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Tom Cutler

Editor's Ramblings
Alarm Management Secrets Revealed !!

by Naeem Ismat (Guest Contributor)  |   March, 2007

Welcome back to another issue of AutomationMedia's Ramblings. Alarms & Events have become so important in today’s competitive environment that it’s hard to ignore (its importance) in projects. Now Industrial professionals are more concerned about this and trying to figure out how to reduce the ‘quantity’ and improve the ‘quality’ of alarms. Recently I was giving demo about Alarm & Events to one large scale SCADA systems user who is using more than 100 SCADA nodes. This customer was concerned about the health of their alarm management system. They have built very sophisticated alarms and events system but alarms are real time only at this stage. So alarms come and go. Now they wanted to see all possible ways and best approaches to archive alarms and events and then how to retrieve for analysis.

When we talk about archiving for analysis and detecting root causes then ‘quantity’ and ‘quality’ of alarms can’t be ignored. Just storing alarms and filling up hard disks could be costly. During the demo, I was very much impressed by a young Process Engineer who was asking many intelligent questions about some possible changes in their existing system to achieve certain targets and also about how to do it in timely manner.  Later I saw a book in his hand which he was using as reference. I got the book as soon as I was able to put my hand on it. I have just finished reading it. This book has definitely a wow factor -  the most comprehensive compilation of Alarm Management so far. This is one of its kind book and the name is “ The Alarm Management Handbookby Hollifield and Habibi. It is a compilation of all useful and ready to use knowledge and information about alarm management which shows years of experience of authors that have been summarized here in this book. Great job!

I truly believe that alarm suppression under certain circumstances is necessary especially when alarms add no value for the operator.  It is interesting that Alarm problems begin to be identified and initially written about in early 90s after some major industrial accidents, but we never had this type of book or manual. This is first up to date, comprehensive, practical and realistic book about alarms which Application/Controls Engineers can’t afford to miss and they must read it. I wish this book had been written earlier, but at last it is available NOW.

Process Manufacturing Environment is controlled by operators who are forever hoping for that "ah ha" solution which will give them good control over plant and specialy to have a more informed alarms and evnets systems. But can’t find that "ah ha" moment because they are too much distracted from operational upset due to alarm flood. This situation can be overcome by proper Alarm Management. If you have the best DCS/SCADA system with the best color scheme for your graphics pictures/operator interfaces, but very little attention on Alarms & Events, then you are not getting best out of it, for sure. Those who are working in this industry know that with no consistent guide line to follow, most of systems have massive over configuration of Alarms & Events.

At the same time, we can not avoid alarm configuration. As we know that when plant runs, process conditions change constantly……Operators need to monitor these conditions to ensure that plant runs safely, and does not waste material or damage equipment. Once you enable alarming, your SCADA software send alarms to report potentially harmful process conditions requiring a response. Typically, this happens when process values exceed their pre-defined limits. For example, a tank's fluid level that is too high is an alarm condition to which an operator must respond.  Most software also sends messages to report non-critical information that does not require a response. For example, when a tank's input valve opens or closes, your software sends a message to the operator that the valve's state has changed. It can send messages to inform you when an operator inputs a value, a process database event occurs or a system-level event occurs. Using Alarms and Messages, you can create a reliable, flexible, and easy-to-use system that reports potential problems and system activity. Almost all SCADA and Control software supplied the functionality of HIHI, HI, LO, LOLO alarms to configure in your IO tags/points, but what happen, as most of system integrator don’t have any training or knowledge about this they think -   well then these HIHI, HI, LO, LOLO  must be there for good reason, so lets use them all!

In most of the cases with no guide lines or cost of creating alarm, poor practices arise. Such as all alarms enabled by default, set up by consistent rule of thumb, by some individual preference. Here is interesting information from this book that how the configured alarms per operator have increased exponentially. An increase in number and speed of alarm occurrence makes alarm system less useful and this volume also effect operator’s ability to deal with this situation.

To reduce the operational costs, proper alarm management always wins at the end. It is no more secret that proper alarm management will result in improved safety, reliability and all over profitability. It is right thing to do to reduce operational costs through reduction in head count. The knowledge in this book will help you to identify alarm problems and to develop a common-sense alarm philosophy. Authors also present their own patented D&R techniques with very useful information that how to justify alarm management improvement project and lot more………

I think knowledge in this book can provide you strategies in your organization to improve your company’s bottom line. If you want to know what it takes to achieve this, have a look on this book.  I will strongly recommend "The Alarm Management Handbook" to novice and experts who are considering improvements in alarm systems, plus all co-op engineering students. You won't regret it!

Click here to get more information about this book.

Until next time,

Naeem Ismat

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