Ultrabook makers turn to plastic as Apple controls unibody aluminum supply

Posted:
in Current Mac Hardware edited January 2014
Apple's continued control unibody aluminum chassis supply has reportedly forced Ultrabook makers, hoping to compete with the MacBook Air, to turn to alternative materials such as plastic.



Industry sources indicated to DigiTimes on Monday that PC makers face limited capacity of unibody chassis, because computer numerical control, or CNC, machines can only produce one unibody frame every three hours. That means just one machine can only produce eight pieces per day.



Catcher Technology, the largest unibody chassis maker, is said to be restricted due to a production stoppage in China. But Catcher is still giving priority supply to Apple, which means other PC makers are feeling the squeeze.



PC makers are attempting to combat Apple's MacBook Air with the new Ultrabook specification spearheaded by Intel. The goal is to create affordable thin-and-light notebooks that can undercut the MacBook Air on price.



But in attempting to mimic the design of the MacBook Air, Ultrabook makers have had trouble securing unibody aluminum chassis, and have instead chosen to adopt new materials like high-density fiberglass, or an exterior aluminum chassis with plastic internal parts.



"The new aluminum chassis with plastic internal parts design will allow ultrabooks to feature a metal appearance, but all the internal parts will be made from plastic stuck to metal parts using glue," the report said.



The new design will not only allow Ultrabook makers to increase their output, but is also a cost-saving measure. While a unibody chassis costs between $40 and $80, the new aluminum design with plastic internals is said to cost between $20 and $30.







Apple's ultraportable MacBook Air has become an important part of the company's Mac lineup, and now represents 28 percent of its total notebook shipments. That's well up from just 8 percent of total MacBook sales in the first half of 2011.



Apple's success has prompted PC makers to fight back with their own thin-and-light notebooks, though the Ultrabook line has yet to see significant success. Earlier this month it was revealed that Acer and Asus slashed their Ultrabook orders by 40 percent after initial sales were slower than expected.



Back in August, before Ultrabooks even hit the market, it was first indicated that PC makers were feeling the squeeze from Apple on metal unibody chassis supply. It was said then that Intel and its PC partners were "aggressively searching" for new materials to build chassis for Ultrabooks. Monday's latest update would indicate that the companies believe they found their potential solutions in high-density fiberglass and plastic.
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Comments

  • Reply 1 of 93
    I love it.
  • Reply 2 of 93
    ivladivlad Posts: 740member
    What other materials can they turn to except plastic? Sucks for these companies jumping on board so late. That's what they get when they wait too long to compete. Same thing happened with iPad, all alternatives are cheap plastic.
  • Reply 3 of 93
    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.



    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.
  • Reply 4 of 93
    If these other guys want unibody construction, then they can step up to the plate like certain other companies we all know and partner with the manufacturers to purchase more CNC machines. There is no reason a manufacturer should (or could) allocate capacity that was paid for and locked in by Apple in order to produce a competitor's products.



    If they want to play ball, they need to bring their baseball bat and glove to the park.
  • Reply 5 of 93
    I thought I'd read somewhere that Apple had helped to purchase the equipment that does the machining and that there were thousands of machines at a couple hundred thousand dollars per machine.
  • Reply 6 of 93
    solipsismsolipsism Posts: 25,726member
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by AppleInsider View Post


    Apple's continued control unibody aluminum chassis supply...



    Perhaps I'm being pedantic, Katie, but wouldn't the control be of the CNC machines, not of the aluminium nor the oddly worded "chassis supply"?
  • Reply 7 of 93
    "The new aluminum chassis with plastic internal parts design will allow ultrabooks to feature a metal appearance, but all the internal parts will be made from plastic stuck to metal parts using glue," the report said."



    What the heck are they describing - is this a stamped shell?
  • Reply 8 of 93
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by solipsism View Post


    Perhaps I'm being pedantic, Katie, but wouldn't the control be of the CNC machines, not of the aluminium nor the oddly worded "chassis supply"?



    It's not being pedantic - the article makes Apple sound anti-competetive. The truth is that Apple paid for the manufacturing capacity they are consuming. If other companies want to step up to do likewise, they are free to do so.
  • Reply 9 of 93
    This has been reported before, loving it, i guess pc makes are trying to make apple look bad for buying all the production time up.. but I always thought it was good business to take care of the guy paying the bills over the long run and the one with the most orders gets the job.



    I guess if pc makers want to steal Apples Idea for unibody aluminum chassis they need to belly up and place an order for 50% more then apple and be willing to pay more for it to boot.. if not shut up.



    Apple takes care of there suppliers with lots of work, until they are crossed, so beware if they take an order over apple and they decide to cut the contract early or completely, you may have to craw on your hands an knees back to apple
  • Reply 10 of 93
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by solipsism View Post


    Perhaps I'm being pedantic, Katie, but wouldn't the control be of the CNC machines, not of the aluminium nor the oddly worded "chassis supply"?



    It is possible that Apple does in fact control the machines, by owning most of them or at least funding their purchases. But if Apple is solely dependent upon suppliers who own their own machines, then they might very well control the "chassis supply" though contracts with manufacturers.
  • Reply 11 of 93
    Three hours do sound like too long, but than again it's unibody... if it were just many random pieces of aluminum to make many parts, it certainly would be faster, but making only a few detailed panes from one piece of metal is indeed hard and time consuming. E.g. look at the top panel of a MacBook - you need to not only cut it from aluminum, but make holes for every single key on the keyboard, for the trackpad, for speakers... the indention around the keyboard... holy shit there's a lot of work there...
  • Reply 12 of 93
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by tmallon View Post


    This has been reported before, loving it, i guess pc makes are trying to make apple look bad for buying all the production time up.. but I always thought it was good business to take care of the guy paying the bills over the long run and the one with the most orders gets the job.



    I guess if pc makers want to steal Apples Idea for unibody aluminum chassis they need to belly up and place an order for 50% more then apple and be willing to pay more for it to boot.. if not shut up.



    Apple takes care of there suppliers with lots of work, until they are crossed, so beware if they take an order over apple and they decide to cut the contract early or completely, you may have to craw on your hands an knees back to apple



    Apple purchased large numbers of CNC machines for their manufacturing partners. There is no reason a competitor should feel entitled to production time using that equipment.
  • Reply 13 of 93
    They aren't late... they are just cheapskates... generic PC manufacturers grew too accustomed to making low-quality cheap shit from a generic commodity parts and now they are butthurt that to match Apple's design they would need to spend money and time...
  • Reply 14 of 93
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by tt92618 View Post


    If these other guys want unibody construction, then they can step up to the plate like certain other companies we all know and partner with the manufacturers to purchase more CNC machines. There is no reason a manufacturer should (or could) allocate capacity that was paid for and locked in by Apple in order to produce a competitor's products.



    If they want to play ball, they need to bring their baseball bat and glove to the park.



    Perhaps Apple has also tied up the manufacturing capacity for the CNC machines themselves?



    If, as reported, Apple is buying or funding the purchase of the tools, that could be the case.
  • Reply 15 of 93
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by JONOROM View Post
    "The new aluminum chassis with plastic internal parts design will allow ultrabooks to feature a metal appearance, but all the internal parts will be made from plastic stuck to metal parts using glue," the report said."



    What the heck are they describing - is this a stamped shell?



    That's my take. A stamped shell and then glue on a plastic substructure.



    They're trying to compete with great engineering using plastic and glue. Reminds me of the US Car industry in the late '70s.
  • Reply 16 of 93
    dluxdlux Posts: 666member
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by iVlad View Post


    What other materials can they turn to except plastic?







    (Although apparently Apple controls that technology as well.)
  • Reply 17 of 93
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by JONOROM View Post


    Perhaps Apple has also tied up the manufacturing capacity for the CNC machines themselves?



    If, as reported, Apple is buying or funding the purchase of the tools, that could be the case.



    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...
  • Reply 18 of 93
    solipsismsolipsism Posts: 25,726member
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by JONOROM View Post


    It is possible that Apple does in fact control the machines, by owning most of them or at least funding their purchases. But if Apple is solely dependent upon suppliers who own their own machines, then they might very well control the "chassis supply" though contracts with manufacturers.



    But the chassis are a product of a specific design, not something any other company could use, so regardless of whether Apple owns the machines or leases their use it's still the CNC machines that are being tied up, not a product of the machine, hence "chassis supply" is incorrect.



    An example of Apple hoarding the supply of a component would be NAND.
  • Reply 19 of 93
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by primedetailer View Post


    I thought I'd read somewhere that Apple had helped to purchase the equipment that does the machining and that there were thousands of machines at a couple hundred thousand dollars per machine.



    My guess is that Apple owns the machines and leases them to the manufacturer. That way, if/when the Apple contract ends, the manufacturer cannot just start making similar parts for third parties.
  • Reply 20 of 93
    tjwaltjwal Posts: 404member
    If the this were the other way around Apple would use something else to build the case and convince us that is was better than unibody. Much like they did with the first iMacs. After all beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Personally I do like the aluminum cases but there is nothing wrong with plastic if it is done right. Unfortunately it is usually done to be cheap and ends up that way.
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