DETROIT - The millennium bug may wreak more havoc on the plant floor than in executive offices, according to auto consultants.
Tamara Histand, a consultant with Deloitte & Touche Consulting Group in Detroit, is helping automotive companies find and fix computer problems before 2000.
She has tales of problems that would have plagued an unnamed Michigan supplier after 31 December 1999, had its computer system not been upgraded:
A factory's robotic parts-delivery vehicle would have run amok.
A water valve in a heat-treating system would have malfunctioned.
Machines that label auto parts would have failed.
Most early computer programs assume a year date beginning with '19.' Many are expected to fail when the date turns to 2000.
Some date problems occur with embedded code in computer chips built into plant hardware and control systems.
Histand spoke at the Automotive Industry Action Group's Auto-Tech conference in early September in Detroit.
'We found about 10 percent of systems had some problem,' Histand said of the unnamed Troy supplier. Of those problems, the majority 565 cases were merely inconvenient, nuisance problems. Another 78 problems were sustainable, which meant work could continue.
But 47 of the computer glitches were severe, meaning they could have stopped assembly.
Joe Bione, partner at Deloitte & Touche Consulting, said even nuisance problems can cripple a business.
'How many nuisances can you take? Would you like to come run this plant on the first day of January (2000) with 800 nuisances?'
The consultants noted that UAW strikes against two GM parts plants last summer shut down the whole company's production and demonstrated the potential effects of a computer bug in the supply chain.