Your Alarm Management Journey – Let’s Get Started!

Your Alarm Management Journey


Your Alarm Management Journey – Let’s Get Started!
Laurent Bourrouilhou
Alarm Management. A lot consider it as the weak link of modern industrial systems, but it’s undoubtedly an area where companies can get valuable return on investment relatively easily. Here, we cover how companies can get started on their journey to alarm management excellence.
Your Alarm Management Journey
Alarm systems have a purpose: making sure that a process doesn’t get into abnormal situations that are not only a potential hazard but could also result in quality issues, equipment damage and unplanned downtime. And it’s not just about profits. It’s also about people. Because a good alarm system allows for:

However, the prospect of cleaning up an alarm system, or “rationalising an alarm system” (as people familiar with alarm management would say) can be seen as a daunting and costly task which often ends up being postponed.

Without rationalising, the inefficiency of the alarm system will contribute to a reactive management of your operations year after year, meaning automatic shutdowns and the triggering of safety systems become common practice.

Of course, alarm management excellence is a long journey, but, as with every journey, what matters is to get started and to keep walking at a comfortable pace, because every step will provide tangible results. Alarm Management is after all a journey, not a destination!

Analysing Alarm Management data

There are two routes aspiring companies looking to take back control of their alarms can take. They can enlist the assistance of an experienced alarm management software provider (AMS) or form an alarm management taskforce within the company. Both routes are viable. One will provide a fast track to getting your alarms under control, whereas the in-house route will involve learning experiences and will take a more scenic approach, learning as they go.

Whichever route is taken though, the journey will follow the same path:

  • Step 1 - A review of your alarm philosophy document

    The starting point to getting your alarms under control should be with a review of your alarm philosophy document. If you don’t have one, you should seriously consider implementing one. It’s the foundation for a successful implementation of alarm management, setting out the key principles required for designing, implementing, and maintaining an alarm system. It serves as a reference guide for all personnel involved in the alarm management process and also helps to ensure that alarms are used effectively and efficiently, and that they do not contribute to overloading the operator with alarms. If you have one, it should be reviewed to ensure that it is relevant to your site, to your operations and that it is up to date with the latest revision of the alarm management standards and guidelines.

  • Step 2 - Measure your alarm system performance

    To plan alarm management improvement activities, it is important to take stock of where you currently reside on the alarm management spectrum. This involves acquiring alarm management software such as ProcessVue Analyser which will enable you to benchmark your alarm system against the alarm management industry standards and guidelines (ISA-18.2, EEMUA191 and IEC62682). It will provide focus, allowing you to tackle your problem areas such as chattering and fleeting alarms and will help ensure you get the most success from your actions. The results of this step will then go on to form the base line with which to measure the success of your alarm management improvement activities.

  • Step 3 - Start working on your most frequent alarms

    Through generating most frequent reports at a regular cadence (weekly, fortnightly, or monthly) you can identify nuisance alarms and take action to reduce them – this could involve addressing maintenance issues, or resetting the parameters which trigger them. It should not be understated what this simple process can do to help reduce the overall alarm load on your operators. ProcessVue Analyser is equipped with nuisance alarm activity worklists enabling you to assign nuisance alarms to responsible personnel who can track their remediation activities within the software. This provides two benefits: it allows you to demonstrate a continuous improvement process through the audit trail, and it acts as a knowledge base allowing you to reduce mean time to repair on repeat offenders.

  • Step 4 - Look for relationships and patterns

    Over time, with the volume of alarms being reduced through nuisance alarm remediation you will be presented with the opportunity to start looking for relationships between alarms and patterns in the reports, matching those patterns to what else is happening in the environment, such as an unidentified problem with a pump causing issues under certain load conditions. By recognising the changes in alarm loads, it is possible to identify potential causes and organise appropriate remedial action and apply advanced alarm handling techniques. These steps can set the operator on a course towards taking their system from its default configuration, which was set when the system was commissioned, on towards a bespoke system, tuned to the requirements of your operation, further fine-tuned by the realities of operation. Again, those familiar with alarm management will know this as documentation and rationalisation of alarms. A Master Alarm Database which provides an efficient route to rationalisation and documentation is desired here, especially when dealing with hundreds or thousands of alarms. A good Master Alarm Database application like ProcessVue Guardian will provide batch editing functionality allowing you to effect changes across hundreds or thousands of alarms in a single pass, while the workflow will ensure all changes are approved before being deployed.

Guardian’s welcome screen with the list of on-going projects and their completion status

The benefit of undertaking these simple steps should not be underestimated, but for those companies tackling alarm management as part of a digital transformation approach, it’s good to have help from alarm management professionals who can not only streamline this process and offer the benefit of their experience but can also help you to develop a more effective alarm management philosophy.

Productivity features and the ability to split the work into chunks that can be completed fast is our contribution to the “journey” – helping to keep teams motivated, probably the key success factor of an alarm management project.

Fast and visible results demonstrate to the stakeholders at every level in the organisation that poor alarm management can be addressed, step by step.

How do you eat an elephant? Bite after bite!

So… let’s get started!

Alarm Management - Let’s get started!

If you have any questions about this blog post, speak to one of our friendly, experienced team

+44 (0)1246 733120

Make Your Alarm Management Software Work for You (Not the Opposite)



Make Your Alarm Management Software Work for You (Not the Other Way Around)

There are many good reasons for investing in alarm management software that go beyond helping to meet compliance requirements or simply reporting to the board. Operationally, alarm management software can help reduce operator workload, identify problematic equipment, and aid in incident investigation. From a control and maintenance perspective, it can help consolidate alarm and event data from disparate systems into a single, easy-to-manage environment, while also making it possible to benchmark your processes against global standards and focus maintenance on problem areas. And at the enterprise level, it can help to improve plant performance by reducing downtime as well as making it possible to analyse and identify best practices across different lines or plants that do similar things.

The business case then, is straight forward – alarm management software helps make enterprises more profitable and eases the compliance burden. So it might surprise you to read that when I speak with plant personnel responsible for using alarm management software, they often say that they only open it once a month to produce a report for senior management.

Many users simply aren’t getting the value they should be from their alarm management software, and this means that many companies are missing opportunities to improve their outcomes.

A stitch in time…
The best approach to alarm management and the one employed by best-in-class users is to make it part of your day, every day. It doesn’t have to be onerous – in fact, by bringing alarm management into the daily routine, you can make your software work much harder for you. By using your alarm management software to identify and resolve alarm-related issues quickly, your operators’ working environment will improve, and they will be less stressed, and less likely to make potentially costly mistakes. Your operators will also be able to move from a reactive approach where they spend their time responding to and servicing alarms, to a more proactive approach where they can monitor and adjust the process to improve operations. This means fewer process interruptions and potentially, fewer regulatory breaches. Needless to say, the plant will also be more productive, and therefore more profitable too.
4 simple steps to good alarm management
  • 1 - Understand and use the features of your alarm management software better

    This may sound obvious but understanding the capability of your software is a quick route to extracting value from it. For example, a good alarm management software suite will have reporting capabilities built in – such as is the case with ProcessVue Analyser. A tool like this makes it possible to automate and email out a customised daily report of alarms.

  • 2 - Add alarm management to your morning meeting

    Often, morning meetings focus on production targets, losses and challenges, product/grade changes and maintenance issues. But you should also be discussing alarms. By adding alarm issues to your daily agenda and keeping them there, you will gain better control, reduce the stress of managing alarms and reduce the likelihood of alarm-related issues and avoidable failures. It goes without saying that unresolved alarm management issues, or important alarms that are missed because they were masked by nuisance alarms, are likely to take up a lot more time in morning meetings if they result in downtime, so the daily time investment is thoroughly worthwhile. At the very least, review frequently occurring alarms – say the top 10, top 5, or any alarm with more than 500 activations in 24hrs? Choose the criteria, set up the automated reporting, and relax, knowing that nothing is going to sneak up on you.

  • 3 - At every meeting, identify and agree what needs to be addressed, and track resolution in subsequent meetings

    As the primary alarm system users, your operators are the main beneficiaries of any alarm improvement initiative and are fundamental to its success. Without your operators’ positive engagement in the process, your alarm management journey is likely to falter. Tracking actions and resolutions is incredibly important. I have lost count of the number of operators I’ve spoken to who say they’ve reported alarm issues on multiple occasions, but nobody listens, and nothing gets done. If you routinely review, track, and resolve alarm problems, operators are much more likely and confident to speak up and issues can be nipped in the bud or avoided altogether. The reporting is also an opportunity to set your alarm management approach on a positive footing – teams can take pride in making improvements and productivity KPIs can be boosted.

  • 4 - Look to solve problems quickly where you can

    Identify quick wins in your most frequent alarms and deal with them - your operators will thank you. ProcessVue Analyser includes a tool as standard to help identify quick wins, which gives a graphical and tabular indication of alarm activation times. In the example below, the table and chart show that 100% of all activations of this Priority 1 alarm are less than 7 seconds in duration. Whilst this may be a genuine alarm condition if it persists, short duration activations which may, for example, be caused by waves or ripples on the liquid surface, don’t give an operator enough time to respond appropriately to the alarm, so could a 10-second timer be added to mitigate this nuisance?

(click to enlarge)

Finding and resolving issues like this is easy when your software is designed to help you.

It is not difficult or onerous to make alarm management a part of the daily routine and the benefits of unlocking the value of alarm management software are significant. Importantly, if you are not using your alarm management software to make sure it serves you, you’ll quickly realise that it is you who are serving your alarm management software – being inundated with alarms, investigating failures, and reacting to avoidable downtime.

If you feel that your alarm management software is bossing you, rather than the other way around, get in touch, or try the four steps above and let me know how you get on.

If you have any questions about this news article, speak to one of our friendly, experienced team

+44 (0)1246 733120