Dell: Fancy laptop colors are harder than they look

Dell has made a big splash with various laptop and desktop colors as it aims to appeal to consumers. The problem: Those laptop paint jobs aren't easy.

Dell has made a big splash with various laptop and desktop colors as it aims to appeal to consumers. The problem: Those laptop paint jobs aren't easy.


You'd think a company that pioneered just-in-time inventory and build-your-own PCs would figure out something as simple as painting a laptop. Turns out there's dust, mass production issues and other problems resulting in delays of Dell's XPS M1330 and Inspiron PCs. Perhaps that's why Dell never offered colorful models before--it was inefficient.

The issues--documented by a Wall Street Journal story on Wednesday--highlight the problems Dell has as it transitions to be more consumer friendly.

I went through Dell's blog to find the original blog posts, which were missed by most of us. The initial delay posts surfaced on Dell's blog in July. The details on behind the delay surfaced earlier this month. Here's a look at the painting problems from Dell's own blog.

Here's what Alex Gruzen, senior vice president of Dell's consumer products group, wrote in a post Aug. 3:

Currently, we have worked through about 10% of our backlog and will focus on improving this going forward. Despite our best efforts, we may not be able to ship some orders before the original estimated ship date we gave you. In those cases, Dell will be contacting affected customers to let them know. Details will vary by region.

When you order a system, the estimated ship date factors in our best currently available information, including the number of orders in front of you and the availability of parts. It should not change unless something impacts one of these factors. If that happens, we will contact you.

As Lionel mentioned in an earlier post, we have found the production ramp more difficult than we expected—let me take a few minutes to explain the process. Before we begin shipping products to customers, we build a sizeable number of units to test our manufacturing process and to help flush out any issues that may impact our ability to build in volume. These test builds are a fraction of what we expect to build at full production. Once we start building a larger number of units, we may see issues that pop up in only one or two of them, but which require larger volumes to reveal themselves.  Since it's hard to tell if the issue is an isolated one or if it will affect a large number of units down the road, we investigate each one thoroughly. When that happens, it slows our build process.

And that's where the paint comes in: Gruzen noted that Tuxedo Black is the only color that's meeting Dell's quality standards. He details more:

The finish on the XPS  M1330 is similar to a custom paint job on a car, but with one additional complexity—on a car, typical viewing occurs from several feet away. With a notebook, the typical viewing range is much closer... sometimes a foot or less. This requires a different level of attention to detail.  Why do I bring that up? There was no problem painting hundreds at a time.  But as we increased the volume, otherwise manageable factors like dust contamination caused our successful yields to decrease.  Adding to the complexity, the Crimson Red and the Pearl White colors require more coats of paint and more touches to create the finished product—that means there is more opportunity for dust contamination.

 All this ultimately results in fewer finished parts from the paint line than we expected.  You may have noticed on yesterday we discontinued the Pearl White color. The reason is that we are just not able to produce the kind of volumes of high quality product that we need to support demand. It takes about 5 coats of paint to get the appearance we were looking for.

Needless to say Dell customers weren't pleased. While Dell has put its accounting mishaps behind it this Dell 2.0 transition is still ahead.