PC makers struggle as Apple locks up metal chassis supply

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Comments

  • Reply 61 of 77
    wizard69wizard69 Posts: 12,719member
    I doubt that include captive shops within other facilities.
    ssquirrel wrote: »
    Or you know, 60,000

    http://www.census.gov/econ/industry/hierarchy/i332710.htm

    Of course, of those 60,000, how many of them have the right kind of machines or the capacity to do what Apple wants done?
    There are differing levels of capacity to meet a customers needs. Some shops are literally one man operations with little excess capacity and at times highly specialized. Other shops can process whole sub assemblies in a mass production manner and effectively act as a subcontractor. One does have to shop around a bit.

    In any event I think people mis important points here. It isn't the availability of machinery that is the problem, it is the unwillingness to invest in the machinery that is the problem.
  • Reply 62 of 77
    aizmovaizmov Posts: 988member
    Excellent.
  • Reply 63 of 77
    wizard69wizard69 Posts: 12,719member

    I remember the issue Apple had to overcome to mill the chassis for the MBP and MBA and it involved a much finer machine than was being produced for the machine sops you are referring to.
    I really don't know what you are talking about here. The Unibody chassis isn't really a high tolerance item. Apple might keep tight tolerances relative to the rest of the laptop industry but that doesn't mean their tolerances are unusual.

    The machines were an order or two beyond the usual milling machines in some respects that I don't quite remember.
    You don't remember because it is or was a fantasy.
    If what you're thinking was true then Apple wouldn't have drained the world supply of milling machines and flown them to the factories in a big toot. 
    This has never been the case. CNC milling machines are plentiful and in fact have enjoyed a proliferation of sorts as computer technology has been leveraged in the comtrollers. It is actually very feasible to put a CNC machine in your basement these days.

    In any event it isn't the CNC machine that is the problem, it is rather the interaction of the production line and the specialized machinery to make mass production possible that takes time and money.
    Some other posters on this thread are also confusing the production of laptops with ultrabooks. The ultrabooks require the unibody construction to instill the required rigidity into the thinner lighter case because there is less structure to do so, as it a typical laptop. There is no shortage of cases for the typical laptop.

    Even this is bogus. There are other materials that laptops can be molded from that would be perfectly OK in an Ultra Book. Mold a chassis out of Ultem ( an engineering resin ) and it will be plenty strong and likely plenty expensive.

    The big problem with Ultra Books, in the PC world, is that nobody was willing to finance their development. Thus the pleading with Intel for cash to get the ball rolling.
  • Reply 64 of 77
    jragostajragosta Posts: 10,473member
    wizard69 wrote: »
    I remember the issue Apple had to overcome to mill the chassis for the MBP and MBA and it involved a much finer machine than was being produced for the machine sops you are referring to.
    I really don't know what you are talking about here. The Unibody chassis isn't really a high tolerance item. Apple might keep tight tolerances relative to the rest of the laptop industry but that doesn't mean their tolerances are unusual.
    The machines were an order or two beyond the usual milling machines in some respects that I don't quite remember.
    You don't remember because it is or was a fantasy.

    This has never been the case. CNC milling machines are plentiful and in fact have enjoyed a proliferation of sorts as computer technology has been leveraged in the comtrollers. It is actually very feasible to put a CNC machine in your basement these days.

    In any event it isn't the CNC machine that is the problem, it is rather the interaction of the production line and the specialized machinery to make mass production possible that takes time and money.
    Some other posters on this thread are also confusing the production of laptops with ultrabooks. The ultrabooks require the unibody construction to instill the required rigidity into the thinner lighter case because there is less structure to do so, as it a typical laptop. There is no shortage of cases for the typical laptop.

    Even this is bogus. There are other materials that laptops can be molded from that would be perfectly OK in an Ultra Book. Mold a chassis out of Ultem ( an engineering resin ) and it will be plenty strong and likely plenty expensive.

    The big problem with Ultra Books, in the PC world, is that nobody was willing to finance their development. Thus the pleading with Intel for cash to get the ball rolling.

    Thank you for saving me the trouble of typing out a detailed response. Obviously, a lot of people don't mind babbling about manufacturing issues when they don't have a clue.

    I do, however, disagree with your comment about the assembly line. While that can be true for some components, I'm not sure it applies here. Labor is cheap and most or all of the machining can be done with a single process. So they need a laborer to load the block into the CNC and hit the 'start' button. Then remove it. (maybe turn it upside down to get the bottom finish right, so there might be an extra step). Given how cheap the labor is and the far that they only need one or two setups per part, it might not require an automated assembly line.
  • Reply 65 of 77
    MacProMacPro Posts: 18,142member
    jiveturkey wrote: »
    There will be plenty of CNC capacity for all once Apple moves their entire line to Liquidmetal enclosures.

    Haha ... but then the Dells of this world will all want Liquid Metal as unibody milled aluminum will be so old fashioned.
  • Reply 66 of 77

    Quote:

    Originally Posted by lkrupp View Post



    No wonder Tim Cook is famous for his control of the supply chain and inventory. As for the competition? Death by slow strangulation it would seem.

    Waiting for the trolls to whine about the unfairness of it all.


    How is not unfair.  Sure you could argue that Apple invented the use of Aluminum Unibodys.  So lets ignore that.  They are still harming competition when it comes to chips and flash memory etc...  They get better prices than everyone else.  And your predictable answer is for people to innovate.


     


    And when Microsoft does actually innovate with the Surface... it uses another metal that is in larger supply and uses a brand new vapor deposite method that creates a durable surface with nice finish.   You and all other claim price is the only way it will sell, yet everything is more expensive than what Apple gets it at.  Ultimately the Flash, Intel Processor etc are the same as what Apple uses.


     


    Or I guess as an Apple fanboy site, we should just all use Apple products.  Because that is wonderful for innovation and utlimately pricing.

  • Reply 67 of 77
    cityguidecityguide Posts: 129member

    Quote:

    Originally Posted by wizard69 View Post



    I have years of experience in manufacturing in the optics industry, thus I can say this either the supplier is competent or they aren't. Given a proper engineering drawing the contractor either has the ability to fabricate the part or he doesn't. There is no middle ground here.

    The problem with many industries is that they end up controlled by bad actors on Wall Street. Many a company has been ruined trying to appease major shareholders. I've seen this first hand and really it isn't pretty when every move a company makes is focused on numbers for the next quarter. The one good thing about Steve Jobs was that he didn't give a damn about these bozos. This may have had the side effect of keeping Apple stock rather cheap for years but it also keep investors away that didn't have a clue. In this regards there are good and there are very evil investors, in effect owners, you really don't want your company owned by the evil ones.




    What he said.

  • Reply 68 of 77
    tjwaltjwal Posts: 404member

    Quote:

    Originally Posted by jragosta View Post





    Those numbers are underestimated. Look at the methodology:

    http://www.census.gov/econ/census07/www/methodology/sources_of_the_data.html

    Unless you're doing business with the government, small firms would be vastly underrepresented.

    In any event, the point is made - there are tens of thousands of machine shops in the US alone. Based on my experience with machine shops, I would venture that at least 10% could handle Apple's case - and probably a lot more than that. So there are many thousands of places that could do it. Or, the competitors could simply choose one or two and help them to improve their capabilities as Apple did.


    Actually in terms of production line capability I think the number is overstated.  Many machine shops have a mix of manual and CNC machines.  This is part of the evolution of US industrial practice.  The UK paradigm (150 years ago) was one machine/skilled operator - one dedicated part.  The US went to one machine/skilled operator - many different parts.  China in some ways has the advantage in that they have only really industrialized in the last 20 years  As a result they have invested heavily in CNC versus manual machines.  When you have a  production line like Apple needs you have many machines, a few programmers and a lot of unskilled operators.


    Everyone in the US want to be paid as a skilled worker so even if there were similar production lines available in the US they just couldn't compete.  US manufacturing has to come with terms with the new reality or they will become has-beens like UK manufacturing.

  • Reply 69 of 77
    docno42docno42 Posts: 3,285member
    williamh wrote: »
    First of all, is anyone aware of any non-Apple notebook that has sales that are constrained by lack of availability?  Any notebook maker? Dell?  HP?  Lenovo?  Acer?  Toshiba?  I'm reading about lackluster sales.  I'm not reading about lines at the door or waiting lists.

    I dunno - 7" tablets happened partly because competitors couldn't afford the parts and partly because they were scarce (probably driving up costs further). Apple invented the unibody processes for mass production - it would make sense that they would have enough of a lead and volume to cause constraint issues.

    Then again, as you point out with pricing so near a MacBook Air why not just get the real thing? Probably the reason for lackluster sales on the PC side.
    Secondly, it's a free market.  If Apple is paying $10, then they can offer $11.  If Apple is willing to prepay or commit to a large order, then they can do that, or pay more.  If Apple scouts out the necessary machines, then the competitors can do that.

    Sure - but part of a free market is you have to pay a profit. Yeah, they can offer $11 - but if that causes them to loose money on every unit sold, then effectively they are blocked from that option.
    Lastly, they could always try to innovate and not just do what Apple did.  Is everything Apple does simply the best and only way to do something?  Is there really no room for improvement, or as Apple might say, "thinking different?"

    Thinking different is certainly not necessarily unique to Apple. The problem for PC vendors is they are high volume, low margin. They don't have the profits that Apple does to invest in new technology. They also don't individually have the ability to get volumes similar to Apple - except for a few companies like HP, Dell and maybe Acer/Asus. That's what makes Microsoft's move with Surface fascinating. If it's the least bit successful, what's to stop Microsoft from switching models to Apple's entirely? I think it would be fascinating. Personally I think the whole multiple hardware vendor/clone thing has been WAY overblown and caused far more problems than benefits. PC Manufacturers don't innovate - they take Intel reference designs and churn 'em out (yes, I'm looking at you Dell). What benefit is that now? How many variations of an Nvidia graphics card do you really need anyway?
  • Reply 70 of 77
    docno42docno42 Posts: 3,285member
    jragosta wrote: »
    Those comments are nonsense. There is nothing magical about the CNC machines used to make computer cases. I am familiar with machine shops and could easily find 50 shops within a 20 mile radius of my home that can do it. It's also not that hard to set up a machine shop. Buy a couple of machines (and they ARE available - we've bought several in the past few years), rent or buy a facility, and hire someone who knows how to program the machine. And even that wouldn't be necessary - there are hundreds of thousands of machine shops in the US and many thousands in China, as well. It would only take a few phone calls to find shops capable of making the cases.

    Yeah, but make millions at a reasonable cost?

    Anyone can make 5 to 10. Making millions with consistency and profitability - now that's the trick!
  • Reply 71 of 77
    docno42docno42 Posts: 3,285member
    jragosta wrote: »
    Based on my experience with machine shops, I would venture that at least 10% could handle Apple's case - and probably a lot more than that. So there are many thousands of places that could do it. Or, the competitors could simply choose one or two and help them to improve their capabilities as Apple did.

    If it's so easy then why aren't more PC manufacturers doing it?

    Again, five to ten is easy - millions? You may know machine shops but you know nothing about mass production or economies of scale.
  • Reply 72 of 77
    docno42docno42 Posts: 3,285member
    How is not unfair.  Sure you could argue that Apple invented the use of Aluminum Unibodys.  So lets ignore that.  They are still harming competition when it comes to chips and flash memory etc...  They get better prices than everyone else.

    !!!

    Wow. I almost don't know where to begin. You do realize that Apple just didn't get that pricing automatically, or that they did the equivalent of rob a bank to get it. They get that pricing because they have the volume and the willingness to pay up front. Cash on the barrel head.

    They earned it.
    And your predictable answer is for people to innovate.

    Well duh! How the hell do you think Apple got successful enough to now be in the position to get the favorable pricing that for some unfathomable reason you think is somehow unfair?

    Especially since now, particularly with Mobile devices and in particular tablets the tables have turned and the rest of the industry can't compete with Apple on price - never mind overall quality or ecosystem.
    And when Microsoft does actually innovate with the Surface...

    What is innovative about the surface? Slapping a Metrto interface layer on top of the same tired windows tablet strategy that has gone NOWHERE in the last 10 years?

    The Surface is a souped up netbook with Metro tiled on top. There is nothing innovative or revolutionary about it. The fact that it REQUIRES a stylus for the non-Metro apps speaks volumes....

    And it's not shipping. Nor do we know anything about price, battery life or software stability. Microsoft wouldn't let anyone play with it so they must be REAL confident on their software :P
    it uses another metal that is in larger supply and uses a brand new vapor deposite method that creates a durable surface with nice finish.   You and all other claim price is the only way it will sell, yet everything is more expensive than what Apple gets it at.  Ultimately the Flash, Intel Processor etc are the same as what Apple uses.

    And if Microsoft can do all that and maintain price parity with Apple, bully for them! That's what competition is about.
    Or I guess as an Apple fanboy site, we should just all use Apple products.  Because that is wonderful for innovation and utlimately pricing.

    Wow - your mad with Apple because their products are too cheap and it's unfair? I don't know if I can handle this, especially after dealing with decades of snide comments about the "Apple Tax"...

    But to address your sarcastic fanboy comment - I use Apple products because, today, for me, THEY ARE THE BEST. If they cease being the best, I will switch. I dropped Apple in the craptastic Performa days, and didn't come back until well into the second generation iMacs - and even then it was only until the mid 2000's where I switch back to using Macs as my primary computing device.

    I'm a fan of Apple because of what they deliver, not because they are just "Apple". If Microsoft or someone else can do it better, I have no problem using them. I have an Xbox 360 and like it. I think Windows Home Server is a vastly underrated product and it serves many useful functions for me. But when it comes to desktop computers, phones and tablets in my opinion there is no one even remotely close. With the iPad, Apple is so far ahead of everyone I don't know if anyone will ever be able to catch up. Sure, Google may be able to flood the market with $200 tablets - but will they make money? Google makes more money from iOS ads than they do for Android - and that's before you factor in all the costs related to acquiring Android and maintaining it over the years. You think Microsoft was in the hole for years with the Xbox? Go read Asymco.com - Microsoft are going to look like rank amateurs at burning through cash compared to Google... I don't know why Google shareholders don't have torches and pitchforks out, honestly... probably because most of them just don't realize how much smoke and mirrors is really going on :P
  • Reply 73 of 77
    mr. memr. me Posts: 3,219member

    Quote:

    Originally Posted by DocNo42 View Post


    ... The problem for PC vendors is they are high volume, low margin. They don't have the profits that Apple does to invest in new technology. ...


     


    It is true that PC vendors don't have the profits that Apple makes. However, that is not the reason that they are at such a disadvantage to Apple. The reason is that Apple has a $95 billion cash horde that it uses strategically to buy whatever it needs to produce the products that it wants to make.


     


    This gives Apple an insurmountable lead in product startup. Apple widens its insurmountable lead by by controlling its supply chain and distribution network to wring every cent of excess cost from it. We all remember when the PC vendors lamented that the MacBook Air's retail price was less than the production costs of their competing offerings. 

  • Reply 74 of 77
    hill60hill60 Posts: 6,989member

    Quote:

    Originally Posted by UltimateKylie View Post

    I guess as an Apple fanboy site, we should just all use Apple products because that is wonderful..


     


    ok

  • Reply 75 of 77
    hmmhmm Posts: 3,405member

    Quote:

    Originally Posted by UltimateKylie View Post


    How is not unfair.  Sure you could argue that Apple invented the use of Aluminum Unibodys.  So lets ignore that.  They are still harming competition when it comes to chips and flash memory etc...  They get better prices than everyone else.  And your predictable answer is for people to innovate.


     


    And when Microsoft does actually innovate with the Surface... it uses another metal that is in larger supply and uses a brand new vapor deposite method that creates a durable surface with nice finish.   You and all other claim price is the only way it will sell, yet everything is more expensive than what Apple gets it at.  Ultimately the Flash, Intel Processor etc are the same as what Apple uses.


     


    Or I guess as an Apple fanboy site, we should just all use Apple products.  Because that is wonderful for innovation and utlimately pricing.



    All you really know is what the site reports. Do you know that they bought up machine shop capacity? We've also seen suggestions  that they set up new lines for CNCed cases. If you search the archives, you'll find a few articles on this from 2008. Regarding NAND, what's wrong with buying it in advance if they intend to use it? This becomes more of an issue if they're buying it to deny other manufacturers. It's sometimes reported that way, but this site is always somewhat biased. I hope Microsoft does well with it. I'll probably look at one. I looked at an ipad. It was cool, but I didn't buy it as I wouldn't end up using it. There are things that would make it useful to me, but it can't do them. I won't buy a device that I won't end up using right away.

  • Reply 76 of 77

    Quote:

    Originally Posted by jragosta View Post





    Of course it's more efficient. So what?

    Apple has gone to the trouble to build a supply chain that's efficient and its competitors have not. Why is it unfair for Apple to not let them piggy back on the supply chain that it has built? The competitors are free to go out and buy or rent a facility and 50 CNC machines and put them under the same roof. It's not Apple's fault that they're unable or unwilling to do so.

    You probably should have stopped with the bolded part.

    A decent shop has no problem following the dimensional drawings precisely enough that you wouldn't be able to tell the difference. If you're getting incompatibility with something as simple as a bent piece of metal, you need a new supplier.


    You don't seem to get it.  Of course, any small machine shop could fabricate a few hundred MacBook chassis.   Could they quickly fab a hundred thousand?  How about a million?  Mass production is a tricky thing to get right.


     


    Apple has simply locked up the the suppliers with the capacity to mass produce unibody laptop chassis.  It doesn't mean other laptop manufacturers have shortages of their laptops, it means they cannot even introduce products based on unibody designs, because if they tried, they couldn't make enough for it to be profitable.  There's nothing wrong with what Apple has done, as long as they aren't buying up capacity and letting it sit idle so competitors cannot use it.  


     


    I still find it amazing how few manufacturers of laptops there really are.  Too bad Americans cant manufacture something so cool.

  • Reply 77 of 77


    Mine is just before the Unibody........still running great since June 2008 with SSD in place and additional HDD on DVD bay.


     


    Love the Macbook Pros. They build and engineered to last 5 years! 

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