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Answers to our most frequently asked questions about alarm management.
Frequently Asked Questions
How do I reduce the number of alarms in the control room?
The best results come from a complete redesign of your alarm configuration. However, most people do not want to tackle that right away, if at all. A reasonable option that still delivers good results is to attack alarm problems from the top-down, working on the worst problems first. Keep in mind that you may discover that the problem really doesn’t lay within the alarm system itself, but it’s a good place to start.
The TiPS LogMate® product supports either approach. Choose your preference:
- Gradual Reduction – Good results, lower impact on resources
- Complete Redesign – Best results, higher impact on resources
How do I measure my alarm activity against performance targets?
Whether you’re an alarm management veteran or just getting started, it’s a good idea to measure your alarm performance against some kind of target. You can establish the targets internally, hire a specialist to help you define alarm performance goals, or adopt any number of best-practice benchmarks. Regardless of the way you choose to establish your alarm performance goals, the LogMate® TRAC module can trend your alarm activity against performance thresholds.
This ability can be used to establish baseline performance and then monitor and track ongoing improvement efforts. Capturing the history of performance improvement efforts can be good information to have available for audits and other plant-related performance reviews. Easy and straightforward visualization of this information is a valuable tool for your management team.
What do I need to design or redesign my alarm system?
There are several areas where an alarm management software package can assist in the design process:
- Providing a central location for the operating intelligence you will gather as you research alarm
- Maintaining a journal of design notes and comments
- Automating the selection of alarm priority settings
During the process of reviewing and planning alarm settings, you will collect valuable information about your operation, such as a realization that you really don’t need an alarm on that flow meter, or a sideways comment from an operator about an alarm that should go to maintenance instead.
Storing these nuggets of feedback and insight is invaluable as an alarm design reference and if made available to operators, can be helpful as operator guidance.
LogMate® provides an Alarm Knowledge Base (Alarm KB) that organizes this kind of information into hierarchies of Tags/Points and related alarms. KB entries can be looked up by a design engineer or by operators, through our online browser interface. The Alarm KB will save you hours of debate and rework by saving the background and rationale behind design decisions.
An additional benefit of alarm management software is automation of alarm priority selection. Good design principles support alarm priority distributions where the majority of alarms are in the lower priority range. Good alarm management software not only provides a way for you to view your priority distribution, but it also has an on-board facility for automatic priority assignment.
In short, the software allows you to identify categories and degrees of alarm impact, such as Safety and Equipment, and High, Medium, Low. As you select the impact characteristics of alarms, the software uses a calculation to assign recommended priorities. You can then compare your projected priority distribution to a recommended target and adjust accordingly.
The LogMate® priority assignment tool is based on EEMUA guidelines and allows for extensive customization for your needs and operation.
How do I protect alarm settings from uncontrolled changes?
Once you have finalized the alarm settings that should be in your control system you will certainly want to make sure they stay there. There are valid reasons that an operator may need to change alarm settings on the fly. However, you need a way to review and control those changes. A good alarm management package will facilitate alarm settings reviews by automatically identifying discrepancies between what should be running and what actually is. Then you can immediately see any differences and either correct them or discuss making the new setting permanent.
There are some difficulties in automated change management, due to the way many DCS systems allow changes to be made. Most DCS systems allow changes at the controller or at the configuration database. Your MOC program needs to accommodate these potential issues.
LogMate® supports a management of change program through automated configuration imports and comparisons. LogMate® stores a copy of the authorized configuration that can be compared to the currently running configuration, automatically flagging any differences. In addition, because LogMate® also collects and processes real-time events from the operations level, it will intercept any alarm changes made at the console, allowing those to be reviewed as well.
Through the LogMate® Alarm KB an automated change approval process is in place to update the information in the KB when alarm changes are approved or denied. The handling of changes to your alarm system is a critical part of the alarm management lifecycle and the tools within LogMate® help support efficient management as changes occur.
Effective change management ensures that the alarm system remains stable and viable. LogMate®’s management of change module becomes a “buffer zone” where proposed changes can be reviewed prior to implementation. Changes can be approved and passed on for implementation, or rejected. All edits are recorded in a change audit file.
An active configuration can be compared to an authorized configuration within the LogMate® management of change module. Any discrepancies are flagged for immediate attention. Integrated change approval and online configuration comparison maintain the integrity of alarm settings.
- Review/approve/reject changes prior to implementation
- Timestamp and comment changes
How do I provide operators with access to helpful documentation?
Most plants have existing documents that are or could be used by operators to help them recover from or prevent upsets. In addition, the operating intelligence you gather while reviewing alarm problems can be very helpful for operator guidance.
One difficulty in making all of this information practical for use by operators is access. When these various types of information are stored in different formats and located in different areas, it is difficult to make it really helpful. A good resolution is to centralize access – to make all of this material available to operators, on-demand, for their assistance when needed. This may involve converting the documentation into one format, or building a framework that links to the various sources of data.
LogMate® can help you build a central hub for alarm and operator assistance information. The Alarm KB can store any amount of text information and make it available in a single click through our online browser interface. Information in the KB can be organized in any way enabling maximum benefit to you, and the KB can be customized for your environment. For example, you may organize access by unit and have related sections for alarms and PSMs.
When documents are accessible from a single, online resource, operators will have faster, more consistent access to the information that will make them more capable and more diligent.
How do I find the most promising sources of plant performance improvement?
Alarm management emphasizes consistent design and targeted activation of process alarms. Performance monitoring assesses the behavior of control assets and their contribution to or hindrance of plant performance.
Combining alarm and performance supervision data speeds diagnosis of plant and operations troubles and helps identify opportunities to improve alarm quality, control room clarity, and overall plant performance. LogMate®’s alarm data and ExperTune’s PlantTriage plant performance data can be combined to provide a holistic and integrated view of both control performance and alarm management performance.
Can LogMate® be used for batch variance reviews?
Something went wrong with that last batch. But how wrong? Do you scrap it or ship it? If you ship it, do you have adequate records to support your decision?
In this situation, batch manufacturers typically have to gather isolated pieces of information, historian records, alarm history, operator logs and sit down for the time-consuming process of determining what went wrong and whether production variables went out of bounds far enough to scrap the batch. New technologies allow the automatic merging of alarm, event, and historian data to drastically reduce variance review times by better displaying relevant data and by concentrating data into one interface.
The LogMate® TRAC module is an OPC-HDA client capable of displaying trends of alarms and events collected into a LogMate® database along with trends from a data historian. All can be combined on the same interface for the purpose of accelerated batch review. Using TRAC, batch manufacturers have online, browser-based access to a reproduction of exactly what happened during the process in question. From a single screen, you can see alarm trips, operator actions, and the actual instrument readings from the same unit. TRAC can also be used as an alarm performance dashboard, helping you track ongoing alarm rates and progress in resolving operations issues.
Batch review times are reduced and accuracy is increased, turning batches around more quickly and keeping personnel on task rather than in the conference room.
How can I be notified of critical alarms when I am offsite?
Some alarms warrant immediate notification of others that may not be in front of the console. Maybe it is an environmental alarm and the corporate environmental engineer needs immediate notification for reporting purposes? It may be that a process engineer is running a test on a new catalyst and needs to closely evaluate the performance? Maybe a certain alarm has implications that require immediate action by the shift supervisor physically located in another area of the plant? All of these scenarios occur every day in process industries.
The LogMate® Signal module is equipped to forward any alarm or event collected by LogMate® to a single or a group of email addresses, mobile devices, etc. Simplistic or advanced event triggers can be easily configured in Signal and can be used to inform only, provide instruction or even request action. Signal also supports escalation so that if an action is requested and not received the notification is sent to others specified in the chain of command.
The power of Signal is that it delivers real-time alarm and event data to the right people, regardless of location, to improve the decision-making process, simplify troubleshooting, encourage consistency and promote issue resolution.
How are alarm management and situation awareness related?
Inadequate situation awareness has been identified as a primary factor in accidents attributed to human error. Complete and accurate situation awareness is essential in control rooms where complexity on the human decision-maker is a concern.
Well-designed control rooms promote an environment with high levels of observation and situation awareness. When operators and controllers have a high level of situation awareness, they are more alert, prepared, and have an accurate perception of the current condition and understanding of various trends and key performance indicators.
Alarms and Situation Awareness
Alarms exist to make operators aware of abnormal situations. They are one of many resources used to communicate the condition of an environment. Alarms are intended to help operators target the source of an upset and guide them through its resolution. Alarm management helps control and optimizes the information provided by the alarm system. It is a methodical way of diagnosing and measuring alarm performance on a continuous basis.
Alarms are not the only way to create awareness. Effectively using human-machine interface graphics can create such an advanced state of awareness that many alarms will be rendered obsolete. Ultimately, when you question the validity of an alarm, you should determine if there is a more effective way to make the operator aware of the situation.
Alarms are victims of their own simplicity. It is much easier to add or change an alarm rather than considering the larger picture. For every situation we think the operator should be aware of, we add an alarm, often without considering the consequences – or other options. Misunderstanding the relationship between alarms and effective human-machine communications has led to the need for alarm management, where we force ourselves to evaluate the alarmed condition and strive to find the most effective way to communicate it.
Fortunately, alarm management is very straightforward. Using a good diagnostic tool, you can find alarms of questionable value and systematically evaluate and reduce them. Adopting this process of “continuous rationalization” as a regular practice will result in an alarm system that is well configured and very effective at maintaining awareness for operators. It will also ensure that operator graphics and other means of communicating plant condition are better used.
Establishing clear situation awareness for operators gives them the ability to keep things running smoothly and avoid upsets. This improves the stability and quality of output, reduces equipment wear, minimizes unexpected environmental discharge, and assists in the prevention of unscheduled downtime and incidents.