Alarm Management at Bayer MaterialScience

Nancy Bartels here. I'm the managing editor (aka "The Schedule Nazi" at Control.) Walt and Jim have gone off to have coffee and schmooze, abandoning me here to cover Dr. Felix Hanisch's report on Alarm Management at Bayer MaterialScience (BMS). Dr. Hanisch has a doctorate in process control and is responsible for control systems and reliability at the Baytown, Texas, Bayer site. He also is in charge of PIMS and alarm management strategy globally.


Bayer MaterialScience (BMS) has standardized on Matrikon Alarm Manager (aka ProcessGuard) as a global alarm management tool. As a result, it reduces its alarm rate by over 40%.


Dr. Hanish began with illustrating the importance of a Basic Engineering Rule. Last night he couldn't get the Internet connection in his room to work. Being a good engineer, he spent a long time trying to figure out what was wrong. Finally he had to embarrass himself and call the IT help desk. The technician fixed the problem by correctly and firmly connecting the cable to Dr. Hanish's computer. The moral of the story is this: Always blame the system, never the engineer.


After making that point, Dr. Hanish got down to explaining that there's more to Bayer than aspirin. The Bayer Group as a whole employs 106,000 people globally, and had sales of 29 billion euros last year. The overall organization focuses on health care, nutrition and material science.


Bayer MaterialScience makes polyurethanes, polycarbonates, coating, adhesives, sealants and inorganic base chemicals. It has almost 15,000 employees and sales of 10.2 billion euros. The company's strategy has been to consolidate plant facilities to take advantage of large-scale productions. The problem with this, says Dr. Hamish, is that the number of operators doesn't increase. The same number of people has to monitor more machines, a situation that is exacerbated by the situation with plant alarms.


Dr. Hamish says too many alarms are going off. The reason for all these alarms is that they are cheap in modern DCSs. Sometimes they are activated by default. They are defined per tag, not by function. Furthermore, standard displays just show alarm lists. There are limited archives of alarms in most systems and little or no system for analysis and reporting.


In this situation, the operator doesn't know which alarms are important. Under pressure, he or she makes the wrong interventions, which may cause even more alarms to go off. Too many alarms distract operators. "Normal" alarms are ignored; important alarms are sometimes missed. Alarms are acknowledged without taking notice.


This kind of pressure leads to operator stress and overload. Furthermore, after an incident, insurance companies analyze alarm records. Regulatory authorities also have an interest in how well companies manage their alarms. The bottom line is that systematic evaluation of the alarm system is necessary.


Bayer decided to manage its alarm system with global standardization on Matrikon's ProcessGuard"”now called Alarm Manager.


Dr. Hamish recommended the following steps to getting your alarm system under control.

  • Implement existing guidelines for design of alarm and messaging systems.
  • Analyze existing alarm systems and reduce alarm frequency according to defined benchmarks.
  • Evaluate operator interventions to identify potential for optimization of processes and operations.
  • Use alarm archive to reduce maintenance cost.

Alarm management also improves process safety, says Dr. Hamish. It

  • Reduces nuisance alarms.
  • Focuses the operator on relevant info.
  • Prevents abnormal situations earlier.
  • Makes more process information available.

The Bayer implementation had three phases.


Alarm analysis

  • Uniform alarm archives and displays
  • Statistical analysis
  • Standardized reports
  • Benchmarks and KPIS

Static alarm management

  • Re-engineering the alarm system
  • Deciding which alarms are required
  • Possible operator interventions
  • Time to react
  • Consequences
  • Priorities.  

Dynamic alarm management

  • State-based alarms
  • Alarm suppression for areas/technical equipment
  • Aggregated alarms

Hamish says that Bayer chose Matrikon Alarm Management because it wanted to standardize on one tool. Using a single alarm management tool made for ease of upgrades, consistent interpretation of information, and a common tool that could be used across BMS sites globally. It also made it easy to benchmark performance. The company also saved money using a company contract rather than individual site licenses. 


BMS also found the Matrikon structure strong in interface and analysis. It complemented Bayer's process historian/PIMS from OSIsoft. The use of Excel, Internet Explorer and ProcessBook for standardized reports minimized the need for new training.

Operator interventions analysis leads to process improvements. Find out where the operator spends his time. One example:  One piece of equipment found that changes in software only. No additional hardware.


In the end, BMS cut its alarms by over 40%.