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The Millennium Bug

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The Millennium BugDon't let it bring your company to a stand still.

Old software and firmware can be based on a two digit date code, and crash in the year 2000. Chances are, you've heard of this, but what are you doing? While most have addressed the issues as related to their information and management systems, the effects to equipment out in the plant may have been over looked. Problems caused by the millennium bug could not only effect production, but could jeopardize safety.

The first and foremost step to insure your company does not lose millions related to this problem, is to investigate how this will effect the technology out in your plant. Is the equipment and all the equipment interfaced to it, Year 2001 ("Y2K one") compatible? Then you'll need to compose a plan to remedy the situation. Last and surly not least, you will need to insure that the vendors who supply you, have took measure against the date problem.

Assess your company's vulnerability to the year 2000 problem.

As an example the Automotive Industry Action Group (AIAG) put together a "year-2000" task force. The learning , investigation, and assessment of the situation, can be a very time consuming process. For a CNC machine, you would contact the OEM. They may have chose not to have addressed the issue in their older equipment. They would in turn, direct you to the vendor who designed the computer control part of their machine. They may tell you that the system is based on a 286 CPU standard computer, and to replace the mother board, or a chip. On the other hand, they may be out of business, and require you to seek information else where, like the Internet, or a company that specializes in dealing with the Millennium bug. Do to the highly competitive nature of the electronics industry, and the long life of industrial electronic controls, it is not uncommon for a vendor to be found no longer in business.

The software side of it may have to be changed also. On the top level, for example a CNC job with cut pattern may not be able to start until a valid date is entered. At the next lower level, the computer running the CNC program in assembly language, may be checking date to validate code. Then on even a lower level, the BIOS chip in the computer, or a CPU, memory, etc., may have the code permanently burned into it. In the later case, the chips would have to be replaced.

Spend some scheduled down time testing for a date problem in your automation equipment. Enter the date of 2001, and see how it might effect the operation of equipment. While in most cases if a problem exist, it will be logically evident. But keep a look out for indirect consequences. Computers may accept the date, but have negative effects in other ways that are not apparent at first. Even some PLCs are not Y2K compatible. The Relay Ladder Logic may be sending a date code to another interface, via a date stamp. The way the programmer developed the ladder logic, may have duplicated this Millennium bug. The PLC it's self may have a bug when dealing with date code too.

Use your Internet connection to search for articles on the date problem at vendor's sites, like Rockwell Automation for Allen Bradley PLCs. You can also check for articles like this one to better educate the staff at your plant. An unsuspecting maintenance staff, could open a hole new can of worms, while troubleshooting the Millennium bug unknowingly.

While your MIS, and other computer departments will probably be well aware of date problems with their computers, they will not have the shop savvy to deal with production equipment alone. They will be a valuable resource in directing you to the places where more information is located. They may also be able to help locate a consulting firm that specializes in this year-2000 bug. Cap Gemini America (N.Y.), Gartner Group (Stanford, Conn.), Raytheon Engineer. & Construction (Lexington, Mass.), and Floor Corp. (Irvine, C.A.) are some such consultants, to name a few. These companies are especially helpful to the companies that don't have a Electronic Tech. Or engineer on hand to address these Millennium bugs.

While questioning your vendors as to assurances that they have prepared for the date problem, share any information you have collected. Yes vendors are critical to the flow of your product too. As an example, your company may be an box company (corrugated), and your vendor a paper mill. They may be late on shipments because they where struck by the Millennium bug unsuspectingly. They may use Foxboro equipment for automation and control, but did not contact them as to what steps they should take to prepare for the year 2000. Wonderware Corp. is another widely used automation company, and both have information about their equipment and the date bug, readily available.

In summary, follow these steps….

  1. Assign teams to asses all areas of the company.
    1. Information systems
    2. Production equipment
    3. Warehouse
    4. Vendors and Corporate connections
  2. Asses Software, allowing more time for proprietary and custom programs.
  3. Asses Hardware problems, contacting OEM, and testing.
  4. Set plans in place to prioritize and repair problem areas spotted by teams.
  5. Set requirements for all new system purchases, that they are Y2K compliant.
  6. Survey Vendors and corporate connections, to insure they have addressed the Millennium problem.

Look at this year 2000 date problem as an challenge and opportunity to improve, not as a waste of money on a poor product. Most OEMs are not going to warranty such a problem, but insist that you buy the new updated product. And if your in engineering or a maintenance manager, take off the last day of they year 1999. Because you will probably be called in at 12:01 am to fix any problems you did not attend to before that day.

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