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!

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