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Glass fiber reinforced plastic chassis fueling ultrabook wave 2012-04-26

Comparable to metal chassis with high price-performance ratio

After Intel stepped forward to lead the development of the new-generation notebooks, the light-weight, slim, and high-performance ultrabooks hit the market shelves in just a few months and became the most inquired about products in the consumer market, prompting brand vendors to accelerate the pace of introducing new models. Mitac Precision Technology Co., Ltd, an affiliate of Getac Group – with its outstanding achievement in chassis component design and manufacturing, as well as its advanced rapid heat cycle molding (RHCM) process and its technology for making glass fiber reinforced plastic chassis – has received Intel’s recognition and joined the ultrabook supply chain with the prospect of providing ultrabook brand vendors with more price-competitive chassis solutions.


Ever since Apple released the MacBook Air and iPad, the direction of consumer electronics development has changed. Therefore, the Intel-led development of ultrabooks has strict standards over the device’s weight and thickness. According to the standards, the device’s thickness must be less than 20mm. And if the models are 12-inch or smaller, they need to be even thinner than 18mm. As for the weight, the device must be under 1.5kg to qualify as an ultrabook. To achieve the target of slimness, many ultrabook brand vendors have chosen metal chassis as their top priority because in terms of rigidity, weight and thickness, ordinary plastic chassis are no match to metal ones. However, the only drawback of the metal chassis is their high production cost, which is keeping the end-market prices of ultrabooks at high levels and preventing them from dropping to their originally intended price of US$1,000. Therefore, if brand vendors can adopt glass fiber reinforced plastic chassis, which is more price-competitive than metal ones but similar in sturdiness, ultrabooks’ penetration will definitely grow fast.


The glass fiber reinforced plastic chassis is highly sturdy; yield rates can be greatly enhanced by RHCM process


Adding glass fibers to reinforce plastic and strength its sturdiness and rigidity has been a common practice for many years. But technological limitations have only allowed an average addition of about 5-30% of glass fibers. If the proportion of glass fibers has to be increased and at the same time good fluidity of the mixed materials has to be maintained, crystalline plastic materials have to be used. Since traditional reinforced plastic chassis makers are not very familiar with the process of handling crystalline materials, they have to achieve desirable hardness for reinforced plastic chassis by making them thicker. As a result, the plastic chassis of notebook models currently available on the market mostly have a thickness between 1.5mm and 1.8mm, making them not only much thicker but also 30 to 50% heavier than metal ones.


Therefore, to produce reinforced plastic chassis with sturdiness similar to metal ones while still meeting ultrabooks’ slimness requirements, makers can add high portions of glass fiber during the chassis production process. Mitac Precision’s glass fiber reinforced plastic chassis materials for ultrabooks have a proportion of 50% glass fiber to strengthen the chassis’ sturdiness and provide better protection than ordinary reinforced plastic ones. In terms of lightness and thinness, the glass fiber reinforced composite chassis also achieves excellent results. The thickness of a single piece, depending on the differences in structural design, can be reduced to as low as 1.0mm, similar to metal chassis’ 0.9mm. As for weight, both the glass fiber reinforced composite chassis and metal ones are more acceptable to users. The smaller the size, the smaller the difference in weight. The weight difference for ultrathin models under 12 inches is only within 5%.


In addition to the requirements of lightness and slimness, the appearance is also one of the crucial factors for consumer electronics products. Currently, conventional reinforced plastic chassis makers employ an injection molding technology where melted plastic materials are injected into a mold that has been heated up to 40 to 50 degrees and then are removed after cooling off and taking shape. Such a production method will often create floating fibers and welding lines on the surface, resulting in undesirable appearance that needs to be go through post-molding processes such as surface polishing and gloss-finish coating to improve the looks. The Rapid Heat Cycle Molding (RHCM) process adopted by Mitac Precision is a production process technology that enables molding through quick changes in temperatures. When the mold’s has been heated to the high temperatures necessary for the materials, plastic material with a high portion of glass fiber will then be injected into the mold. After it takes shape, the mold’s temperature will quickly reduce to around room temperature and the product will then be removed from the mold. Compared to the conventional plastic production process, products manufactured on the RHCM process technology not only have excellent dimension uniformity, but also glossy surfaces without floating fiber or visible welding lines. The production cycle is also greatly reduced compared to the conventional method. Even when post-molding surface treatment is needed, the glass fiber reinforced plastic chassis do not have any limitations, leaving flexibility and room for notebook appearance designs.


Dr. Peter Chu of Mitac Precision’s Core Technology Department Center pointed out, “Every manufacturing process will rely on the perfect match between the equipment, molds and materials. Mitac Precision has already accumulated seven years of experience in the RHCM process and also has more than three years of experience in mass production of glass fiber reinforced plastic materials. Mitac Precision’s glass fiber reinforced plastic chassis, enabled by the RHCM process technology, delivers a glossy and elegant feel without need of spray-painting, while allowing the company to maintain its leading position in terms of yield rates, quality and cost-competitiveness during mass production.”


Currently, Mitac Precision is already able to start supplying cost-competitive glass fiber reinforced plastic chassis that are almost as slim and tough as metal ones. The glass fiber reinforced plastic chassis can be applied not only to notebooks, but also to tablet PCs. Brand vendors’ new ultrabooks with glass fiber reinforced plastic chassis are expected to hit the market shelves appear in the second quarter of 2012.



Big investment in establishing a laboratory lays the foundation of the company’s development


The reason Mitac Precision has been able to achieve a quick rise with its glass fiber reinforced composite chassis is mainly down to the company’s persistence in developing innovative technologies. Unlike conventional chassis makers’ operating strategy, Mitac Precision is committed to developing differentiating technologies. A few years ago we established a university-level laboratory internally, dedicated to research and development work to help enhance the company’s RHCM process technology. The company has also been aggressive in investing in the R&D and testing of basic materials, new production processes and all kinds of new surface treatment technology to improve the chassis’ appearance. The company’s glass fiber reinforced plastic chassis and bio-material chassis have all been developed in this lab.


The laboratory has a total floor area of approximately 2,000 square meters, and has all kinds of advanced R&D equipment and precision analysis instruments including the scanning electron microscopy (SEM), atomic emission spectrometer (AES) and thermo gravimetric analyzer (TGA). In addition, the company’s laboratory also has a team of talented experts and engineers with strong scientific R&D capabilities, rich experience in testing work and professional expertise. They have long-term commitment to developing new technologies to help clients improve the competitiveness of their products.


While many OEMs are being hit by drastic falls in profitability, Mitac Precision remains unscathed because of its enhanced competitiveness. In addition to its expertise in supplying chassis solutions, the company can also provide a full range of inspection and testing services to become the designated partner of most of the global PC brand vendors and play a key role in the ultrabook supply chain.



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