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  • Ultrabook Industry Turns to Fiberglass in Lieu of Metal Chassis Shortage
Technology Articles > Computers > Apple > Ultrabook Industry Turns to Fiberglass in Lieu of Metal Chassis Shortage

Apple has established itself as one of the most innovative companies of the last decade. Time and again, Apple has broken new ground in making attractive, useful and portable computer technology, even more attractive, useful and portable.

The design team at Apple devotes serious time to developing and testing what the next breakthrough in their industry will be. Perhaps Apple isn't the only company devoting time to creative, outside-the-box thinking, but they have certainly been the most successful, at least compared to their direct competition.

One of these legendary innovations Apple has made to their design, includes the use of magnesium-aluminum chassis, a type of metal. This metal is featured in the casing of Apple's Macbook Air, an ultra-thin and lightweight notebook. The new design was met with high demand, sparking a chain reaction in the notebook industry. In order for competitors to stay competitive, they would need to start producing ultra-thin notebooks, called ultrabooks, which is a notebook that is less than 0.8 inches thick.

There is a clear market demand for ultrabooks. The casings of these computers, however, is a bit tricky. In order to have such a thin notebook, the casing has to be both thin and very strong, so that the inner-workings of the computer stay secure and protected. Apple found two solutions to this durability problem. The first was to use flash storage, which is much more durable than the spinning pieces of the traditional hard-drive, and the second was to use the metal chassis.

Apple's success is making it more and more difficult for competitors to keep up. Being the first to commission this material, and the considering the company's significant profit margin, it was relatively easy for them to corner the market on magnesium-aluminum chassis.

Competitors have been running into some trouble matching the thinness and durability of the Macbook Air. The main reason being that producing a unibody magnesium-aluminum chassis casing, requires an expensive tool, called a CNC lathe. This requirement has posed a significant barrier to competitors, as the only two vendors with CNC lathes are already suppliers of Apple.

The high cost of CNC lathes has made it very difficult for any other venders to break into the market and produce the material. The two venders currently able to produce metal chassis are Taiwan-based Catcher Technology and Foxconn Technology, who work with a combined total of over 10 thousand CNC lathes. Apple, being the first to commission these cases, is already using both venders as suppliers, leaving the rest of the notebook industry to compete for Apple's leftovers.

Fortunately, a Taiwan-based chassis producer, Mitac Precision, has found a way into the market. The company has found that fiberglass chassis is comparably durable to magnesium-aluminum chassis, and cheaper to produce.

The fiberglass chassis is made from an RHCM process and combined with plastic for extra sturdiness. The cost of producing a fiberglass casing is about $20 less expensive than the cost of the magnesium-aluminum casings. The company expects to be able to sell the fiberglass ultrabooks for around $50 to $100 less than the metal ultrabooks.