Bring it on. That's the attitude at General Motors Corp.'s Metal Fabrication Div., where executives say they are using digital technology to cut die production costs, shave critical months off product lead times and invent new ways to produce complicated shapes in sheet metal that are taking the handcuffs off vehicle designers. The company says it is using the Web to give everyone in the chain, from design down to stamping, access to Metal Fab's computer models of dies and press lines.

The result is lower cost, higher throughput in production, better quality and quicker design-to-market, officials say. And it means manufacturing no longer may be the weakest link when it comes to getting stylish vehicles off the drawing board and on the road. Over the last five years, solid modeling has allowed GM to completely eliminate costly fullsize paper drawings of metal dies, which run roughly $4,000 per die to produce. Including the elimination of distribution costs, that saves an estimated $10 million annually. Die production costs also are down 50% over the last six years, GM says.