The Manufacturing Extension Partnership and its nationwide network of centers are stepping up efforts to help smaller manufacturers avoid being bitten by the "millennium bug," Commerce Secretary William Daley and the department’s National Institute of Standards and Technology announced today.
The millennium bug, or Year 2000 date problem, refers to a flaw in the way dates traditionally have been entered into computer systems. Many computers that use two digits to keep track of the date will, on Jan. 1, 2000, recognize the double zero not as 2000, but as 1900. Since computers use dates to make calculations, this glitch could cause them to shut down or generate erroneous information.
"While there has been a lot of publicity concerning this problem, many small and medium-sized manufacturers have not yet assessed their level of risk," said Daley. "Smaller manufacturers cannot ignore the problem or hope it does not affect them. If they do, it could affect not only their competitiveness but also their ability to survive."
The Stamford, Conn.-based GartnerGroup, a leading authority on information technology issues, has reported that as of 1997, 88 percent of all companies with fewer than 2,000 employees had not yet started Year 2000 remediation projects. "Many companies that are addressing problems with their computer systems may be overlooking potential problems embedded in other systems such as machine controllers and telecommunications," said Kevin Carr, director of the NIST MEP.
MEP centers nationwide will be conducting seminars to raise smaller manufacturers’ awareness and understanding of the problem and helping client manufacturers assess their systems to determine if they have problems. If needed, MEP centers also will help smaller companies plan remediation. Carr has asked each center to designate at least one person as a Year 2000 "champion" to help coordinate center activities and services.
Working with three MEP centers—the Michigan Manufacturing Technology Center (Ann Arbor), the Great Lakes Manufacturing Technology Center (Cleveland, Ohio) and the Utah Manufacturing Extension Partnership (Orem, Utah)—NIST MEP has developed a toolkit to help center field staff deliver Year 2000 services. The toolkit includes materials to help MEP centers present Year 2000 awareness seminars to executives and senior managers of small manufacturers within their region. Also included are materials for conducting Year 2000 workshops to help manufacturers take a closer look at the problems they may encounter. A reference section is included within the toolkit to assist MEP field staff in identifying the appropriate tools and other resources that small manufacturers will need to plan and implement remediation projects. A self-assessment questionnaire and Year 2000 overview information also will be available on the MEP website at http://www.mep.nist.gov.
NIST’s MEP is a nationwide network of manufacturing extension centers providing services to smaller manufacturers in all 50 states and Puerto Rico. Through MEP, manufacturers have access to more than 2,000 manufacturing and business "coaches" whose job is to help firms make changes that lead to greater productivity, increased profits and enhanced global competitiveness. The U.S. Census Bureau surveyed 2,350 firms served by MEP centers in 1996. These companies reported an increase in sales of nearly $110 million and showed savings of $16 million in inventory and over $13 million in labor and material. They also invested more than $85 million in modernization. These companies directly attribute these benefits to the services provided by the NIST manufacturing extension centers.
As a non-regulatory agency of the Commerce Department's Technology Administration, NIST promotes U.S. economic growth by working with industry to develop and apply technology, measurements and standards.