Manufacturers May Grind Gears over Y2K Dates
From ITAA Y2K Outlook
Uploaded to the CPSR-Y2K Mailing List, 1997-07-05

Will the century date change become one huge wrench in the works of U.S. manufacturers? Quite possibly. Industrial plants and factories are often packed to the rafters with highly automated, very sophisticated, thoroughly integrated, and very date intensive information systems. Systems which monitor and control production operations. Track inventory. Schedule maintenance. Communicate with suppliers and customers. And much more.

Leading manufacturers have raised factory automation to the point where the factory itself is almost one big machine. Synchronized to the minute. Linked inside and out. "Demand pulled" so that the company builds only what it knows it will sell. But for all the innovation and productivity of manufacturing companies today, Y2K is set to sound a discordant note among plant managers more attuned to highly orchestrated plant operations. Two tiny digits may cause havoc among major production systems. But unlike payroll, accounting or customer service, when production lines stop running, revenues stop flowing. And that's the point at which, for many manufacturers, the fat lady sings.

Clearly, there's much at stake. So why does the scope of so many corporate Year 2000 programs stop at the factory gate? Why don't plant engineers -- technical people to the core -- respond immediately to a major technical threat in their midst? Why is the Y2K marketplace focused so completely on legacy administrative systems? Why are manufacturer's so slow to respond to a clear and present business danger?

Fluor Daniel Systems Integration Director Ken Owen tried to answer these and other questions for an SPG conference audience last week in Chicago. Fluor Daniel is an $11 billion worldwide engineering construction company building a unique and much needed presence in the Y2K marketplace among industrial clients. According to Owen, there is a huge amount of software in plants and factories which is largely flying under the radar of many corporate Y2K efforts.

In the manufacturing environment, the Year 2000 looms both big and ugly.

Start with big. A single industrial plant is often honeycombed with date dependent systems. At the high end, plant management systems perform advanced planning, supply chain management, production scheduling, asset management (equipment maintenance), enterprise resource planning, and shop floor transactions. Quality management systems may be conducting in-line and end of line product testing. Process engineering may be performing document management and perhaps even on-the-fly process modeling. At ground level, process information management systems are used to control instrumentation, machinery, and robotics as well as the plant environment, waste management, regulatory monitoring, facilities and the like. The date problem could be in pre-compiled proprietary software programs found in process controllers and other devices which operate machine functions on the shop floor; it could also be embedded into the microprocessors and circuitry of sensors, actuators and similar units in

Think of a modern factory as one big clock. Dates are gathered and stored by data collection systems, used to calibrate and turn equipment off and on, to set production cycles, to create product records, to schedule equipment maintenance, and to timestamp products. Owen says big gets even bigger as companies operate multiple plants, in numerous geographic locations, with different manufacturing operations and varying levels of manufacturing complexity.

Meanwhile, strategies for coping with all of this manufacturing system resource may be weak, perhaps even non-existent. On the corporate and administrative side of the house, the data center has reduced risk of system failures through standardized practices like change and test management, software version control, data base administration, and robust documentation. Manufacturing environments generally march to a different and much faster drummer. In this environment, Owen maintains production is all important and engineers are less likely to get bogged down in formal approaches to software acquisition, development and maintenance. Companies create incentives based on meeting weekly and monthly production quotas, not Y2K milestones, Owen says.

"People in plants are driven by operational metrics -- it's very hard to break out of that mindset," Owen claims. "Mandates are fine, but unless the company says, 'this situation will be fixed, here are the metrics you must meet, and here's how you will be monitored,' it's difficult to get the attention of plant management." He maintains that it's also difficult for companies to cross the bridge from mandates to metrics; meanwhile, the emphasis on "here and now" production requirements explains why it is so hard for plant management to focus on a software problem many view as over two years away.

Owen says few plants maintain IS support staff, so that means greater reliance on systems vendors for the Y2K conversion. "Legacy tools may work for half of what we need," Owen says, "But I don't think you're going to find a tool to scan the ladder and logic in a programmable logic controller." These systems are almost never written in COBOL and, he says, often as not, source code is not available. Owen says that compliance statements from software vendors may not always be accurate. When the software is logic buried in an electronic device or circuitry, a compliance statement may not even be available. "Equipment manufacturers will give you specifications, but they don't generally test the date sensitivity of their products," Owen says, adding that providers may answer specific questions, but it's often up to the customer to know what questions to ask. "You want to know whether a product has a clock, if its chips use dates, whether the dates are absolute or relative, where the

Manifold date laden systems. A decentralized, perhaps non-existent approach to systems management. Throw in hundreds, perhaps even thousands, of data feeds from suppliers, and the situation for many companies can become down right ugly. So ugly, in fact, that Owen says some manufacturing firms -- when they finally understand the true scope of their exposure -- are ready to hit the panic button.

Owen says the Fluor Daniel approach gets risk back into perspective by looking at three broad categories: business, including production, operations and economics; environment, covering areas like regulations, emissions, and material handling; and safety. Other factors to be assessed, he said, include the number and size of plants, location, complexity of operations, linkages, quality concerns, and the probability of various problem scenarios.

Because the readiness of manufacturing systems goes so directly to the issue of whether or not businesses will have a business in the Year 2000 and beyond, Owen tries to put his clients on a combat footing. The process begins by identifying mission critical work flows. Work flows yield operations; operations are composed of systems and applications. A framework is built, components classified and priorities assigned.

If this is a war, Owen is ready to take casualties. "Define what you can get done," Owen says, "What is most important to do and what can we let fail? Clients with a long list of mission critical systems must go back and perform triage a second time. Important things may have to die."

Owen said this process may force some companies to make difficult strategic choices: closing production lines, taking on new partners, making adjustments to production volumes, throughput rates or yields, eliminating products which may be reaching the sunset stage of commercial viability. Owen says decisions must be crisp, and that time cannot be wasted pondering ways to turn the date change situation into a value added proposition.

In fact, the Fluor Daniel plan of battle avoids overly formal processes and methods. The idea here is to eliminate critical risks while minimizing the expense of doing so. "Companies must survive," Owen says, "This is not a game and it's not going away -- it's a survival issue. So don't overdo the theoretical aspects of this situation. Do what you need to do and move on."

Index The Year 2000 Problem Home Page