The amount of information available to operators in modern production plants is growing exponentially. With that, comes the possibility of parameter notification when one deviates from the normal operating conditions.

This often leads to situations where operators risk being overwhelmed by alarms. As a result, problems are created in deciphering the level of severity for each, not to mention who should solve the problem and what corrective actions need to be taken.

Attention on alarm management has been increasing. Standards and guidelines were developed (e.g. ISA 2.18, 2016) to enable smart and targeted alarm management with undeniable benefits for the entire plant.

Smart alarm management benefits

The first benefit enhances overall plant safety.

The possibility of immediately notifying the appropriate person of an alarm and clearly indicating the necessary corrective measures can make the difference between a small glitch and an accident.

 

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The second benefit involves reducing unplanned production stops. Certain faulty situations can be prevented through adequate alarm management. If the failure occurs, then the response reactivity is greater. This translates into getting back to full operation in shorter times and at lower costs.

The third benefit is linked to the greater ease of alarm management by the operators in charge. The possibility of receiving only critical alarms (and/or only relevant alarms), of which the cause is clear, and of knowing the procedures to be followed means greater responsiveness and prevents certain alarms from being ignored.

What is an alarm?

One of the main problems leading to so-called "alarm floods" is the failure to tell what an alarm is and what it is not.

Here are two questions to ask when analyzing a possible alarm:

  • What corrective action does the operator need to perform?
  • What are the immediate consequences for no corrections?

It is not an alarm if:

  • There is nothing the operator can do to fix it
  • The situation does not signal a problem
  • There are no immediate consequences if no action is taken
  • The same problem is flagged in another alarm

The actual alarms can be effectively managed once identified.

Implementing a smart alarm management system

The first and fundamental step is to structure an alarm management philosophy. The document serves as a guideline for designing an alarm system. This must be implemented by a team of various professionals, including plant operators, engineers, and managers.

Priority aspects of alarm management philosophy include:

  • What are the alarm priorities?
  • What type of operator must intervene?
  • What are the intervention timings?
  • Management procedures
  • Structure of the alarm system

It is, therefore, necessary to identify all possible alarms by assigning them a priority and a management procedure, as well as its triggering thresholds. Correctly choosing these aspects is fundamental in avoiding alarm situations that are misleading or, even worse, ignored because they are too invasive and sometimes useless.

Another aspect to consider is the need for an adequate platform for system implementation. Certain features must be enhanced in addition to the necessary monitoring functions of the system status, thresholds, and alarm conditions. For example:

  • Notification ease and data visualization: having a clear picture of the situation immediately facilitates the correct line of action;
  • System portability: the possibility of receiving an alarm on a mobile device allows for being alerted about an alarm situation anywhere. There is also a marked increase in system effectiveness and staff response.

To conclude, the correct implementation of a smart alarm management system enables the company to significantly increase the level of plant safety and productivity. This solves possible atypical situations in advance and reduces the risk of breakdowns and production stoppages.

 

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