The pitfalls of alarm design and benchmark analysis

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This white paper approaches the process of alarm management from the unique perspective of a dynamic optimization problem. Process pitfalls and solutions are discussed, and suggestions are offered on how to formulate an approach to analysis and solution development that is not limited by static preconceptions and artificial restrictions.

By Leslie D. Jensen, P.E., President, Prosys


A few alarm management process pitfalls and solutions are discussed here. Every one of the topics is much larger than the space available in this paper. The topics are in fact integral parts of a larger consistent approach to the process of alarm management.

The premise of this paper is that there is no single static alarm configuration that is appropriate for all process operating states or state transitions. Alarms should be configured to notify the operator of significant events. The topic of alarm management has, after many painful years of experience, finally become mainstream. But in fact, alarms have been an increasing problem since the advent of digital distributed control systems (DCSs) in the 1970s. The conversion from pneumatic and analog systems with limited panel alarms opened theretofore unimaginable freedom to configure alarms. The DCSs have since undergone an impressive evolution in the number and types of point alarms they can efficiently generate.