In 1913, Henry Ford revolutionized product manufacturing by introducing the first assembly line to the automotive industry. Ford's hallmark of achievement proved to be a key competence for the motor company as the low cost of the Model T attracted a broader, new range of prospective car-owners. However, after many decades of success, customers have become harder to find. Due to relatively new threats to the industry, increasing numbers of cars and trucks are parked in dealer lots and showrooms creating an alarming trend of stagnation and profit erosion. Foreign-based automakers, such as Toyota and Honda, have expanded operations onto domestic shores and, in turn, have wrestled market share from American automakers. As a direct result, unit over-capacity has steadily risen, while heightened competition and diverse product lines have led to increasing customer demands.
To answer these threats, Ford has made recent attempts to transform its dated vertical integration production model into a maneuverable, efficient supply chain. Emphasizing methods such as Just-In-Time (JIT) inventory, Total Quality Management (TQM), and Synchronous Material Flow (SMF), Ford has derived a multi-tiered system of supply. The tier system consists of numerous generic suppliers, "tier two" and below, who are managed by "tier one" vehicle sub-system suppliers. The "tier one" suppliers, by nature, are completely dependent upon Ford's survival since the provided sub-system component is specific solely to Ford.
Dell and Virtual Integration
Despite the revamping effort, Ford remains plagued with prolonged Order-To-Delivery (OTD) time periods, congested inventories and error-ridden procurement processes. Upon investigation, these troublesome issues appear to be well addressed by the radically new direct business model of the Dell Computer Corporation. Dell differentiates itself through the utilization of virtual integration, an efficient and effective direct business model facilitated by electronic business providing Build-To-Order (BTO) products directly to customers. The process begins with the customer specifying exactly which features are to be included in the desired computer. Dell, then, buys components from several different suppliers via Internet-based JIT ordering. By using Dell's process of JIT ordering , misallocation of company resources is avoided and unnecessary inventory is limited resulting in a core competency of considerable cost reduction. By substituting information for inventory, Dell's lean business structure offers mass-customized machines that are ordered, assembled and delivered with reduced lead times without sacrificing margins or maintaining inventory.
Although the direct business model of Dell is most attractive, there are several key differences between the computer and auto industries which serve as barriers to Fords implementation of uniform, supply chain virtual integration. Ford must tackle many diverse obstacles that were, simply, not a factor with Dells implementation. These obstacles range down the delivery chain from the supplier to the manufacturer to the dealer and, ultimately, to the customer. Overall, the intricate and historic process of manufacturing and selling automobiles contradicts the technological innovation necessary for a true virtually integrated system to exist.
First, product complexity and supply channel constraints are key limiting factors of lean manufacturing that must be addressed. Due to the generic nature of computer parts, Dell possesses the ability to negotiate and procure necessary items for plant assembly from several independent purveyors. Therefore, Business-To-Business (B2B) transactions are accomplished with relative ease and minimal cost. Although generic items, such as spark plugs and windshield wipers, are provided to Ford by lower tier suppliers, wholly-dependent, "tier one" partners...