LONDON - For 10 years, automative Computing power increased. Sensors like GPS tracking systems became widespread. It is beginning to become possible to monitor and make efficient the delivery of thousands of parts.
Less than eight years ago the industrial economist Hans-Joachim Warnecke published his theories on the fractal factory, in which major component suppliers would not only deliver to the premises but also fit sub-assemblies on the line itself.
The principle so far has been wholeheartedly embraced by Skoda in Europe and by Volkswagen in Brazil, and other makers from Ford to Micro Compact Car have taken steps in that direction.
Logistics - the efficient movement of the parts - is essential to the concept.
'In many respects the automotive industry is one of the innovators in the field of logistics,' said David Holmes, managing director of Paragon Software Systems plc.
'Whereas many industries are just beginning to regionalize, or perhaps nationalize, the automotive industry is at a stage of internationalization, with logistics operators that span both western Europe and what was much of eastern Europe.'
Next, said Holmes, is to establish common procedures and practices on a global scale.
'Three or four years ago it was common practice for operators to use several different contractors within one country. Now the trend is towards formal partnerships and the use of one company within a country or indeed throughout several countries.'
Logistics applies to moving finished cars to customers and to the more complicated task of getting the raw materials processed first into parts, then into assemblies, then into cars.
Parts move by sea, rail and truck. The truck fleet serving European factories is about 8,000 vehicles.
The value of logistics to the automotive industry is impossible to quantify, according to one senior executive in the logistics business.
'You would have to go through the whole operation of every factory and look at how it is working to estimate what could be saved,' he said, 'but it is a lot.'
London analyst James Capel has said that European industry as a whole could save $9.6 billion a year with more efficient logistical support. The automotive portion could be as much as $4 billion.
Because the assembly industry is turning to sub-assemblies, timing of deliveries has taken on a new importance.
And once on the premises, these sub-assemblies are subjected to further and even more stringent management control as they make their way to the production line.
While few factories yet approach a fractal future, many have taken a substantial step towards it.