyone to have a breakthrough without everyone else hearing about it and adopting the same strategy. Apple's secrecy is hated by the 'open-everything' crowd as well as their competitors, but this is what it takes to stay ahead. The technology field is hardly a gentleman's sport.

So Apple is the only computer manufacturer with enough profit margin, long term enough strategy and enough vertical control of processes to really go all in on something like a unibody design. They aren't dabbling, they aren't halfheartedly following a trend with an eye on the next trend, they aren't trying to put together a short term solution to a long term problem. Their success in this area is the direct result of patient investment in a disciplined product matrix that evolves according to Apple's own intentions, not in response to industry trends.

So I question whether or not any of Apple's rivals will step up or leapfrog Apple with next gen materials, for all of those reasons. These guys just aren't built to do things like invest in materials technology; they're built eke out razor thin margins with commodity parts. Any one of them attempting to transition to some exotic polymer or carbon fiber or nano-tubes or whatever would be at an enormous economic disadvantage compared to their peers, because getting geared up to use those things costs money.

As computers become ever more personal, as tablets and phones train people to expect their laptops to be something more accommodating than a slab of plastic, Apple's decade long investment in industrial design starts to look more and more prescient. They're now at the point that they can built highly desirable, highly personal computers of a certain quality for less than their rivals (for that level of quality). When that level of quality was regarded as an affectation of fanboys, the competition could afford to shrug it off. When that level of quality becomes one of the chief drivers of new computer sales, the competition has a problem that can't be addressed in a month, or a year, or even several years-- assuming they were even capable of radically changing their business model to accommodate higher margins which they could then reinvest into their supply chain and technologies.
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post #66 of 94
I think those Campinas who are crying because Apple got the all the rights for producing Aluminium uni-bodies, then they need to think Again. Apple introduced it, and Apple were the ones to pay good money for their innovation. If those companies want to step it up, why don't they use Titanium in their laptops, i know its expensive, but by investing in it, it might make its price cheaper. In addition, Titanium is lighter i guess than Aluminium ( i am not sure about it being lighter than Aluminium i am not a chemist, but its light in general).

Well Serves them right for getting on the train late of innovation.
post #67 of 94
There's no way those guys are going to invest heavily in specialized manufacturing processes, because they regard "Ultrabooks" as just the latest form factor wrinkle, presently to be supplanted by the new fall colors, or gimmicky tablet/laptop hybrids, or phone dock curiosities, etc.

Outside of Apple, it simply isn't an industry that thinks very hard about where the puck is going to be. They think about how to maximize profits over the next quarter or so, by selling a lot of whatever they think is hot for as little as possible. If nothing else, the money just isn't there to divert a lot of resources to big manufacturing initiatives.

And this is going to get worse for them-- Apple is going to continue to spend lavishly to differentiate their product line by any available means. Everyone else is going to have to continue to be content with off the shelf parts (assuming Intel happens to cooperate) and whatever cosmetic upgrades they can manage on a shoestring. Should be interesting.
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post #68 of 94
Quote:
Originally Posted by addabox View Post

Outside of Apple, it simply isn't an industry that thinks very hard about where the puck is going to be.

Apple: http://quietube2.com/v.php/http://ww...?v=B2EfQuujcys

Their competition: http://quietube2.com/v.php/http://ww...?v=9Hk3VuqjATU
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post #69 of 94
Quote:
Originally Posted by z3r0 View Post

Wait plastic and glue? Can't wait till these puppies literally melt in your hands!

Most laptops these days have plastic chassis and shells.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Dlux View Post

News to me!

No need to do that. I've just never heard of castings used for this sort of application (especially with such thin walls as used for the top & bottom of a laptop.)

Every non-Mac laptop I've ever seen has been plastic, but there again I don't come across many (most of my friends use Macs) or look at them closely at stores.

These are business models. I thought Thinkpads were pretty well known for having magnesium casings and chassis, but they don't seem to be so common anymore. I've been pretty happy with my old Compaq with the metal shell vs. the plastic chassis models.
post #70 of 94
Quote:
Originally Posted by therooober View Post

If those companies want to step it up, why don't they use Titanium in their laptops, i know its expensive, but by investing in it, it might make its price cheaper. In addition, Titanium is lighter i guess than Aluminium....

Titanium is a b!tch to machine. A unibody titanium computer housing would be unaffordable by most consumers. And it almost certainly doesn't conduct heat nearly as well as aluminum.

I've been a CNC machinist, and for very thin, complex parts it can indeed take hours from start to finish. Which is why Apple is taking such a long time to ramp up production. They won't build crap, and they've found a way to build high volumes of quality parts once they have the tools. But the tools need to be built themselves, and the tools to make the tools, etcetera.

They are cornering the market on high quality, high volume production.
post #71 of 94
Quote:
Originally Posted by Sacto Joe View Post

Titanium is a b!tch to machine. A unibody titanium computer housing would be unaffordable by most consumers. And it almost certainly doesn't conduct heat nearly as well as aluminum.

I've been a CNC machinist, and for very thin, complex parts it can indeed take hours from start to finish. Which is why Apple is taking such a long time to ramp up production. They won't build crap, and they've found a way to build high volumes of quality parts once they have the tools. But the tools need to be built themselves, and the tools to make the tools, etcetera.

They are cornering the market on high quality, high volume production.

Hey, thanks for the dose of reality!

The whole story behind this kind of mass precision machining would be a fantastic documentary, were it not for Apple's understandable secrecy. Like you say, they're setting a new standard for manufacturing that nobody can match very easily. It may take the others years to catch up, if ever. Interesting times. It's an historic shift, on the scale of 'standardized replaceable parts' or 'the assembly line.'

Edit: Yes, computer or numerical controlled manufacturing has been around for a long time, but here it's being used in a massive way for deep design reasons of structural integrity and aesthetics, and on a consumer product. I think that's a new departure, can't think of another.
post #72 of 94
How about building the entire thing out of glue?
post #73 of 94
Quote:
Originally Posted by JeffDM View Post

How did IBM & Lenovo do it for Thinkpad shells? For that matter, Compaq business notebooks? I've had several that were die cast shells. Before the Unibody, Apple used a lot of die cast parts inside their machines. I have a ten year old business notebook still in occasional use with a die cast shell that is not showing signs of such cracks. I have three other machines of similar construction that don't show the problem. It's a valid concern, but it seems to me to be a manageable problem.

I understood that the IBM Thinkpad had a beefy cast zinc/magnesium alloy frame (beefy to make it tougher.) Many of the components, and especially the delicate ones like drives, were mounted to the frame with rubber isolators to prevent shock damage. The frame had especially tough knobby corners to take a beating. The skin varied quite a bit, some plastic, some stamped or alloy panels, some of an alloy including zinc magnesium and titanium. They were sturdy and even considered light for their day. But that strategy involves a ton of assembly expense and makes for a pretty complicated unit. I have to admit I haven't seen the inside of (or even played with) the Lenovo versions of the ThinkPad and can't comment on how they're made.
post #74 of 94
Quote:
Originally Posted by Flaneur View Post

But are there thousands of shops in Taiwan or China?

Actually, there are. But there don't need to be. With modern CNC machines, the amount of labor required is so small that the cases could be produced anywhere without a huge increase in cost.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Flaneur View Post

Also, you have to be willing to send your chief designer, the equivalent of Jony Ive, to shepherd the project through the shop(s), presumably over and over till they get it right. How long did he spend in China getting something like this underway?

I see you've never done any product development. That's ridiculous. They would do it the same way as any other product development. Make a prototype and overnight it to the U.S. U.S. sends modifications back to Asia for second generation....and so on. There would be no need for the engineers to spend much time over there. You guys don't seem to get it - milling is a trivial industrial manufacturing process. It's not magic - or even very complicated.

Do you think Ives spends 6 months in Malaysia every time Intel produces a new CPU? Of course not- and a new CPU is far more complex than a milled Aluminum case.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Flaneur View Post

Was it three weeks or three months? I think the latter. Engineers from Asus or Acer spending weeks in the Motel 6 in Canoga Park or wherever? Hard to imagine.

Of course it's hard to imagine - because it's not necessary. See above.
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post #75 of 94
Quote:
Originally Posted by mstone View Post

I see. Well the wall still needs to be very thin as well.

Perhaps, but not enough to be translucent. That's a pretty uncommon property for metal parts.

But things keep developing...

http://www.dailytech.com/article.aspx?newsid=23318
post #76 of 94
Quote:
Originally Posted by addabox View Post

So Apple is the only computer manufacturer with enough profit margin, long term enough strategy and enough vertical control of processes to really go all in on something like a unibody design.

Arguably IBM in their heyday could have gone this route as well, but they obviously lost interest in the desktop/consumer market. They've done some pretty amazing things in their labs, but lack the design sense to use that knowledge in everyday products.

While people are probably burnt out on hearing about Steve Jobs these days, he was indeed the central figure in tying these disparate disciplines together (as he said, Liberal Arts and Engineering) to a cohesive whole. It seems obvious when one sees a Macbook Air or iPhone in the flesh and torn apart at iFixit, but the steps necessary to create such products and follow through all the way to manufacturing and high-volume sales is something that very few people or businesses can muster.
post #77 of 94
I'm thinking Intel probably doesn't care so much as long as the OEMs get in line to follow Intel's reference designs based on their ULV chips.
post #78 of 94
Quote:
Originally Posted by Dlux View Post

Ok, following up to my own post, I'm looking at my old TiBook. The lighter-colored band inside the 'sandwich' certainly looks cast, but as far as I can tell it appears to be painted plastic. Meanwhile, the hinges for the screen are almost certainly die-cast metal (probably zinc). . .

I would believe the hinges are made by MIM (Metal Injection Molding).
post #79 of 94
Reality Check: Maybe there are a lot of 'Bob's Machine Shop'-type CNC businesses desperate for work -- but the logistics of coordinating hundreds of small shops to all produce identical unibodies would be a nightmare of scheduling and quality control.

You don't build thousands of identical cases using hundreds small contractors -- you find (or finance) big boys with a *lot* of machines on a shop floor. Kind of like Apple has done.
post #80 of 94
Quote:
Originally Posted by jragosta View Post

...

I see you've never done any product development. That's ridiculous. They would do it the same way as any other product development. ...

You may have done product development, but you clearly did not do it for Apple. It may be ridiculous, but it is exactly what Apple did. Jonathan Ive moved to China and lived there for months while he worked out every detail of the production process--from raw materials to distribution of finished product. This is why Apple can set the retail price of a MacBook Air below the production costs of its competitors and enjoy a 30%-40% margin.
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