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Apple metal demand forcing use of fiberglass in ultrabooks

updated 04:00 pm EDT, Thu August 4, 2011

Company consuming much of Asian supply chain

A number of ultrabook makers have been forced to look for alternative chassis materials as a result of Apple, sources in the chassis industry observe. A magnesium-aluminum hybrid is said to be the normal preferred material, since ultrabooks must be less than 0.8 inches thick and still protect against damage. Creating a unibody magnesium-aluminum chassis requires a CNC lathe, however, which is cost prohibitive for many suppliers.

While two companies -- Foxconn and Catcher -- are reported to have over 10,000 CNC lathes each, the pair are also said to be Apple's chassis suppliers, meaning that the bulk of the industry has been forced to compete for remaining capacity and ship fewer ultrabooks with metal bodies. In cases where computer makers are ditching metal, the preferred alternative is said to be fiberglass, which offers the cost and durability needed to compete with magnesium-aluminum.

Each segment of a fiberglass chassis is $5 to $10 cheaper to make, says one supplier, Mitac Precision, saving $20 on the overall construction of a notebook. PC buyers can allegedly see prices $50 to $100 lower at retail as a result. Mitac adds that because of high yields and the ability to ship 4.5 million units a month, it expects to do well based on current trends.

Chassis materials are not the only issue with ultrabooks at the moment. Manufacturers are thought to be unfamiliar with the methods needed to produce unified designs instead of piece-by-piece assembly. Intel's ultrabook specification also calls for metal shells, SSDs and high-efficiency batteries, parts which are all expensive and make it difficult to undercut the price of Apple's MacBook Air, the archetypal ultrabook.



By Electronista Staff
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  1. testudo

    Forum Regular

    Joined: Aug 2001

    -6

    stupid claims

    So, apparently these 10000 lathes that Foxconn has are restricted to use for Apple products? No one else can go to Foxconn? And Foxconn wouldn't get any more machines to supply parts for other companies. Right.....

  1. testudo

    Forum Regular

    Joined: Aug 2001

    -4

    and...

    What is the point of this stupid 'ultrabook' specification? Is there some special reason anyone has to follow it (or fear not being able to call your product an 'ultrabook')? And if Intel is going to lay out a long list of what it must contain, where's the differentating factors? They're all the same!

  1. Tjp

    Fresh-Faced Recruit

    Joined: Jan 2010

    +3

    It isn't so much metal demand as tooling demand

    And it only gets worse for fiberglass. That will drop the recycling ability and be environmentally more damaging. Not just the end product. The trim from the Apple process is recycled. The trim from fiberglass is tougher to recycle, and will have to go into other products that are less demanding. It also requires more care in engineering, which is not likely, since attachment points need to be carefully designed and integrated into the manufacture of the part mixing metal parts into the fiberglass so you can use screws on it. Better would be to consider either semi-deep drawn aluminum for a one piece like design then have "robots" weld in the attachment points or stamped and welded. The disadvantage of course is that the welding atmosphere needs to eliminate nitrogen and oxygen.

    What they need to do is rethink the entire process instead of trying to mimic Apple in the specifications. like as long as you are using a fiberglass case, use it as the PC substrate as well. And consider a carbon fiber "veil" layer that is also vacuum metalized for the outside layer, not only unique looking but better RF shielding (which will also be a problem in a fiberglass case). And in my suggested approach the antennas for WiFi, Bluetooth, or cellular can be built into the case structure, not added on. This not only allows for less parts count, but also makes for potentially a slimmer design.

    Or consider ... Nope I'll keep that one for a patent app I think!

    Tjp

    P.S. I am looking for consulting jobs. Want someone who is radically outside the box and creative, give me a shout.

  1. Haywire

    Fresh-Faced Recruit

    Joined: Nov 2001

    +3

    CNC Mill, not Lathe

    The MacBook Pros or Airs cannot be made on lathes - has to be a milling machine. They are quite different. Lathes are for making round things. Mills for flat, usually rectangular, carved out things.

  1. kageryu

    Fresh-Faced Recruit

    Joined: Apr 2010

    +3

    comment title

    @testudo -- Apple probably pays them more and signs contracts for large enough product orders that in order to meet that production commitment they're cranking out Apple products around the clock. Tim Cook ftw.

  1. mados123

    Fresh-Faced Recruit

    Joined: May 2009

    +3

    Metal stamp?

    Why aren't they stamping the cases?

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