Have you ever experienced bad alarm management, with too many alarms sounding for too many different problems?
In fact, most of these alarms are probably old, obsolete, negligible, and/or outdated. Modern automation and computer-based SCADA systems have made adding alarm points in industrial plants incredibly easy and cheap. However, adding too many alarms can become a big problem. Like HMI's, alarms are often part of key decision-making in day-to-day operation. Many alarms that are embedded deep in software code can often be overlooked or unnoticed when changing or updating industrial systems.
Over time, this can lead to a buildup of unnecessary alarms: alarms that are simply no longer given attention because of their obsolete or redundant existence. When there are too many alarms for an operator to manage, it might be time to renovate your alarm management system.
The benefits of an effective alarm management system include:
- Ensuring critical alarms get noticed and addressed quickly
- Avoiding operator fatigue from too many low-priority alarms
- Operators receiving real-time data for immediate response
- Getting detailed system information from alarm worksheets
- Identifying root causes of alarms quickly through alarm filters with string tags.
While too many alarms lead to the following issues:
- Alarms occur as a result of code that is replaced, outdated or no longer used.
- Audible alarms are constantly sounding, creating unnecessary noise pollution.
- Alarms that are constantly triggered become “normal” to operators.
- Operators under can miss critical alarms because they are swamped with an overwhelming amount of low-priority alarms.
In some cases, too many alarms have been directly involved in accidents and unscheduled downtime in industrial plants because of strain on operators. Safety can be increased by reducing the number of alarms that the operator has to address.
In order to establish an effective alarm management system, it is useful to follow 5 steps:
1. Plan How to Determine Alarm Criteria
Create a team of engineers, operators, and others who have a comprehensive understanding of the entire plant for which you are designing an alarm management plan. This team will decide:
- Alarm priority
- Required operator response for each alarm
- Time frames for responding to each alarm
- How operators handle alarms, including situations with escalations
- The system structure for handling different repetitive (in some cases, predictable) alarms
2. Understand the Importance of Alarm Limits in Configuration
Modern SCADA systems are often easy to manipulate into effective alarm management systems by setting alarm limits that allow operators to assess alarm priority. Alarm modifiers can also indicate escalating conditions for better operator response. All of these modifications can be made in separate alarm worksheets as well, allowing for easier adjustment and assessment.
3. Utilize Alarm Worksheets
Also known as configuration sheets, alarm worksheets can provide a very clear and organized management system for operators when they are properly calibrated. Being able to adjust alarm limits correctly reduces the amount of unnecessary alarms that the operator must address.
4. Diversify the Alerts that Operators Receive
SCADA systems should allow for specific customization of alarm notices, including alert frequency, number of alarms, message format, response times, and escalation procedures. Changing these settings can make it easier for the operator to look at priority alarms versus all current alarms.
5. Use Alarm Filters
Most SCADA systems provide alarm filters that limit the amount of alarms that make it to the operator’s screen at one time. This can allow for alarm prioritization, using predetermined alarm limits to determine priority. Also, the filters can be customized to include messages that can help determine root causes of the alarm.
Achieving a Powerful Alarm Management System
Properly managed alarm systems can minimize unexpected downtime, increase safety, and keep incessant low-priority alarms from overcrowding and escalating into major incidents.
A good alarm management policy is just one of the key components of efficient control systems. Our experienced engineers can help you implement effective alarm management for your next control panel project. Call Panelshop.com today or submit a quote and our experienced staff will be there to help create your next design together:
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