The Project: Automating more of its e-commerce network, by installing robots on assembly lines that process orders from the Web.

The Payoff: The automated assembly line pumps out 900 computers an hour, vs. 300 before. Output is up 40%.

Somebody tell Dell (DELL ) Inc. to slow down. Just as the rest of the computer industry is finally catching on to Dell's vaunted e-commerce techniques, the Round Rock (Tex.) company is pioneering the next level of Web- based automation.

At Dell's plant in Nashville, online orders go directly to assembly- line robots, which fetch all the parts to create a custom-built PC. The company's one-year-old system automatically loads software onto the hard drives and tests the machines before an army of robots boxes them up for shipping.

Dell's new setup requires half as many workers as before, and it runs at three times the speed. It churns out one computer every four seconds. Dell is hurrying to automate its eight other plants. Just what the panting competition feared.

By Andrew Park

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