Integrating alarm management to boost plant production

This article outlines five practical steps you can take to reduce nuisance alarms and improve alarm quality for control room operators. This includes the ability to identify deviation from normal operating ranges as the process or equipment approaches equipment design thresholds, unsafe, or undesirable operating conditions.

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  • Provides an alarm and event historian that constructs an audit trail of alarms and events, facilitating incident reviews, nuisance alarm analysis, alarm flood analysis, and operator action analysis. These are the reports you need to effectively diagnose and improve all plant states from normal operations to upset conditions.
  • Easily calculates alarm-related Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) as outlined in the EEMUA #191 standard.
  • Automates the Management of Change (MOC) process and reconciles the Distributed Control System (DCS) against an engineered, Master Alarm Database.
  • Provides an audit trail of changes to DCS configurations.

Step 4: Engineer Alarm Settings
Engineering alarm settings is more commonly referred to as “Alarm Rationalization” or “Alarm Objective Analysis” (AOA). Step four involves reviewing bad acting tags and all alarm parameters for the DCS tags. Once the tags have been reviewed, categorized, and appropriate alarm limits have been established, they can be implemented in the control system itself.

Since alarm settings depend closely on the way the plant operates in a wide range of circumstances, I recommend, and insist in our projects, the close involvement of plant personnel who have a good understanding of the plant’s processes in order to proceed efficiently and effectively.

By the time step four is completed, operators will have all the information they need to start using alarms to help optimize production processes, including:

  • The required action for each alarm.
  • The time needed to respond to events.
  • The current and potential severity of alarms.

Step 5: Monitor and Maintain
Monitoring and Maintenance is also known as “Continuous Improvement and Maintenance”. Plant processes change regularly due to equipment wear, equipment replacement, expansions, improvements, etc., all of which impact a plant’s control system. By making alarm management a part of daily work processes, the final step helps make sure that you sustain the performance improvements you’ve achieved. To do this most effectively, someone in your plant must be made responsible and accountable for performing diagnostic and maintenance tasks on a regularly scheduled basis.

Whether you’re an operator concerned about plant efficiency, a manager who needs to meet safety and environmental regulations, or a member of the maintenance department trying to extend the life of your plant’s assets, a carefully planned alarm management solution is an excellent way to achieve your goals. Companies that have executed the five steps outlined in this article have seen results immediately.

Having a roadmap, following a defined path and having the right tools clarifies a sometimes-difficult problem and helps deliver a simple solution with proven results.

  About the Author
Michael (Mik) Marvin, B.Sc Eng, is a Senior Applications Engineer with Matrikon's Production Asset Optimization team. He is responsible for overseeing project execution in the area of Alarm Management. Marvin has executed groundbreaking projects in Advanced Process Control (APC) and Alarm Management. Prior to joining Matrikon, he worked as a Process Control Engineer with a large commodity chemicals company. Marvin holds an engineering degree from Queen's University in the field of Chemical Process Control. Other areas of his expertise include Distributed Control Systems (DCS) and regulatory control assessment and design.

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