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Alarm Management: Realising the Value
Kevin Brown, Global Alarm Management Best, Practice Lead, Advanced Solutions, Honeywell Process Solutions The alarm system is the primary tool for identifying abnormal operations and helping plant personnel take timely, appropriate action to move the process back to operational targets. Effective alarm systems create effective operators; ineffective alarm systems pose a serious risk to safety, the environment, and plant profi tability.

Too often, alarm system effectiveness is undermined by poorly configured alarms, static alarm settings that canĀt adapt to dynamic plant conditions, and a host of other nuisance alarms, resulting in alarm floods that overwhelm operators just when they need to focus on potentially serious problems. As a result, operators and engineers in the process control industry have become increasingly aware of the value alarm management solutions offer.

Fortunately, as these solutions become more common, our understanding of the factors that impact the success or failure of these projects has grown significantly. If youĀre thinking of undertaking an alarm management solution, or if you have already started one, the following information can help you drive your project to success.

Alarm Management Methodology The overall structure of a successful alarm management project is fundamentally the same across industries, regardless of plant size:
1. Benchmark & Evaluate Current Performance: This is also the time to identify your biggest alarm system problems and your biggest opportunities for improvement.
2. Develop an Alarm Philosophy Document: This is a critical document that clearly outlines key concepts and governing rules (what constitutes an alarm, risk categorisation, etc.), alarm priorities, alarm management project roles and responsibilities, change management procedures, and the project goals, such as target alarm levels, priority distributions, etc.
3. Alarm Rationalisation: Target and eliminate the top 20 to 30 bad actors to significantly reduce alarm levels, and perform a complete alarm system configuration review.
4. Implementation: Re-configure control system to minimise nuisance alarms and give operators useful information to solve problems in a timely manner.
5. Continuous Improvement: Monitor performance over the long term to identify new issues, target and eliminate bad actors as they arise, and search for new opportunities to improve alarm system performance.
6. Maintenance: Integrate alarm management practices into plant workflow at various levels, including operations, engineering, maintenance, and management.

The checklist of successful alarm management practices and the corresponding mistakes to be avoided will follow the same alarm management project path.

The Value of Benchmarking
If you donĀt know where you stand, then how can you know where to step? Benchmarking is the first and most critical step in any alarm management project, yet some plants attempt to improve their alarm systems without taking stock of what theyĀre trying to improve.

BenchmarkingŹs Triple Role
Benchmarking plays a triple role in a successful alarm management project. First, itĀs essential to assess your current performance so you can set realistic performance targets. Second, by doing a benchmarking assessment, you can identify key opportunities for improvement and key

pain points that need to be addressed. This makes it possible to create a more valuable plan of action when you reach the next stage of your project. Finally, benchmarking makes it possible to precisely measure the success and ROI of your project by providing a baseline for comparison as you implement long-term monitoring solutions to maintain the improvements youĀve achieved.

Why Create an Alarm Philosophy Document? When benchmarking is complete and you know where you stand, you can begin to identify where you want your alarm management project to take you. The alarm philosophy document outlines key alarm management concepts, goals, and roles and responsibilities of the personnel involved in the project.

Set the Corporate Standard for Alarm Management
Although most plants take the time to identify their alarm management goals, some neglect important parts of this background. In order to get consistent results you have to create precise guidelines for performing alarm rationalisation. These guidelines should very clearly define the criteria you use to identify legitimate alarms (as opposed to messages or notifications that donĀt require operator intervention) and the criteria youĀll use to set alarm priorities. These guidelines act as a corporate standard to guide your entire organisationĀs alarm management efforts.

Assign Roles and Responsibilities
The alarm philosophy document identifies who is responsible for each phase of the alarm management project and who is responsible for maintaining the improvements made. Failing to specify these roles and responsibilities is the single most common mistake plants make, and itĀs the single most important step you can take to ensure you reap the benefits of an alarm management programme and sustain them over time. Although solution providers can give you the necessary tools, training, and expertise to implement a successful programme, accountability for long-term benefits always resides with the manufacturing company itself.

Our experience has shown itĀs best to list maintenance and continuous improvement tasks at an early stage in the project and assign them to plant personnel prior to project completion. This will give personnel the longest learning period possible and the opportunity to pose a lot of questions to the alarm management service providers while they are still readily available during project execution.

Alarm Rationalisation Challenges Once you have created your alarm philosophy document, you can start rationalising your alarm system. The rationalisation stage includes prioritisation of alarms, validation of alarm parameters, evaluation of alarm organisation and functionality, evaluation of field equipment and process design, and documentation for the purpose of assessment, improvement, and regulatory compliance.

Making the Connection
The first order of business is to establish connectivity to relevant control systems. Each control system is different and the connection details must be weighed carefully. Be sure to ask the following questions:

• Does the alarm management system need to present information to the operator in real time?
• Are all the necessary fields available in the alarm and event data stream? If not, which fields are missing and how can they be added?
• Do I only need alarm and event data to meet my objectives, or do I need to establish a connection with the control system database?
• Is redundancy necessary for the alarm management system?

DonĀt restrict connectivity options to legacy collection strategies. What worked in the past may no longer be the best option, and may restrict your flexibility for future development.

Moreover, try to avoid relying on software components that might become obsolete during future control upgrades. ItĀs a good idea to contact your control system provider to make sure your alarm management solution will scale with future control developments and upgrades.

What Data Should You Collect?
Tracking operator actions in addition to alarms is a very effective way to identify control problems and automation opportunities, and to audit the effectiveness of your alarm strategy.

If the operator repeatedly interacts with a particular control loopĀs mode and output, this is often the result of a faulty controller. Consider having maintenance check for actuator degradation and poor tuning. Note that this is a reactive way to assess control problems, since the problem has already occurred. Preferably, you should implement a control asset performance diagnostic tool to identify these problems before intervention is needed.

Similarly, if the operator intervenes with a controller set point and the controller currently has no supervisory control, then the control engineer should ask - why not?

Finally, examine the ratio of operator actions to system alarms in order to identify poor alarm strategies.

Don't Forget the Operator!
The panel operator is the most important person in all rationalisation meetings. He or she is the end user and a major contributor to your alarm optimisation efforts. If you exclude the panel operator from the rationalisation process, the project will fail. And not only should you include operations, but you should also include the right representative from operations. A field operator, a junior operator, or a maintenance technician posing as the - operations representative wonĀt do the job. The only person who can perform this role is an experienced panel operator intimately familiar with the process area being reviewed and the problems that unit faces.

It is also important to include an experienced meeting facilitator in the rationalisation process. Without one, your project will take longer than it should, yield poor results, and will ultimately have to be redone. A facilitator will keep the rationalisation discussions focused and will push the alarm management team to meet review deadlines.

Minimising Implementation Problems
After rationalising the alarm system, you will be ready to make the necessary changes to improve your alarm performance. Implementation is the most critical phase of the alarm management process, and there are several things you can do to help ensure a successful project.

Get the Right Software
An incorrect or incomplete technical infrastructure can cripple your alarm management efforts. Most importantly, without alarm and event archiving and analysis, focus will not be placed where it should be placed, so make sure you are archiving this data and have the tools to properly analyse it.

Many vendors offer alarm archiving and analysis tools that can provide the foundation for the implementation process - be sure to research them thoroughly to make sure they meet your plantĀs needs.
Specific questions to ask your vendor include: • Does the solution provide an alarm and event historian that creates an audit trail to facilitate incident reviews, nuisance alarm analysis, alarm flood analysis, and operator action analysis?
• Does the solution automatically calculate alarm-related key performance indicators as outlined in EEMUA #191 standards?
• Does the solution automate the management of change process and reconcile the DCS against the engineered alarm settings in the master alarm database?
• Does the solution provide an audit trail for all changes to DCS configurations?
• Further, if operators don't have instant access to alarm causes and consequences, youĀll only receive marginal benefits from your effor ts. Again, software vendors can provide the tools to visualise this data, but make sure that your solution:
• Gives real-time access to alarms and events.
• Includes knowledge capture functionality, storing operator comments for future reference.
• Provides an audit-trail of DCS changes.

These functions are the key to an operator assist application, which will not only help the implementation process go smoothly, but also provide significant long-term value.

Staged Implementation
Implementation should be a staged activity. Making implementation too complicated will only ensure it never gets done. Recognising this will help plant personnel break the execution strategy into manageable steps.

By making the strategy easier to implement, you allow operations to get used to the changes gradually, thus increasing your chance of success. In general, the procedure is as follows:
1. Write alarm configuration changes for existing tags to the DCS
2. Create smart alarm applications, or other logic changes that are needed to take into account process state transitions or conditional settings
3. Remove alarm configurations from the original points where they are now no longer necessary

Continuous Improvements and Long Term Maintenance
Continuous improvement initiatives are attempts to find new ways to reduce nuisance alarms and further optimise your alarm system. Maintenance initiatives, on the other hand, aim to prevent losing the benefits youĀve already achieved. These final two phases of the alarm management methodology have the same fundamental requirements, and so we will discuss them together.

Integrated Alarm Management
First, successful continuous improvement and maintenance initiatives require that plant personnel make alarm management practices a part of the daily work process. Daily analysis and reporting are your early-warning system for the slow changes to alarm system performance that occur over time due to equipment wear, expansions, improvements, and changing operating conditions. These reports are also the basis for identifying new opportunities to improve alarm performance. As mentioned previously, it is critical that specific plant personnel be assigned responsibility for these tasks.

Long-Term Monitoring
An alarm and event monitoring solution is important both for continuous improvement initiatives and for maintenance purposes. For example, by tracking operator actions in relation to specific set points, you might discover cases where the operator is modifying the set point on a regular basis. This indicates a possible control improvement opportunity - if the operator is attempting to improve the control manually, a proper, automated control strategy may return even greater benefits.

Similarly, having the data available to perform detailed incident reviews can help personnel diagnose root causes and prevent them occurring in the future.

On the maintenance side of things, given the natural and gradual degradation of the control strategy over time, continuous, long-term monitoring can help you adapt to these changes by identifying issues before they become serious problems. Additionally, tracking operator actions with respect to mode changes or output changes can indicate that something is wrong with a controllerĀs tuning or with the hardware itself.

Change Management
The benefits of effective alarm management can be lost over time as incremental, untracked changes have a negative impact on alarm system performance. In most plants today, change management is a manual process, resulting in increased workload, inconsistencies, and errors that can derail long-term performance. The answer is a proper change management solution: a system that automates and enforces the change-approval process.

Training is Critical
The benefits of effective training are obvious, but the issue is so important it needs to be mentioned. Alarm management systems and procedures must be implemented and maintained by qualified personnel who understand the technology and the way in which it impacts life in the control room.

Alarm management solutions can significantly improve plant safety, reliability, and profitability, but will only succeed if they are implemented properly and maintained by qualified personnel. If you follow the six-step project methodology presented here, and avoid the common mistakes weĀve examined throughout this paper, your alarm management project will generate significant ROI.