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IBM shipping build-to-order notebooks

IBM has started to ship notebooks manufactured under its Authorized Assembler Program, apparently becoming the first in the industry to do so.

IBM has started to ship notebooks manufactured under its Authorized Assembler Program, the company's version of "build-to-order" manufacturing.

The first notebooks to be assembled through this program are ThinkPad 770 models; the initial participating resellers are Entex, Comark, and Microage. Other ThinkPad models, as well as other resellers, will be added as time goes on, a company spokeswoman said.

Trial customers include American Express, Shell Oil, and Coopers & Lybrand.

"The introduction of ThinkPad into the IBM Authorized Assembler program means that we can now offer end users and business partners the same level of customization they have had with our commercial desktop and PC Server products," said Tom Thigpen, vice president of alliance management, IBM Personal Systems Group, in a prepared statement. Thigpen runs the AAP program.

Although Fujitsu was the first to announce a build-to-order-style program for notebooks, IBM claims that it is the first company to actually ship notebooks manufactured according to this scheme.

Under build-to-order, the vendors ship bare-bones notebook systems containing a processor, and little else, to participating resellers. The reseller then inserts the hard disk drive, memory, operating system, CD-ROM drive, and other components upon customer order.

Allowing the reseller to perform final assembly means that the customer can get a more customized product. At the same time, costs are reduced because inventory is kept at lower levels. Resellers carry only parts, not completed systems, and therefore have to worry less about fully assembled computers that don't sell.

Products sold under these programs are typically designed to accommodate a variety of components.

While this sort of "delayed manufacturing" is currently used to assemble desktop computers, the design challenges associated with finishing notebooks have thus far prevented notebook vendors from relying on resellers to complete assembly. Fujitsu, said sales channel sources at Comdex, is still in the execution phase of its program.

IBM started its AAP program two years ago.