Spam be gone: Monsanto tames nuisance alerts

Nov. 3, 2016
Device alerts can assist in timely decision-making—as long as there aren’t too many of them.

"Sometimes, taking advantage of status and diagnostics in intelligent devices can inundate you,” began Joel Holmes, site electrical reliability engineer at Monsanto’s manufacturing facility in Muscatine, Iowa. “A single instrument failure can result in six or more alerts. So, instead of sorting through a mountain of nuisance alerts, use AMS Device Manager to rid your system of spam information so you can focus your attention on more important decisions."

Holmes, employed by Monsanto for more than 23 years, also supports the enterprise globally with respect to Emerson’s AMS solution. In the context of a workshop focused on taming nuisance alerts this week at the Emerson Global Users Exchange in Austin, Texas, he discussed the use of Alert Monitor, which he described as the predictive component within Emerson's AMS Device Manager software application. He also discussed solutions provided in AMS Device Manager v13.1.1 upgrade and gave actual results of a pilot program underway at the Monsanto plant. He also discussed optimization and enhancements discovered along the way.

Monsanto Muscatine, located in southeast Iowa along the Mississippi river, primarily manufacturers and packages Roundup herbicide at its 150-acre, 450-employee facility. This 24/7/365 operation produces 70% of North America's Roundup herbicide.

The AMS Device Manager at the Monsanto plant is a distributed application that encompasses multiple DeltaV domains and a legacy PROVOX system. AMS is integrated with its distributed control systems and includes more than 1,700 HART protocol tags and more than 125 FOUNDATION fieldbus tags.

[sidebar id =1]There are multiple device family clusters spread throughout the facility. "Imagine the amount of information that is coming in to our Alert Monitor, including status and diagnostic information," said Holmes.  "The data is flooding our system. It's not just one area, it's the entire plant."

What Is a Device Nuisance Alert?

"Manufacturers provide a multitude of information from intelligent devices right out of the box which is great," said Holmes. "Unfortunately, much of the information does not add value, often is redundant to the root cause, or it's cryptic,” Holmes said. “We had a mountain of information coming in to our system—well over 100 device alerts a day."

Monsanto needed to be able to make reasonable use of the data coming into its systems. To highlight a nuisance alert, Holmes provided an example of a dual element, hot backup temperature sensor. "An alert was simulated by lifting a wire," explained Holmes. "As a result, with v12 and v13 of Device Manager, a total of six device alerts occurred due to this single instance. After the upgrade, with the new v13.1.1 of Device Manager, you get just the information that adds value: sensor open and hot backup active. This results in an 83% reduction in actual generated alerts for this one incident."

Optimization and Enhancements

By optimizing the device toolkit installations, more usable information is available to act on. "There is less noise in your system that you will need to deal with, enabling you to get to the core issues your plant is experiencing," said Holmes. "It's all about usable information instead of too much information—which is often ignored."

Optimization of the device install toolkits is a major portion of the upgrade. It eliminates the noise and spam in the data that the manufacturers originally provided with their intelligent devices.

"A quick snapshot of our pilot system showed a small number of devices were generating a large amount of spam in the system," said Holmes. "A dozen device types were generating over 90% of our alerts. Additionally, we had only 10 individual devices that were causing more than 40% of those alerts. The top 20 accounted for 80% of all the alerts we saw. We were able to eliminate more than 50% of those instances because they were redundant or did not add information of value."

One key objective of the AMS Device Manager V13.1.1 upgrade was to make it as efficient and simple as possible to get up and running at users’ sites. Over 120 device descriptor files were upgraded. Other additions include an auto-sorting feature to help set up the Alert Monitor configuration, and a default capability to simplify configuration.

The results of the Monsanto pilot project are impressive. "Through our initial testing, we predicted we could achieve a 60% reduction of device alerts within Alert Monitor," said Holmes. "The actual results were well beyond that. We actually realized an 82% reduction in device nuisance alerts and a 71% reduction of device tags that were part of those issues. It made me more efficient at my job, and more improvements are planned for the future."