While few OEM plants run totally ‘make to order’, it is becoming more common that each successive vehicle build on an assembly line will be different. This requires the delivery of parts to line side in an exact order, planned in ‘time buckets’ of as little as four, or even two, hours. This sequencing requires timely and 100% accurate communication of the current version of the plan to everyone concerned.

A supplier may be co-located and supplying ‘through the factory wall’, well able to respond within a four-hour timeframe. Other suppliers may be more remote and have a greater lead time even though they are working to the same time slots. Already we can see that EDI is essential in ensuring instructions are issued, received, acknowledged and acted on within different timescales but for the same manufacturing event.

However, sequencing starts from demand signals. OEMs generally hope to work on real demand from their sales and dealer networks. That means the dealer must be able to specify a potential customer’s exact requirements and specifications, that the requirement can be scheduled and sequenced, and that the dealer is able to give the customer a realistic due date – before that customer has given up and gone elsewhere. That requires EDI.

As an example, VW in the UK has rolled out its ‘New Vehicle System’, which streamlines the way vehicles are sold and maintained. EDI is central to giving retailers timely, accurate model and option pricing and data, as well as individual vehicle history, which feeds into the build sequencing system.

Sequencing has made EDI indispensable in marking, labelling and tracking. Besides the need to uniquely identify a part or assembly to the build number on the line for manufacturing purposes, problems and recalls still occur. EDI can download to the supplier the exact and agreed unique product marking or package labelling required. That will then be identified with the vehicle throughout its history and, to close the loop, can be communicated back to the dealer in the case of a recall.

As product variability remorselessly increases, more smaller vendors are drawn into the sequencing net. More than most, such firms cannot afford to maintain large stocks of parts against uncertain demand, but need to be able to deliver as required. EDI sequence information is particularly important for them, yet until recently, smaller vendors have often been out of the loop, due to the cost of acquiring and maintaining ‘full fat’ EDI solutions. Thankfully, trends in IT such as web portals and in the provision of EDI ‘as a service’ by third parties are remedying this situation.

Data Interchange solutions have formed an entryway for many Data Interchange clients into automotive activity where sequencing is a priority. Specialist sub-assembly welder Futaba UK used a managed service from DI to facilitate the whole order processing cycle on a UK contract, using OFTP2 standards. Futaba works to an order-to-supply turnaround of just four hours. Importantly, the same solution delivered when Futaba was required to accept monthly invoice files from another major customer. Manually processing such files, where almost every component supplied is in effect a different order, is inconceivable.

Another client, Bolta, supplies components to VW and other companies in the US through a storage warehouse and trading port. EDI is needed both to deliver long-term forecasts to factories in Mexico and Germany, and to receive short-term forecasts and issue advanced shipping notices. Although the lead times are longer, the need to deliver line-side at the right time and in the right order to meet the build sequence requirement still stands.

Stefan Köhler is sales director at Data Interchange