Updates from Chicago Booth

Ever closer to an optimally cost-efficient assembly-line operation
By Chuck Burke and Vanessa Sumo – Companies such as Dell and BMW use an assemble-to-order production strategy that keeps common components on the factory floor, ready for final assembly into the type of personal computer or vehicle that a customer orders. This is great for companies looking to satisfy a large volume of demand but that don’t want to build whole units in advance, to avoid any unsold products.

However, the difficulty of estimating how much of each component to hold in stock and how to allocate components to each product can keep companies from maximizing ATO’s benefits in practice.

A cross between two alternate production strategies

Make-to-stock strategy: MTS managers forecast consumer demand and match anticipated orders with an inventory of fully assembled products.

Make-to-order strategy: On the other hand, MTO systems wait for a customer’s order to arrive before starting production. Because this can include procuring parts and assembling components, MTO often results in a longer lead time.

Assemble-to-order strategy: An ATO strategy aims to combine the best of both systems—its flexibility lets companies fulfill large orders relatively quickly with minimal unsold inventory, yet still allows customers to partially customize orders. Here is how it works:

Managers must decide the quantity of components to order even before they can ascertain customer demand for their products.

When customers’ orders arrive, managers must then choose how to allocate the supply of components to each product for assembly. more>

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