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Aluminum toolboxes: ABS leads metal substitutes

Amid rising metal costs, makers are employing the plastic in their aluminum and steel releases to minimize price adjustments.

Adoption of ABS is becoming more widespread among China's manufacturers of toolboxes and cabinets, as rising metal costs trouble the industry yet again. After falling from their record highs in 2008 during the first half of 2009, rates for aluminum and steel alloys are once more on an upward trend, putting pressure on prices. The two materials are the top choices for several styles, including cantilever boxes and large cabinets.

Aluminum toolbox
  Suzhou Xindadi offers the XTB306 tool cabinet with six drawers.

Per-ton cost of aluminum alloy, which went down to $1,778 during the first trimester from $2,635 for most of 2008, bounced back to $2,190 in August 2009 and continues to ascend.

Stainless steel, meanwhile, surged from $2,196 to $3,440 and remained over $2,600 in December. Cold-rolled steel, following its 36 percent drop in early 2009, shot up 37 percent from $644 to $889 per ton in August.

As a result of these increases, a number of suppliers raised the prices of metal models in the latter half of 2009. After cutting back quotes by 8 percent during the first half, several jacked them up by at least 5 percent. Most kept the changes within 10 percent, however, believing that anything over would dampen sales.

In comparison, ABS per-ton costs remained relatively stable. In 2009, the material stayed at the $1,460 to $1,600 range.

Consequently, suppliers that used only aluminum or steel previously are now employing the plastic for certain parts. Doing so cuts prices by more than 20 percent, allowing makers to provide clients options that will fit their budgets.

Among the manufacturers that have adopted plastic and metal combinations in their models are Foshan Nanhai Donghui Cases Products Co. Ltd, Foshan Waffy Aluminium and Metal Case Manufacturer Co. Ltd and Zhixing Aluminium Products Co. Ltd. All three enterprises offer toolboxes with aluminum frames and ABS panels.

In keeping with efforts to control prices, manufacturers are implementing only minor changes in design and structure, and mostly on request. These adjustments pertain primarily to the inclusion and location of the locks, grab rails and handles.

For some, color is the path to differentiation. Foshan Nanhai Ruizheng Aluminum Products Co. Ltd offers models in bright hues such as pink and green besides the traditional silver and black.

Products & prices
Supplier landscape
Products & prices

Standard toolboxes with open or cantilever constructions constitute the majority of output. At many suppliers, stationary and rolling chests and cabinets are offered as auxiliary lines.

Designs generally employ plastic and hardware fittings sourced from the domestic supply network. For high-end releases, however, companies often procure their requirement overseas.

Prices start below $8 and may exceed $40, depending on the construction and materials of the model.

Plastic models: Available widely for less than $15, plastic toolboxes come primarily in PP or ABS. They may be made entirely of a certain grade or have edges reinforced with metal.

Designs are injected or blow-molded. One-piece constructions with latches and handles are the mainstream, but models with separately molded covers and storage sections are also offered. The latter designs are assembled using hinges and often fitted with locks.

Versions targeting the low end are typically in recycled PP or ABS and most have only one tote tray. In the upscale segments, toolboxes made of virgin grades and layered structures with as many as three tiers plus a tray are common.

Aluminum models: Aluminum toolboxes have frames in L or half-moon profiles. Sheets 0.18 to 2mm thick are commonly used as panels, but wood, stainless steel, PVC, ABS and nylon may be employed as well. Compartments come in EVA with foam padding and fabric lining.

Portable designs in open constructions and those with multiple compartments and tool boards constitute more than 90 percent of output. Cantilever boxes and cabinets account for the rest.

Between $7 and $15, the selection consists mainly of open toolboxes with fabric interior and nylon panels. Upwards to $30, models can be fitted with three to six EVA dividers and fabric lining.

Those priced higher are generally all-aluminum constructions. Features of this segment include foam padding, fabric lining and EVA dividers.

Profiles and sheets for the toolboxes are sourced from a domestic network that consists of privately owned facilities, and those backed with financing from Taiwan or Japan. For the all-aluminum line, sheets are frequently procured in Taiwan and Japan.

Steel models: More than 70 percent of steel toolboxes from mainland China are open and cantilever types priced from $5 to $40, while the rest consists of chests and cabinets between $40 and $450. The latter also includes combination toolboxes or cabinets that come with a chest.

SPCC cold-rolled steel is the primary raw material employed in this category, but 304 stainless steel is adopted in some high-end designs. Surfaces are powder-coated with plastic.

Metal for the line is purchased directly from Shanghai Baosteel and other large domestic mills or via local distributors of these companies. Plastic powder, paint, locks, buckles, casters, handles and other fittings are also sourced within China.

Supplier landscape

Manufacturers of toolboxes and cabinets generally offer a range of designs in a certain plastic or metal instead of providing various raw material options. Together with tool storage systems, several companies provide special-application containers such as cosmetic and camera cases.

Of the industry, approximately 100 enterprises produce plastic toolboxes. In this sector, small factories can turn out up to 50,000 pieces monthly. Midsize and large operations are capable of 100,000 and 1 million pieces during the same timeframe, respectively.

For aluminum and steel toolboxes, the supplier base consists similarly of 100 companies. Compared with their counterparts in the plastic line, however, those employing metal have lower production capacity.

Makers of aluminum models can yield 30,000 to 300,000 pieces on a monthly basis. In the steel segment, small factories are capable of 5,000 to 20,000 toolboxes monthly, while midsize operations can turn out between 20,000 and 100,000.

This article "Aluminum toolboxes: ABS leads metal substitutes" is originally posted in Global Sources.

Note: All price quotes in this report are in US dollars unless otherwise specified. FOB prices were provided by the companies interviewed only as reference prices at the time of interview and may have changed.

Disclaimer: All product images are provided by the companies interviewed and are for reference purposes only. Those product images featuring products with trademarks, brand names or logos are not intended for sale. We, our affiliates, and our affiliates' respective directors, officers, employees, representatives, agents or contractors, do not accept and will not have any responsibility or liability for product images (or any part thereof) which infringe on any intellectual property or other rights of a third party.

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