1660318370890 Alarmshero

Alert optimization helps glean meaning from all that noise

July 14, 2020
Start with the most annoying alarms and work through a few layers to make the daily serving of messages digestible

In my youth, I unearthed and dusted off a short-wave radio, a device valued by hobbyists and many others in the Cold War era aiming to prepare for some societal cataclysm, atomic or otherwise. The radio I found was purely for listening, but with some training, a license and the right equipment one could transmit as well as receive. I remember one such highly invested hobbyist patching in spouses to their honeys during the Vietnam War. His dad was even more advanced, it seems, and was routinely monitoring and interacting with the Civil Air Patrol and pilots on reconnaissance.

Evening was when the stratosphere favored long-distance connection. Hours were spent tuning through overlapping cascades of noise that’d sometimes resolve into Morse code, or a voice too distorted to understand. Combing through all that craziness to find some reward, say a broadcast from Europe or the Far East, was the adventure.

We had an experienced operator who didn’t care much for alarm rationalization, whose sensibility recalls the short-wave explorer. However randomly the system had evolved, he was now tuned to detect and react to what mattered in the midst of a flood, despite an abundance of nuisance alarms that didn’t matter. If we could have somehow conferred his expertise and awareness to the rest of the operations specialists, we could have saved some time and effort on alarm rationalization.

It can be perplexing when intelligent “things” in our plants are jabbering away, filling journals, event logs, diagnostic pages, etc., with an assortment of often mundane and sometimes cryptic messages. It’s like our big data rat’s nest, but also where we might someday find a useful or interesting signal that could avert a calamity. In current climes, our hopes and dreams of hiring a consultant and/or acquiring a license for the cleverest new software are likely deferred. We typically do have the resources, however, to filter, sort, and hopefully seek out and quarantine the most meaningless or redundant items. If you’ve enabled device alerts from HART or WirelessHART devices, you can apply “Alert Optimization” updates for some devices, so redundant alerts arising from the same condition are largely suppressed. If not available from your favorite vendor, your device management software might allow you to configure or customize alerts on a per-device basis. I'd start with the most annoying and work my way through a few layers. With luck, the daily serving of messages will become digestible.

Use what data sources you have

We’re ahead of the game if we can advise operations that a transmitter needs some help. While we may not have the justification or capital to replace scores of aging devices preemptively, we can try tuning in to messages in event journals or other diagnostics to detect their impending demise.

There are (still) instances where a device fails after giving no obvious warning prior to expiring. If you have no monitoring capability such as an asset management system, your manner of data mining likely entails listening to signals from operators, technicians, engineers and process history. If you need a permit to open enclosures or take pictures, see if your team will spare someone with a tester to wander with you as you "look under rocks." Sometimes your reactive discoveries will spur preventive measures. You might find an unanticipated fault that threatens numerous other devices.

In one instance, engineers found a device’s factory junction boxes were “growing” some sort of deposit or film they concluded was conductive—perhaps through a few years of condensation in highly humid times followed by evaporation. It was barely perceptible to the eye, but after a couple of positioners went to the “no power” fail state (causing excitement for operations on otherwise quiet nights), they now preemptively treat factory terminals with some special sauce like CorrosionX or Boeshield T-9 to stave off moisture and corrosion.

I urge you not to wait on big-data analysis or the latest diagnostics engine before tuning in to the host of signals blabbering in the running plant. Dust off the receivers at your disposal and set aside a time each day to listen to the noise—it’s a good bet you’ll find something interesting.

About the author: John Rezabek
About the Author

John Rezabek | Contributing Editor

John Rezabek is a contributing editor to Control

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