Detroit-based General Motors Corp. is also moving to a build-to-order model. Executives at the nation's top automaker, which cut its inventory levels from suppliers by 10% as part of a cost-reducing measure in December, cited the challenge of having to integrate its manufacturing plants and the parts shipping schedules of its suppliers as a major obstacle the company must tackle.
Step in the Right Direction
"We have to enable our back-end systems, the systems in the plant, from a lean manufacturing standpoint and line up our supply-chain pipeline and be more efficient," said Mark Hogan, president of e-GM, the automaker's business-to-consumer Internet unit.
Thilo Koslowski, an analyst at Gartner Group Inc. in Stamford, Conn., said initiatives such as e-Smart bring automakers closer to their goal of tighter integration with their suppliers.
"A lot of the communication between suppliers and autommakers is over the phone and with fax," said Koslowski. "It's a small improvement, but they still have to solve the big supply-chain planning problem."