MOD3BACKGROUND - AUBURN HILLS Mich David Hodgson's job is...

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AUBURN HILLS, Mich. -- David Hodgson's job is to make sure that everything from a nut or bolt to a finished car or truck gets where it needs to go at DaimlerChrysler AG's Chrysler unit. He was in his office here at the auto maker's headquarters on the morning of Sept. 11 when images of an exploding World Trade Center flashed across the television screen behind his desk. His first thought was the one shared by millions across the globe: "What the heck is going on?" Within minutes, the gravity of the answer had become clear, and Mr. Hodgson began to focus on a second thought: "Can we get parts to our plants?" The question was in the air at virtually every auto maker with operations in the U.S. The answer wasn't immediately clear, as trucks carrying parts needed to keep auto makers' assembly lines running got stuck in lines for up to 18 hours by heightened security at the U.S.-Canada border. The logistical logjam tested the ingenuity, and the stamina, of Mr. Hodgson and his counterparts at General Motors Corp. and Ford Motor Co. By now, transportation disruptions have largely passed. But for about a week, they prompted assembly-line shutdowns at an array of auto plants. At Chrysler, they last just a few hours; at Ford, they lasted several days. They exposed like never before the risk inherent in the "just-in-time" manufacturing system, in which parts are delivered to assembly plants every few hours in small batches, instead of being dropped off less frequently in big piles. The system seeks to minimize warehousing costs as well as quality problems that can result when lots of parts sit around for a long time. But it works only when the trains -- and trucks, boats, and planes --
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MOD3BACKGROUND - AUBURN HILLS Mich David Hodgson's job is...

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