Much has been written lately about the Year 2000, or Y2K, problem. While it is difficult to predict what the overall impact will be, electronics manufacturers are concerned about lost production time, product-quality problems, and difficulty in meeting promised delivery dates. These concerns could translate into millions of dollars in lost revenue—and dissatisfied customers.
But in some cases, fixing the Y2K problem is easier said than done. Many semiconductor manufacturers have tens of thousands of pieces of equipment from different suppliers that keep their manufacturing operations up and running. Texas Instruments, based in Dallas, has reportedly inventoried more than 15,000 equipment items in its database that contain software with potential Y2K problems.
As in any electronics equipment, the Y2K bug can be pervasive in board or semiconductor test equipment. It can be present in any test-related software that uses dates or in hardware such as embedded controllers. To achieve compliance, manufacturers must assess, fix, and test a long laundry list of items, including test-system software, benchtop instruments, computer hardware/bios, computer operating systems, language compilers, custom programming, test-equipment calibration software, HVAC equipment, third-party components, and home-grown equipment.
While stand-alone test instruments such as voltmeters and scopes are less likely to have Y2K issues, most of them today operate on a network. As a result, many electronics manufacturers need to upgrade their operating system software and any other software applications, then update data files to reflect these new software versions.
This is a major undertaking, according to Lee Harrison, director of product test engineering at Level One Communications, a mixed-signal device manufacturer based in Sacramento, CA. Typically, it takes one day per semiconductor test system to reload the UNIX system software, bring other test programs back up, and test the system to ensure proper operation.
While time-consuming, the process is essential. A noncompliant UNIX file management system could delete or corrupt a company’s most recent design or manufacturing files so that old specifications are being used to build new components. If files are deleted or corrupted, companies also may not be able to provide copies of test data or designs to demonstrate ISO compliance.
A Phased Approach
Most Y2K methodologies recommend a phased approach including minor variations:
Assessing the inventory.
Developing a business-driven strategy.
This is the proactive approach Hewlett-Packard recommends to help customers achieve Y2K readiness. We have developed several Y2K products, including an on-site or telephone assessment to help our customers evaluate their Y2K needs and assist in system upgrades, if needed.
All new HP test and measurement products are Y2K-compliant and covered by a Y2K warranty. We also provide in-depth product information on the web, describing whether they are Year 2000-compliant, do not perform date-related processing, or are noncompliant (www.hp.com/go/year2000 or www.hp.com/go/tm_yr2000).
In addition, update paths for reaching Year 2000-compliance have been defined for all HP semiconductor or board test systems. Customers with HP systems under warranty and active software support contracts will receive free software updates as will customers who bought semiconductor test systems on or after Jan. 1, 1997. For older systems, update products can be purchased.
Minimizing the Impact
HP also can help minimize the impact of the Y2K update process with recommendations regarding backup, scheduling downtime, and network preparation activities. We will install the appropriate test-system software and drivers and advise you about what new hardware may be needed and how to best customize your test environment. However, while taking an active role, HP stresses that you are ultimately responsible for validating the Y2K readiness of your own test environments.
Level One’s Y2K strategy is based on ensuring complete product quality and on-time delivery. The company uses more than 25 HP mixed-signal semiconductor test systems and assorted stand-alone HP test products such as spectrum analyzers and scopes.
Level One called on HP to provide an assessment to determine which test equipment needed updating to achieve Y2K readiness. Some stand-alone instrumentation needed upgrading which, in most cases, could be accomplished easily by downloading software from the web to reprogram the embedded flash memory in the instruments.
All 25-plus mixed-signal semiconductor test systems require upgrading, including updating the HP-UX operating system to Rev. 10.20 and the associated revision of HP test-system software and drivers. These updates will be implemented within the next two months. To minimize impact on Level One’s revenues and product delivery, HP schedules updates in advance and eases the logistical load by ensuring that the necessary hardware and software are at the right place at the right time.
Integrated Device Technologies (IDT) in Santa Clara, CA, faces a similar situation. All nine of its HP VLSI test systems located in the United States and Malaysia need updating.
In IDT’s case, HP also has helped with logistics and coordination. For example, when it was discovered that the new software versions were too large for the hard disks on the test systems, HP preloaded new disks with the updated, Y2K-ready software. “We’re trying to fix three or four things at once, and HP has helped at all of our facilities,” said Kevin Young, director of test operations at IDT.
Because Level One’s mixed-signal semiconductor test systems are used for engineering by day and production at night and on weekends, the company is upgrading its systems in the daytime which doesn’t affect production. As a result, the company expects to maintain its revenues, product quality, and reputation for on-time product delivery.
Many electronics manufacturers are not as fortunate as Level One, especially those that share data internationally around the clock. Many manufacturers are taking one test system at a time out of production, updating it, and then putting it back.
Some manufacturers will not be able to take down their manufacturing lines for thorough, end-to-end testing. In many cases, manufacturers will have to test in a piecemeal fashion and then put solid contingency plans in place should problems occur on New Year’s Eve 1999.
While Level One would simply rather not do the extensive work involved with achieving Y2K compliance, Mr. Harrison noted some unexpected benefits, including improved customer relationships. “HP came in very early on the Y2K issue and was up-front about what we needed to do to achieve compliance. As a result, we’re being proactive. Our customers see this in a positive light and have commented accordingly.”
Looking on the bright side, upgrading to achieve Y2K compliance can have several side benefits. Some companies view the Year 2000 as an opportunity to gain a competitive advantage by installing or updating systems so they provide more advanced functionality.
For IDT, the upgrade choice was easy. “By updating our systems for Y2K, we’re not only compliant-we’re also using the latest technology,” explained Mr. Young.
In today’s networked world, actively managing and maintaining technology and keeping up with the latest hardware and software revisions are important considerations. Instead of treating the Year 2000 as a one-time event that requires software and hardware updates, HP suggests that electronics manufacturers set up periodic technology reviews, keep hardware and software updated on a regular basis, and consider purchasing an ongoing support and maintenance program.
About the Authors
Gabi Miles is the worldwide semiconductor test support marketing manager for Hewlett-Packard. A 14-year HP veteran, Ms. Miles has served in several senior marketing positions in HP’s test and measurement business. She holds a B.S. in electrical engineering from the University of Colorado and an M.B.A. from Colorado State University. Hewlett-Packard, 815 14th St. SW, Loveland, CO 80537, (970) 679-3815.
Published by EE-Evaluation Engineering
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