Automakers and suppliers have started a project to improve the way they track overseas shipments.
The Automotive Industry Action Group aims to increase the electronic tracking of parts shipments from suppliers to automakers.
"One of the problems we have is a loss of visibility as items are shipped internationally," Steve Rudelic, the group's electronic communication project manager, told Automotive News Europe, a sister publication of Automotive News.
The group's headquarters is in Southfield, Mich. Its members include more than 1,500 automakers and suppliers from North America, Europe and the Asia-Pacific region.
Half of the automakers that responded to an Automotive Industry Action Group survey said they had experienced production stoppages because of delayed ocean freight.
About 30 percent said they have added staff just to handle shipping delivery delays.
Rudelic said many shipments, or portions of shipments, get held up at customs depots. Suppliers have a difficult time tracking delayed deliveries or determining what happened to partially delivered shipments.
Solving the difficulties is getting increasingly important because of the globalization of manufacturing. Seventy-four percent of survey respondents said they have increased or maintained at current levels the amount of parts they ship.
The survey found that most companies in automotive supply chains still rely on faxes, telephone calls or letters to track goods. Many cited these methods as the primary source of their problems.
In contrast, companies that use electronic data exchange experienced far fewer communications difficulties.
Rudelic said the project came about when General Motors began looking for a better way to track goods along its international supply chain. GM realized that this was an industrywide concern and took the issue to the Automotive Industry Action Group. The group's initiative is called the Customs/Logistics Strategies to Strengthen Long Distance Supply Chains.
The project is aimed at creating an electronic file or document system that can track shipments as they move along the supply chain.
Rudelic said the association is looking at various software vendors to help create such a system.