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Digital Transformation and Process Optimization

Using Digital Solutions for Streamlining, Optimizing and Rationalizing Alarm Management

April 19, 2021

Why You Should Implement an Alarm Management System

All too often, customers implement process control systems with little attention given to alarm management. The near-zero engineering effort required to create alarms, combined with many new alarm sources, has contributed to their proliferation. The result is an increased risk for alarm floods and nuisance alarms, with consequential adverse effects on product quality, process efficiency, equipment protection, environmental incident, and personnel safety.


Recent Impact of Industry Standards on Alarm Management

In 2016, the ISA-18.2 Management of Alarm Systems for the Process Industries (ISA-18.2 for short), which provided a lifecycle framework for owners to manage every aspect of the alarm system, was revised and updated. The current ISA-18.2 presents techniques and strategies to help end-users address the most common alarm management issues. ISA-18.2 alarm management strategies are "recognized and generally accepted good engineering practice" by insurance companies and regulators.

The ASM Consortium reported that peak alarm rates are not closely correlated with the degree of rationalization. The impact is that critical alarms may not be addressed in a prescribed way, and the boundary that it was protecting gets violated. During these flood events, the alarm summary screen can be so overloaded that alarms scroll off the display without an operator's oversight.

AgileOps Alarm Settings View
AgileOps Alarm Settings View

One of the critical practices described in ISA-18.2 is alarm rationalization, which is a process for reviewing and documenting the alarms systematically, to ensure that they are genuinely needed and designed to help the operator diagnose and respond to abnormal situations. The primary goal of an alarm rationalization initiative is to ensure that every alarm is a quality alarm.

ISA-18.2 defines a quality alarm as "a unique announcement of an abnormal event that requires necessary operator action to avoid a negative consequence." Practices have emerged with the intent to reduce alarm floods. ISA-18.2 defines an alarm flood as an event that triggers more than ten alarms annunciating within a 10-minute period.

The principal benefits of alarm management include:

  1. Reduced alarm load on the operator increases operator efficiency
  2. Elimination of nuisance alarms improves alarm prioritization and plant safety
  1. Automated rationalization directs operators to respond first to the most critical alarms
  2. Potential reductions to plant insurance premiums for owners

Alarm Rationalization Defined

Cornerstone defines dynamic (state-based or mode-based) rationalization as alarm rationalization for more than one process state (no alarms are triggered when the event does not satisfy the "Relevant" keyword). Static rationalizations can become dynamic when the question "When?" is added to the discussion for each point.

As a result of this extra rigor, costs may increase when performing dynamic rationalization versus static rationalization. In this scenario, modern alarm management software programs come into play. These new platforms are control system agnostic and can be deployed regardless of the control system(s) currently installed within a complete enterprise. One example of a modern , agnostic alarm platform is Emerson's AgileOps Alarm Management solution.

How the AgileOps Suite Works

Emerson’s AgileOps alarm management software utilizes a Master Control System Database (MCSD). An MCSD provides a master alarm database as required by ISA-18.2, including currently approved alarm attributes, a rationalization tool with documentation of complete results, and a comparison of the control system configuration against the approved values. The MCSD can also tie together all the rationalization data (causes, consequences, and expected responses), providing operators with real-time help information.

The AgileOps software solution also incorporates Dynamic Management (DM) capabilities. Dynamic alarm management continuously monitors the control system to detect changes in operation using pre-designed case logic. It automatically writes pre-determined alarm attribute changes to the control system upon case changes. There are several benefits to dynamic alarm management.

Benefits of Dynamic Alarm Management

  • Improve your alarm performance by measuring your current alarm performance and compare your alarm KPIs against the industry standard.
  • Integrate the software solution with your control system to remediate alarm floods and improve alarm performance deficiencies identified in alarm reports.
  • Increase operator efficiency by avoiding alarm floods and nuisance alarms, addressing alarms quickly and efficiently, thereby allowing operators to focus on production
As mentioned above, ISA 18.2 requires customers to benchmark their systems versus metrics defined in the standard. AgileOps also offers an alarm performance monitoring tool, EventKPI (EKPI), that allows the measurement, tracking and reporting of key performance indicators for events occurring in your facility. EventKPI reports alarm metrics from data analysis which it collects automatically from one or more control systems.
By utilizing state-of-the-art alarm management software, such as AgileOps, and using native alarming components, Engineering and Operations can rigorously design and implement a rationalized alarm management philosophy.  Such a program benefits operator performance, metrics reporting and evaluation, recommendations for improvement,  periodic program auditing, and potentially reduce insurance costs.
White Paper: Alarm Rationalization
White Paper: Alarm Rationalization
White Paper: Alarm Management
White Paper: Alarm Management

The primary goal of an alarm rationalization initiative is to ensure that every alarm is a quality alarm.