YEAR 2000 PROBLEM: IMPACT ON CONSUMER AND MEDICAL ELECTRONIC DEVICES
By Ziep Vuong (Vziep@aol.com)
Y2K problem in consumer electronic devices ? It's easy to understand how desktop computers might have problems with the two digit year "00" but why do household consumer products, medical devices, traffic lights, elevators, and similar systems care about dates? The common attribute in all these devices is that they have embedded processors that are customized to track the time. Here are some functionalities of how these devices deal with dates and how they might fail at the Year 2000.
Date Programmable Devices. VCRs, video cameras, fax machines, and copiers fall into this category. These devices utilize embedded processors that can have the date programmed by the user. Some more important devices such as thermostats, security systems and traffic lights use date tracking to alter system behavior on weekends. For example, to save energy costs, many industrial thermostats can be programmed to reduce the temperature in a commercial building that is unoccupied on weekends.
Hidden But Unused Date Capability. Some embedded processors have date functionality but are not programmed to use it. No dates are processed but the computer chip contains a complete date routine that could use two digit years. Like a time bomb, the software may malfunction when its calendar rolls over to "00" and the device becomes disabled until the computer chip is reset or replaced.
Time-duration Processing. Many computerized control systems calculates time duration. Take for example, a manufacturing process requires a valve to be turned on for ten minutes every hour and the system uses an embedded processor with full time/date capability to do it. There are two ways to count the minutes. The first uses the computer's "clock" which simply ticks regularly ten times per second. To count ten minutes, the software counts six thousand ticks of the clock. The second method uses the computer's date-time function for calculation. When you ask, it tells you the time and date. Not just the time, but the complete time AND date. Time durations can easily be calculated by continuously subtracting two time-dates until the result equals the time duration needed.
Data Recording. Many automated systems collect and store data from sensors that continuously monitor physical conditions such as voltage, temperature, pressure, speed, etc. The data are then analyzed on a real-time or historical basis to track system performance or capacity. Dates are used in these measuring systems because the data are meaningless without knowing WHEN the measurement took place.
Single-purpose Systems. Many systems utilize personal computers with specialized, date dependent software. Examples include parking, electronic toll collection, access control, and facility security systems. Parking and toll collection systems, for example, use dates and times in fee calculations. Such systems can fail at the century date turnover because they actually process dates internally.
High-level Management Systems. Many large applications tie smaller systems together for high-level management purposes. A high-rise office building, might coordinate the management of parking, access control, security alarms, environmental, elevators, fire alarm, and sprinkler control with a single management computer. This would enable such capabilities as disabling elevators when a fire is detected or on weekends when the building is empty. In some cases, the individual components may not be date sensitive, but the larger system could be vulnerable. Elevator manufacturers such as Otis, for example insist their products are free from date sensitivity but many elevator or building management systems process dates for maintenance or system performance tracking.
THE GOOD NEWS
The good news is that the Y2K date shortcut will not have a significant impact on most consumer electronic products. According to a recent Washington Post survey of major appliances and consumer electronics manufacturers, the following devices will not go wild once the ball drops in Times Square on Year 2000 New Year's eve.
Automobiles - No Problem - Automobiles, most of those manufactured in the last decade have at least one microprocessor under the hood. But those chips, which perform such function such as triggering a 'service car' indicator lamp, generally rely on mileage and ignition starts rather than dates (according to Ford, General Motors, Chrysler, Honda and Toyota).
Household Appliances - No Problem - Digital clocks and watches have a mathematical formula that determines the day of the week and number of days in a particular month and therefore are not troubled by the turn of the millenium (According to Timex and Casio) - Cameras manufactured by Canon, Nikon and Kodak will function without trouble. Kodaks with a date stamp, have a 25-year calendar built in into their memory. - Video recorders, most old models should be Y2K trouble-free because they generally have only 14-day calendars. Most newer models are Y2K compliant (according to Panasonic and Samsung). - Home telephones and cellular phones will almost operate properly; however phone companies and cellular service providers are working feverishly to ensure that services will not be disrupted. - Televisions will not go black (according to Panasonic, Sony, Samsung). - Coffee makers will still brew on New Year's Day 2000. Many of these machines can be programmed to start at a certain time, but Mr Coffee, Black and Decker, Norelco Products said the appliances do not track either the week of the year. - Microwave ovens made by major manufacturers will go trouble-free because clocks in these appliances do not track the year say Kitchen Aid, Sharp, Panasonic, Samsung, Goldstar, Sears. - Ovens that can be programmed to turn on automatically rely on computer clocks but will not have the Y2K glitch because they do not track the year. - Washing machines and dryers should function without interruption say Sears, Whirlpool and Maytag. - Dishwashers in some cases can be programmed to turn on automatically, but even those with a clock will not have a Y2K problem because they do not track the day of the week, month or year. - Refrigerators and freezers made in recent years all have embedded devices that prevent frost from building up, they are activated based on the frost itself and not by a calendar. - Thermostats and air conditioners have devices that keep track of time but do it on a weekly rather than annual basis (According to Honeywell, Emerson Electric, and Carrier, Panasonic, Friedrich Air, Whirpool).
Office Gadgets - Potential Problem - Fax machines manufactured during the 1990s generally will be problem free. Older machines made by NEC and Panasonic including some made in this decade may have clocks that malfunction or require resetting. - Pagers made by Panasonic and NEC should not have problems. Motorolla has has reported that 'certain Motorolla Pager products shall require upgrades to be Year 2000 ready'. The telecommunications networks providing pager services are still working to make sure their systems will function.
THE BAD NEWS -
Medical devices Year 2000 non-compliant medical device problems can be widespread. There are thousands of types of medical devices that can be affected by the Year 2000 glitch. There are defibrillators, pacemakers, cardiac monitoring systems, ventilators, vital sign monitors, blood pressure machines, dialysis machines, ultra sound machines, radiation machines, infusion pump, imaging scanner and many others. For instance, some pacemakers plug into personal computers to relay information. Corrupted data may be a problem if the Year 2000 confuses the computer. That problem could affect the prescribed treatments from the medical provider. Hospitals are currently working to identify what devices need correcting or replaced. But unlikely that all of the repairs or replacements will be made by Year 2000. There have been no predictions that patients will die because of the Y2K glitch, but some federal officials fear some devices might not work as intended and pose a hazard to patient care. In an effort to gauge the status of various medical devices, the Food and Drug Administration and VHA have mailed out questionnaires to various medical device manufacturers. However the medical device industry is trailing in its feet for responding to the FDA inquiry.
At a July 1998 Senate hearing to assess potential threats caused by the millennium bug, Kenneth Kizer, undersecretary for veterans health at the VA, told the Senate Committee that 233 of the 1,600 manufacturers that have supplied medical devices to the VA have not responded to the agency's "multiple inquiries" as to whether their devices are Y2K-compliant. Kizer brought to the hearing medical equipment that depends on computer date codes, including an infusion pump, a magnetic resonance imaging scanner and a ventilator, to explain how the equipment will malfunction if the equipment is not Year 2000-compliant. Although most recently manufactured medical devices should be unaffected by the Year 2000 problem, Kizer said many hospitals and health care systems, including some of the 1,000 hospitals and medical clinics the VA operates nationwide, still use devices that are two or three decades old. Kizer said the VA's medical facilities have 855 models of devices and equipment that are not Y2K compliant, and about 20 percent of these will not be made compliant by the manufacturer.
All told, the FDA had identified 1,935 manufacturers of medical devices that might be vulnerable to Y2K problems but that only 755 had responded. This included medical product firms in virtually every state in the US and in some foreign countries. Many manufacturers have chosen not to respond and over 100 of these manufacturers are no longer in business. Only half who have responded, reported that their devices are Y2K compliant. Many companies do not release data until they complete all of their product assessments, while others have found it difficult to track down data because of corporate mergers. Ramin Mojdeh, a representative of the Health Industry Manufacturing Association, that make nearly 90 percent of the $58 billion worth of health care technology products purchased annually in the United States, said that manufacturers of medical devices need to begin fixing the problem. But he also said that a fix for the Year 2000 problem cannot be applied with a one-size- fits-all solution.
So how does one find out if their medical equipment or medical procedures will be unaffected by the year 2000 date change? To assist the public, the Veterans Affairs Department and the Health and Human Services Administration have jointly established an online database to provide doctors, hospitals and patients with timely Y2K information on biomedical equipment. This new Federal Y2K Biomedical Clearinghouse, operated by the FDA, can be found at this Web address: www.fda.gov/cdrh/yr2000/ year2000.html.
Those who depend on medical devices and procedures should take personal steps to make sure they are safe. It is likely that some of the critical medical devices used in hospitals around the world will slip into year 2000 cardiac arrest.
Baltimore, MD. Sun, 1 Nov 1998
Copyright (c) - Ziep Vuong & VACETS