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Less plastic, more metal

The Alcoa Consumer Electronics Blog has a correspondent at the Consumer Electronics Show who notes that big flat-screen TVs and other cool gadgets seem to be trending away from plastic and toward metals (the Alcoa folks are understandably happiest about the aluminum frames).

Well, Happy New Year! In 2009, not just one, but many OEMs have have introduced aluminum and perhaps other metals into their display frames. We are seeing a broad industry trend to use real metals in display frames and enclosures of notebook PCs and mobile phones as well. OEMs seem to particularly rely on metal as a design accent and “ribbon” around the periphery of the enclosure. Some OEMs, like Sharp, Panasonic, Toshiba, and Sony are showcasing stunning and innovative uses of aluminum within their display frames.

Beyond TVs, we are seeing other OEMs in both mobile phones and notebook PCs get creative with the use of metals and aluminum in their display enclosures. ASUS continues to introduce impressively designed notebooks and netbooks into the market. And RIM, which had a product portfolio last year almost entirely of plastic phones, has introduced multiple models this year that incorporate metals and/or aluminum.

Either of these trends reflects things happening in markets Caterpillar serves: plastics are oil-based, so last year’s absurd run-up in oil prices made metals look much more attractive, particularly on electronic doo-dads that have very narrow profit margins. Sadly, this blip could not prevent Alcoa from getting its clock cleaned today (down 7 percent at the moment; ouch) because of a lousy earnings outlook that’s also dragging Cat down.

Today’s bloodletting aside, product diversity is one thing you have to like about Cat: low oil prices might hurt the business for keeping drilling rigs running, but that might encourage more metals to be mined, triggering more demand for off-highway trucks and loaders (except when the entire commodities sector is getting beaten to smithereens in a demand-driven market downturn, which is what’s happening now).

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Tom Mangan posted at 11:31 am January 12th, 2009 |

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