Should you be concerned about what happens to the CNCs in your shop when we reach the end of this century less than two years from now? Are they year 2000 compliant or more commonly referred to as Y2K compliant? With less than two years remaining, some estimates say 80 percent of businesses are still not prepared.
What is the problem? For years most software designers have utilized a 2-digit number to represent the year. The default, or implied, century was "19." This has worked until now, but with the upcoming change in the millennium it can have a major impact on computer systems in many businesses since the "00" representing the year 2000 will be interpreted as 1900. This will have some obvious disastrous affect on companies involved in life insurance, banking, securities, pensions, medical, or Social Security services and it can also have some not so obvious effects on manufacturers using computers, including CNCs on the shop floor.
What is the date standard? National and international standards organizations are addressing the Y2K problem by recommending date standards. The international standard date notation recommended for use in computer hardware and software is CC-YY-MM-DD where CC = century, YY = year, MM = month, and DD = day. The U.S. federal government has adopted this standard for the purpose of electronic data exchange in any recorded form among agencies. Many states, as well as companies, have also announced they have adopted this standard.
How is the CNC affected? It is easy to understand the importance of banking and investment computers handling dates correctly when it is our money that could be affected but for CNC machines the Y2K impact may not be obvious. For many older NC machines that do not employ a date function and are not connected to a plant's Local Area Network (LAN), there will be no impact when the year changes to 2000. But for many of the newer CNCs, especially PC-based controls that are connected to LANs, there will most likely be problems if they are not Y2K compliant. Since these controls are connected to engineering and programming file servers as well as the Internet they will be expected to interface dates correctly as the millennium changes.
Additionally, when it comes to PC-based controls, both CNC manufacturers and users have become increasingly dependent on the date and time stamp functions provided in these controls. Some control builders utilize a date and time stamp on all alerts and error messages and keep a computerized log of these events for maintenance purposes. Additionally, some CNCs offer time-based temporary turn on codes for try-out of software options where users can try out an option before buying. Machine tool builders also make use of the CNC's temporary options for machine prove-out. For companies using these features of the CNC, there will most likely be problems if their controls are not Y2K compliant.
Who complies? With less than two years remaining until we usher in the new millennium, many computer hardware and software companies are beginning to advertise their products as Y2K compliant. This includes products such as motherboards, printers, file servers, and even CNCs.
There is a broad range of companies advertising their services to help in identifying where a company will experience problems when the calendar rolls over to the year 2000. Those responsible for information systems in larger companies say the trickiest part of fixing the Y2K problem is finding all of the codes that need to be changed. There are software tools available to help companies and agencies analyze source code and locate date fields. These products work several different ways. Some use clock simulators to flag applications that produce errors when the calendar rolls over to 2000, others use browsers to scan text for date references. Some software companies such as ADPAC, Peritus Software Services, and Trans-Century Data Systems have gone to artificial intelligence-based systems to fix date references.
The question of whether your shop will be adversely affected by the change in the millennium depends on the degree of interrelationship the shop has with other departments of your plant and with the outside world. A stand-alone CNC, not connected to the plant LAN system and not utilizing the more sophisticated diagnostic tools, will have no noticeable effect. However, if you are connected, which a growing number of shops are, it is time you checked the impact of the year 2000 compliance on your operations.