Tips for starting an alarm management program

04/20/2013


Tip 3: Build a closed-loop process to achieve, sustain positive results

Figure 2: This diagram illustrates the ISA-18.2 alarm lifecycle model. The alarm management philosophy document is the setpoint for the process. Courtesy: Emerson Process Management; source: ANSI/ISA-18.2-2009: Management of Alarm Systems for the ProcessThe fundamental concepts and benefits of a closed-loop process should be well understood. A close inspection of the alarm lifecycle model within the ISA-18.2 standard reveals its similarity to a closed-loop process with a setpoint and feedback mechanism (see Figure 2). 

A good starting point is the creation of an alarm philosophy document, which serves as the setpoint for the alarm management process. This document establishes the principles and processes for design, implementation, and maintenance of the alarm system as well as its expected performance. An incomplete or inadequate alarm philosophy—or setpoint—will likely lead to confusion, unsustainable results, and alarm management system failure. 

For example, if the alarm rationalization activity becomes mired in lengthy discussions about each alarm’s priority or need, determines that almost every alarm has a critical priority, or drifts over time in its approach to setting limits or applying conditioning, chances are high that the alarm philosophy is lacking. A good alarm philosophy, among other things, specifies the methodology for alarm prioritization, drives consistency, and includes the guiding tenets for determining all alarm settings. 

The alarm philosophy defines the desired results, which are usually measured using key performance indicators (KPIs). Typical KPIs include:

  • Alarm rate targets such as the average number of alarms per day per operator and the percentage of time the incoming alarm rate was greater than 10 alarms per 10 min. interval
  • Maximum number of alarms that have been active for more than 24 hr
  • Target alarm priority distributions such as an 80% to 15% to 5% ratio among the number of low-, medium-, and high-priority alarms.  

For the closed-loop alarm management process, the alarm system performance should be measured periodically, converted to KPIs, and assessed. However, it’s often more difficult to include effective management-supported organizational processes that:

  • Systematically review the feedback to identify issues
  • Maintain an effective management of change process that detects and prevents divergence between approved settings and actual (unauthorized) alarm settings in production
  • Promote a continuous improvement program including removing or modifying the design of ineffective alarms. 

It’s important to put significant effort into creating the alarm philosophy. Be certain to involve and get the complete buy-in of all major stakeholders (operations, control engineering, and process engineering). It is often advantageous to enlist expert consultation services to assist with philosophy creation, training on alarm management practices and principles (to aid organizational alignment), and to facilitate some starter rationalization assistance. 

Tip 4: Acquire the right tools to do the job

Finally, get the right tools to do the job. Building and sustaining an alarm management program represents a considerable and ongoing investment. The ISA-18.2 standard does not prescribe the methods for compliance; it defines only what must be accomplished. Fortunately, many good products and services are available to make it easier to implement an alarm management program in alignment with the standard and to deliver benefits to the bottom line. 

An essential tool is a master alarm database, which is the authorized list of rationalized alarms and associated attributes. Its functionality can be achieved with no more than a simple spreadsheet or database. However commercial built-for-purpose tools include powerful aids for facilitation of the alarm rationalization process, including management of change mechanisms, guided workflows for efficiency, automated transfers of alarm settings and operator guidance into (or out of) the control system, auditing capabilities, and rationalization rule sets that can be populated with choices and KPI targets taken from your alarm philosophy. 

Alarm analysis software is also essential for automating KPI collection and reporting. If the top-level objective is limited solely to nuisance alarm elimination (which hopefully is not the case), it may be the only tool you require. Alarm analysis software typically provides a mix of KPI reporting capability based on ISA-18.2’s recommended performance metrics, some general-purpose alarm investigation aids to drill into an alarm flood or a particular alarm’s history, and some bad-actor listing capability.

If the scope of the alarm management program includes advanced alarming techniques, additional tools may be required to implement presentation of alarm response procedures to operators or automate multi-alarm suppression schemes, for example. 

Some alarm management tools are offered as combined or tiered software suites and are well suited for layered applications over widely varied control systems from different vendors. Some tools are offered as individual point solutions to satisfy particular elements of the alarm lifecycle model. Some alarm management solutions from control system vendors focus on optimizing native integration. Features, integration considerations, lifecycle costs, and initial price vary considerably. When making comparisons, it is helpful to associate the major features of each offering to the lifecycle model in the ISA-18.2 standard to ensure meaningful comparisons and to ensure you have all of the bases covered. In general, having the right tools will improve efficiency and help ensure long-term consistency of your alarm management program. The ISA-18.2 standard has had a positive impact on the evolution of these software tools.

In addition, the services offered by alarm management companies and individual consultants have also benefited from the ISA-18.2 standard. Evaluating the scope of professional service proposals can also benefit from comparing them to the lifecycle model.

Kim Van Camp is product marketing manager for alarm management at Emerson Process Management where he has worked for 37 years in services and marketing positions. He is a member of the ISA-18.2 committee and of the EEMUA-191 industry review council. 

Todd Stauffer is director of alarm management services at exida and is responsible for the company’s alarm management products and services including training, philosophy development, and rationalization facilitation. He is an editor and voting member of the ISA-18.2 Standards Committee on Alarm Management and the co-chair of the ISA-18.2 Working Group 3 chartered with writing the Basic Alarm Design Technical Report. Stauffer is an instructor for ISA’s training class “Introduction to the Management of Alarm Systems.” He has published and presented numerous papers on alarm management during his more than 18 years in the automation industry, the last four of which have been with exida.


<< First < Previous 1 2 Next > Last >>

No comments
The Top Plant program honors outstanding manufacturing facilities in North America. View the 2015 Top Plant.
The Product of the Year program recognizes products newly released in the manufacturing industries.
The Engineering Leaders Under 40 program identifies and gives recognition to young engineers who...
Your leaks start here: Take a disciplined approach with your hydraulic system; U.S. presence at Hannover Messe a rousing success
Hannover Messe 2016: Taking hold of the future - Partner Country status spotlights U.S. manufacturing; Honoring manufacturing excellence: The 2015 Product of the Year Winners
Inside IIoT: How technology, strategy can improve your operation; Dry media or web scrubber?; Six steps to design a PM program
Getting to the bottom of subsea repairs: Older pipelines need more attention, and operators need a repair strategy; OTC preview; Offshore production difficult - and crucial
Digital oilfields: Integrated HMI/SCADA systems enable smarter data acquisition; Real-world impact of simulation; Electric actuator technology prospers in production fields
Special report: U.S. natural gas; LNG transport technologies evolve to meet market demand; Understanding new methane regulations; Predictive maintenance for gas pipeline compressors
Warehouse winter comfort: The HTHV solution; Cooling with natural gas; Plastics industry booming
Managing automation upgrades, retrofits; Making technical, business sense; Ensuring network cyber security
Designing generator systems; Using online commissioning tools; Selective coordination best practices

Annual Salary Survey

Before the calendar turned, 2016 already had the makings of a pivotal year for manufacturing, and for the world.

There were the big events for the year, including the United States as Partner Country at Hannover Messe in April and the 2016 International Manufacturing Technology Show in Chicago in September. There's also the matter of the U.S. presidential elections in November, which promise to shape policy in manufacturing for years to come.

But the year started with global economic turmoil, as a slowdown in Chinese manufacturing triggered a worldwide stock hiccup that sent values plummeting. The continued plunge in world oil prices has resulted in a slowdown in exploration and, by extension, the manufacture of exploration equipment.

Read more: 2015 Salary Survey

Maintenance and reliability tips and best practices from the maintenance and reliability coaches at Allied Reliability Group.
The One Voice for Manufacturing blog reports on federal public policy issues impacting the manufacturing sector. One Voice is a joint effort by the National Tooling and Machining...
The Society for Maintenance and Reliability Professionals an organization devoted...
Join this ongoing discussion of machine guarding topics, including solutions assessments, regulatory compliance, gap analysis...
IMS Research, recently acquired by IHS Inc., is a leading independent supplier of market research and consultancy to the global electronics industry.
Maintenance is not optional in manufacturing. It’s a profit center, driving productivity and uptime while reducing overall repair costs.
The Lachance on CMMS blog is about current maintenance topics. Blogger Paul Lachance is president and chief technology officer for Smartware Group.
This article collection contains several articles on the vital role that compressed air plays in manufacturing plants.
This article collection contains several articles on the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) and how it is transforming manufacturing.
This article collection contains several articles on strategic maintenance and understanding all the parts of your plant.
click me