PC makers struggle as Apple locks up metal chassis supply

Posted:
in Current Mac Hardware edited January 2014
Supply of metal chassis for ultraportable PC notebooks remains constrained as Apple has reportedly locked up most of the capacity available from suppliers.

Taiwanese tech industry publication DigiTimes reported on Tuesday that metal chassis supply "continues to suffer from shortage." The reason: Apple is buying most of the supply available for its unibody MacBook lineup, including the MacBook Pro and MacBook Air.

The two largest metal chassis manufacturers, Catcher Technology and Foxconn, have reportedly been "aggressively establishing new CNC machines." But they are said to be unlikely to full demand until the end of 2012.

Tuesday's report said that PC makers have begun building "ultra-like" notebooks, rather than laptops that meet Intel's "Ultrabook" specification, as Ultrabooks have suffered from "weak sales." The switch to "ultra-like" notebooks has caused shortages of slim panels, in addition to metal chassis.

While traditional display panels are about 5.2 to 5.5 millimeters thick, slim panels measure about 3.6 millimeters, slightly thicker than the panels measuring 2.85 to 3 millimeters found in Ultrabooks.

MBP Side


This week's report isn't the first time sources in the Far East supply chain have indicated that Apple has a firm grasp on metal notebook chassis supply. One report from last August claimed that companies were forced to seek alternatives because Apple controlled most of the "significantly limited" capacity of magnesium-aluminum chassis.

Apple's entire notebook line features a unibody aluminum design, and the full product lineup was given a refresh earlier this month to Intel's latest-generation Ivy Bridge processors. The flagship notebook in Apple's lineup is its new next-generation MacBook Pro which is 0.71 inches thick and features a 15-inch high-resolution Retina display.
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Comments

  • Reply 1 of 77


    Insert Digitimes joke here.

  • Reply 2 of 77
    MacProMacPro Posts: 18,154member
    Oh dear, so copying has its down side after all! Maybe the PC industry should design something unique to themselves and avoid this situation.
  • Reply 3 of 77
    Gotta love horribly biased articles.

    Apple isn't locking anything up. When Apple persued Unibody 4 years ago they had to go out and buy "aircraft quality" prototyping CNC machines FOR their suppliers to operate. These are $250k a pop, and Apple is competing with prototype engineering firms al over the WORLD for these. Other companies were more than able to buy their own.. Of course Apple has new machines already PAID FOR 2-3 years out.

    Apple stuck its neck WAY out on these machines while everybody else was laughing at them. Even if the other manufacturers did have the machines right now, Apple still has a 4-year head start on making them profitable. Apple put a considerable amount of its own upfront money into Foxconn for these machines. They are not "market resources" they are APPLE'S resources they paid for FIRST.

    Apple isn't using unfair tactics... Other than planning 3 years ahead to buy stuff nobody thought of yet. They are THAT far ahead of everybody else!
  • Reply 4 of 77
    solipsismxsolipsismx Posts: 19,566member
    Oh dear, so copying has its down side after all! Maybe the PC industry should design something unique to themselves and avoid this situation.

    Remember when the unibody Macs first appeared and the naysayers said how it was so pointless?
  • Reply 5 of 77
    theothergeofftheothergeoff Posts: 2,081member

    Quote:

    Originally Posted by mabhatter View Post



    Gotta love horribly biased articles.

    Apple isn't locking anything up. When Apple persued Unibody 4 years ago they had to go out and buy "aircraft quality" prototyping CNC machines FOR their suppliers to operate. These are $250k a pop, and Apple is competing with prototype engineering firms al over the WORLD for these. Other companies were more than able to buy their own.. Of course Apple has new machines already PAID FOR 2-3 years out.

    Apple stuck its neck WAY out on these machines while everybody else was laughing at them. Even if the other manufacturers did have the machines right now, Apple still has a 4-year head start on making them profitable. Apple put a considerable amount of its own upfront money into Foxconn for these machines. They are not "market resources" they are APPLE'S resources they paid for FIRST.

    Apple isn't using unfair tactics... Other than planning 3 years ahead to buy stuff nobody thought of yet. They are THAT far ahead of everybody else!


    4 years ago... heck it was longer than that (they were carving iPods out of Aluminum in what, 2006?.

  • Reply 6 of 77
    theothergeofftheothergeoff Posts: 2,081member

    Quote:

    Originally Posted by SolipsismX View Post





    Remember when the unibody Macs first appeared and the naysayers said how it was so pointless?


    my cracked TI Powerbooks and White Macbooks told me it was an investment in the weakest aspect of a Mac Laptop.  Either the Hinges go or the case cracks.


    College backpacks in Minnesota and Colorado are brutal test labs for laptop cases (-20F and tossed into a study booth).


     


    As much as people say Apple is obsoleting equipment, I'm saying it makes a 3 year expense into a 5 year investment (my 2008 unibody is needing a battery, but otherwise, it's running great).

  • Reply 7 of 77

    Quote:

    Originally Posted by TheOtherGeoff View Post


    4 years ago... heck it was longer than that (they were carving iPods out of Aluminum in what, 2006?.





    iPod mini - 2004

  • Reply 8 of 77
    charlitunacharlituna Posts: 7,205member
    Oh dear, so copying has its down side after all! Maybe the PC industry should design something unique to themselves and avoid this situation.

    It's not the copying that is the real issue. It's Apple keeping a tight lid on things so while the other boys are trying to top last years killer product, Apple is locking down production contracts that have the factories running at near capacity to meet the deals, leaving them nothing to offer anyone else. All before anyone knows they need to get in the game. This was Tim Cooks main job as COO and he could still be making those deals himself since he has the relationships and isn't a design guy to the level Steve was

    So even if they made something unique there is no one to build it.
  • Reply 9 of 77

    Quote:

    Originally Posted by charlituna View Post



    This was Tim Cooks main job as COO and he could still be making those deals himself since he has the relationships and isn't a design guy to the level Steve was

    So even if they made something unique there is no one to build it.


    Supply chain management is Tim Cooks speciality. Jobs picked Cook for a reason ... and this is a great example of that. 

    As for design? Ives leads design. Its part of having a solid team. Jobs wasnt an expert in everything (he knew enough to know what was good), but he surrounded himself with experts. They have been doing their jobs well.

  • Reply 10 of 77
    tjwaltjwal Posts: 404member


    I like the "Ultra-like" notebook moniker.

  • Reply 11 of 77
    alandailalandail Posts: 689member

    Quote:

    Originally Posted by mabhatter View Post



    Gotta love horribly biased articles.

    Apple isn't locking anything up. When Apple persued Unibody 4 years ago they had to go out and buy "aircraft quality" prototyping CNC machines FOR their suppliers to operate. These are $250k a pop, and Apple is competing with prototype engineering firms al over the WORLD for these. Other companies were more than able to buy their own.. Of course Apple has new machines already PAID FOR 2-3 years out.

    Apple stuck its neck WAY out on these machines while everybody else was laughing at them. Even if the other manufacturers did have the machines right now, Apple still has a 4-year head start on making them profitable. Apple put a considerable amount of its own upfront money into Foxconn for these machines. They are not "market resources" they are APPLE'S resources they paid for FIRST.

    Apple isn't using unfair tactics... Other than planning 3 years ahead to buy stuff nobody thought of yet. They are THAT far ahead of everybody else!


     


    You said "apple isn't locking anything up" then proceeded to explain just how they have managed to lock things up by effectively controlling a large percentage of the world's supply for the necessary equipment.  Not just now, but into the future.

  • Reply 12 of 77
    lkrupplkrupp Posts: 6,812member
    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.
  • Reply 13 of 77
    hittrj01hittrj01 Posts: 753member

    Quote:

    Originally Posted by alandail View Post


     


    You said "apple isn't locking anything up" then proceeded to explain just how they have managed to lock things up by effectively controlling a large percentage of the world's supply for the necessary equipment.  Not just now, but into the future.



    But his point is still valid. These are Apple's machines, not Foxconn's or anybody else's. Apple invested in the machines, spent their own money, did their own research, trained their suppliers to use them, etc. Why shouldn't Apple benefit from such a smart decision that nobody else was willing to bet on?

  • Reply 14 of 77
    jragostajragosta Posts: 10,473member
    charlituna wrote: »
    It's not the copying that is the real issue. It's Apple keeping a tight lid on things so while the other boys are trying to top last years killer product, Apple is locking down production contracts that have the factories running at near capacity to meet the deals, leaving them nothing to offer anyone else. All before anyone knows they need to get in the game. This was Tim Cooks main job as COO and he could still be making those deals himself since he has the relationships and isn't a design guy to the level Steve was
    So even if they made something unique there is no one to build it.

    alandail wrote: »
    You said "apple isn't locking anything up" then proceeded to explain just how they have managed to lock things up by effectively controlling a large percentage of the world's supply for the necessary equipment.  Not just now, but into the future.

    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.

    The entire premise of Apple making it impossible for people to make cases is absurd.

    Now, it is true that Apple has done a masterful job of setting up a supply chain to ensure a stead supply of reasonably priced cases. It took them years to do that - but anyone else can do it if they're willing to put in the time and effort. The fact that they're looking for a shortcut (by trying to tap into Apple's supply chain) is not Apple's problem. Rather, it is further indication of the inability of most PC vendors to do anything creative.
  • Reply 15 of 77
    maccherrymaccherry Posts: 924member
    One of the biggest bs stories I've read today.
    Apple has been unibodying for 4 year and now they are all of a sudden hogging up metal chasis productIon? I'm dying on the floor LMAO!
  • Reply 16 of 77
    solipsismxsolipsismx Posts: 19,566member
    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.
    The entire premise of Apple making it impossible for people to make cases is absurd.
    Now, it is true that Apple has done a masterful job of setting up a supply chain to ensure a stead supply of reasonably priced cases. It took them years to do that - but anyone else can do it if they're willing to put in the time and effort. The fact that they're looking for a shortcut (by trying to tap into Apple's supply chain) is not Apple's problem. Rather, it is further indication of the inability of most PC vendors to do anything creative.

    Different shops with different machines with different firmware being programmed by different people with different levels of expertise results in too many offerences where you want them to be as exact as possible in the natural world. You also have a logistical problem that can be costly. Apple using a few large shops they have a control over is simply better for their needs.

    What Apple has done is not only to make milling tens of millions of CE products possible but to make it cost effective within the needed tolerances. I wouldn't use the word magical but from a technology standpoint this is a phenomenon. They even do it on their iPhone antenna and remote control! That's how successful this has been for them.
  • Reply 17 of 77
    williamhwilliamh Posts: 641member


    This is a silly article.


     


    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.


     


    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.


     


    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?"

  • Reply 18 of 77
    jragostajragosta Posts: 10,473member
    solipsismx wrote: »
    Different shops with different machines with different firmware being programmed by different people with different levels of expertise results in different results whee you want them to be as exact as possible in the natural world.
    What Apple has done is not only to make milling tens of millions of CE products possible but to make it cost effective within the needed tolerances. I wouldn't use the word magical but from a technology standpoint this is a phenomenon. They even do it on their iPhone antenna and remote control! That's how successful this has been for them.

    Sorry, but I have years of experience with machined parts and you're wrong. At the level of tolerances needed for a laptop case, any competent machine ship with reasonably modern equipment can make suitable product. The differences from one shop to another should be less than the batch to batch variations within an individual shop.

    Apple has done an impressive job with the supply chain and has certainly worked with suppliers to standardize and streamline production, but any company buying millions of components can (and probably should) do the same thing.
  • Reply 19 of 77

    Quote:

    Originally Posted by charlituna View Post





    It's not the copying that is the real issue. It's Apple keeping a tight lid on things so while the other boys are trying to top last years killer product, Apple is locking down production contracts that have the factories running at near capacity to meet the deals, leaving them nothing to offer anyone else. All before anyone knows they need to get in the game. This was Tim Cooks main job as COO and he could still be making those deals himself since he has the relationships and isn't a design guy to the level Steve was

    So even if they made something unique there is no one to build it.




    Apple is basically tricking competitors into following them into a supply chain trap.  Apple is working towards its already set road map by getting supplies and production facilities set up well in advance by at least three years.  The competitors either haven't had any long-range planning or are being forced to switch plans in order to try to keep up with Apple which doesn't leave competitors with any long-term planning.  They'll keep running into roadblocks as Apple maintains a solid supply chain on everything.  The smartest thing for competitors to do is not trying to copy everything Apple is doing.  They need to formulate their own long-term plans and grow into them.  Even if Apple's competitors do that, they're definitely going to lose market share short-term as Apple continues to keep it's own production high.  The worst problem competitors have is that Apple is making all the money which is practically securing its own future.  Apple will have enough money to make whatever moves it wants.  If Apple is planning to use carbon-fiber cases three years from now, it probably has already started locking down supplies.  If Apple were to have problems with acquiring components, I can only imagine the horrors competitors would be going through.


     


    This is the reason I don't understand why Wall Street continues to claim that every product Apple makes is going to be commoditized by some cheaper competitor's product which will supposedly cause the downfall of Apple.  It's clear to see that there will continue to be consumers willing to pay the extra money for a higher-quality product and Apple will be able to offer a product which other companies can't afford to offer.  I'm sure on the surface, the Galaxy S III appears to be a solid product, but it appears that Samsung is cutting corners on some components.  Maybe slightly less quality is good enough for most consumers.

  • Reply 20 of 77
    iqatedoiqatedo Posts: 1,595member

    Quote:

    Originally Posted by mabhatter View Post



    ...When Apple persued Unibody 4 years ago they had to go out and buy "aircraft quality" prototyping CNC machines FOR their suppliers to operate. These are $250k a pop, and Apple is competing with prototype engineering firms al over the WORLD for these. Other companies were more than able to buy their own...


    That's why I suspect that when Sinofsky made reference to 'liquid metal' in the MS surface news conference, he was actually referring to a die cast chassis of magnesium alloy.  These are much cheaper to produce than CNC machined parts but also much, much less well finished.


     


    Regardless, I think that the surface is a ploy.

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