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1998-02-16 09:22:18


Nightmare Scenario in Manufacturing, Says INDUSTRY WEEK



Consider this evaluation: "And make no mistake about it, the impact of Year-2000-caused interruptions to business could be catastrophic, experts say. Should a shop-floor systems snafu be allowed to go undetected until itís too late, not only is the company that caused the trouble at risk, but so are its dependent business partners."

This is taken from an article in INDUSTRY WEEK (Jan. 5). This is a mainstream publication. That's why the article is so important. The article covers the major y2k areas: supply breakdowns, embedded chips, read-only memory devices that can't be reprogrammed, and corporate ignorance and apathy.

For those who continue to dismiss the whole y2k issue as hype, this article is a hard pill to swallow.

The evidence continues to mount: the Year 2000 Problem is a systemic problem. The complexity of the interelationships is gigantic -- beyond repair.

* * * * * * * *

The average manufacturer uses dates -- and calculations based on them -- to drive all manner of business processes that take place inside plant walls. These range from product-data tracking and bar-coding to scheduling and monitoring of preventive maintenance, instrument calibration, and environmental systems. . . .

When addressing Year-2000 problems, "The No. 1 mistake that manufacturers make is underestimating the risk they face at the floor level," says Tom Bruhn, director of business development for Raytheon Automated Systems, Birmingham.

"Many companies have very little appreciation of whether their products will fail or not," says David Waddington, information manager at Unilever NV, Rotterdam. "Itís really quite a nightmare scenario. Quite a few people are going to have sleepless nights dreaming about this."

And make no mistake about it, the impact of Year-2000-caused interruptions to business could be catastrophic, experts say. Should a shop-floor systems snafu be allowed to go undetected until itís too late, not only is the company that caused the trouble at risk, but so are its dependent business partners.

"It could bring an entire supply chain to a screeching halt, because some plants will not be able to deliver," says Bill Swanton, director of plant-operations research at Advanced Manufacturing Research (AMR), a Boston-based research firm. "One little guy not taking [the year 2000] seriously could shut the whole supply chain down."

Sidestepping such difficulties, however, may be a task likened to trying to extricate oneself from quicksand -- that is, the more effort you make, the deeper in you get. With some of the embedded shop-floor software widely in use today, companies will have to do some serious digging just to get to the bottom of the problem.

"You are basically going to have to track down, through layers and layers of manufacturers, some of whom may not be in business anymore, how to deal with a potential century problem [in equipment they sold you]," says Marsha Williams, information-technology manager for Cobe Cardiovascular Inc., a subsidiary of Lakewood, Colo.-based Cobe Laboratories Inc. Cobe manufactures $160 million worth of operating-room and related equipment annually.

Further complicating the challenges facing many manufacturers is the increasing complexity of -- and dependency on -- todayís supply chain. In the automotive industry, for instance, itís becoming more and more difficult to trace the path of a part or component in a clear, linear fashion.

"If you look at something like a [car] seat," says Joe Bione, a consultant with Deloitte Consultingís Detroit office, "there are three or four main suppliers. They all supply each other with components, and their extended enterprises all cross over to each other. So when someone does not provide a part that goes into another part that goes into a seat, you donít make too many seats. And there is no inventory in the system to allow for that error." Bione serves as lead global consulting partner for Chrysler Corp. and as Deloitte Consultingís lead partner on a Year-2000 task force sponsored by the Automotive Industry Action Group (AIAG), Southfield, Mich. . . .

The ongoing nature of many manufacturing processes further hampers companiesí attempts to weed out problems. "When youíre talking about embedded microprocessor logic in factory-floor equipment," states Jim Woodward, senior vice president of Cap Gemini America, New York, a firm whose TransMillennium Services Group can help manufacturers get their operations in shape for the next century, "one of the tricky areas is how to actually replicate the Year-2000 conditions before they happen" in order to conduct system tests. After all, continuous-processing plants such as power utilities canít afford to go dark after 5:00 p.m. Therefore, the solution involves testing during off-peak hours or buying backup equipment on which to simulate the desired environment.

When a problem is uncovered, often it canít be fixed by the company using the software, adds Dan Miklovic, senior analyst with Gartner Group, a Stamford, Conn.-based consultancy. Although itís fairly common for larger companies to hire hordes of COBOL programmers to attack their information-systems snags, he says, "in most plant-floor devices, the code is embedded in ROMs. So you canít change it yourself anyway, and even if you could, most of it is in assembly language, and you canít access it." . . .

However, not all equipment vendors are convinced that the millennium will be quite the time bomb that some industry sources are expecting. "To me," says David Imming, manager of integrated solutions and Year-2000 project team leader for Fisher-Rosemount Systems Inc., Austin, "there has been so much hype on this Year-2000 situation. Certainly if you look at it worldwide, for government organizations and financial institutions where they have all sorts of date calculations, they have many issues that need to be resolved. And while it needs to be taken very seriously in our industry, there are a vast number of our products that donít care at all what century it is."

At the same time, some experts are concerned that manufacturers might dismiss their Year-2000 sermons as mere hype. "We sort of hate to sound like we are Cassandra in addressing this," says John Jenkins, president and CEO of TAVA Technologies, a Denver-based systems integrator. TAVA has teamed up with Irvine, Calif.-based Wonderware Corp. (maker of the FactorySuite automation package) to offer customers a detailed program called Plant Y2K One. "But over the next 24 months," he says, "thereís a tremendous amount of work to be done."


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