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Background

The process industries have long been challenged with how to make effective use of alarms. Across facilities from pipeline control centers to chemical plant control rooms, the methodologies and approaches used to implement and manage alarms vary widely. As a result, many believe that they have a defensible position regardless of their approach. Most have at least looked at the long list of guidelines, best practices, standards, and regulations related to alarm management such as:

  • EEMUA 191
  • ANSI/ISA 18.2
  • PHMSA CFR Part 192 & 195
  • API 1167

However, even with the long-time availability of proven solutions, alarm management issues remain prevalent. According to Automation World’s 2012 Alarm Management survey¹, sixty-eight percent of respondents from across process, manufacturing, and hybrid industries said that alarm overload negatively affects process operation. The survey also indicated that more than half of respondents (52 percent) said they do not perform an analysis of their alarm systems to determine its strengths and deficiencies, and effectively map out a practical solution to improve it.

Without good alarm management analysis information companies often don’t know where to start in trying to clean up their current alarming within their control system. For many brownfield facilities, blanket alarm strategies were used because alarming capabilities were readily available and the logic behind many alarms is not understood. As a result, many facilities use default alarm settings for specific signal types.

The process of reconsidering the current alarm strategy and then evaluating individual alarms is a significant undertaking for organizations already lean on resources. However, the process of developing and documenting an alarm philosophy and then rationalizing individual alarms within a given facility is exactly the place where many companies need to start. This effort is critical to overcoming the alarm management issues that negatively impact their operations.

Beyond the execution challenges, further consideration is how to quantify the value of cleaning up alarm systems and then maintaining alarm integrity. Management asks the question, and rightfully so, what is the return-on-investment (ROI) of an alarm management project?

Frequently, the compelling event that has prompted alarm management projects is regulations that drive projects out of a necessity for compliance. While this is understandable, it is unfortunate, because there actually is business value beyond compliance in adopting the best practices, guidelines, and standards that define an effective alarm management lifecycle strategy. Accurate and timely alarm management information available for analysis and sharing enables more informed operational decisions and can positively impact bottom-line business results.