October 2016


Automation Strategies: Identify challenges in alarm management

ARC Advisory Group recently conducted a survey on practices and trends in alarm management in the process industries.

O'Brien, L., ARC Advisory Group

ARC Advisory Group recently conducted a survey on practices and trends in alarm management in the process industries. The objective was to learn how end users, suppliers, consultants and system integrators are approaching the often challenging issue of migrating existing alarm management applications.

Alarm management, in general, continues to be a significant issue in process plants, driven largely by the need to conform to current standards and best practices, such as ISA 18.2, EEMUA 191 and IEC 62682. The primary goal of these standards and practices is to develop a continuous improvement approach to alarm management, and to ease the alarm burden on operators.

As older alarm management systems become obsolete, end users must migrate to new applications. In many cases, users are taking advantage of this opportunity to improve their alarm management philosophy and implement some of the newer aspects of these solutions, such as dynamic alarms that can change in lock-step with the dynamically changing state of the plant.

Survey data

ARC received more than 170 responses to the survey. Close to half of the total respondents were end users, while consultants represented over 19% of respondents. Suppliers represented a relatively small portion of total respondents (17.5%). Other respondents included original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) and skid-mounted equipment manufacturers, and system integrators. While not all respondents answered all survey questions, a general alignment in the responses—whether from end users, suppliers or third parties—was noted.

On an industry basis, the bulk of responses came from the oil and gas sector (> 24%), while petrochemicals and bulk chemicals accounted for 19% of responses. Regionally, most respondents were from North America and Western Europe, which collectively have the largest installed base of advanced alarm management applications.

Most survey respondents recently implemented a new alarm management and rationalization project at their company or facility, many on a company-wide basis. Clearly, strong activity in alarm management and rationalization exists. ARC believes that this effort will only escalate in the next few years as many end users face the need to migrate from older alarm management platforms, while other users that have yet to implement advanced alarm management solutions will embark on new projects.

More than 35% of respondents disclosed that they were applying minor upgrades to existing applications. The remainder were fairly evenly distributed among those that are implementing brand new projects, those that are migrating to a new solution from a new supplier, and those that are migrating to a new solution from the same supplier.

Most respondents (72%) indicated that they adhere to the ISA 18.2 standard. This is consistent with the survey demographics, as this standard is very popular in North America. However, it is clear that many users outside of North America also follow the standard. Close to 20% of respondents indicated that they follow the IEC 62682 standard, which closely mirrors ISA 18.2.

ARC asked respondents to briefly describe the three primary challenges they faced regarding alarm management project implementation. These challenges are outlined below.

Challenge #1: Securing management buy-in and resource allocation

Many of the primary challenges listed deal with human issues, such as obtaining “buy-in” from operators and management, and finding the appropriate amount of time, resources and training to effectively complete the project. Cost and funding issues are also prevalent throughout the responses. Actually performing the alarm rationalization aspect of the project was listed as a primary challenge.

Challenge #2: Lack of subject matter experts

Secondary challenges can also include human issues such as buy-in, ease of use and basic trials such as time and resource allocation. However, we are beginning to see more specific technical and implementation challenges as secondary issues, including alarm philosophy development challenges, configuration issues, developing or redefining key performance indicators (KPIs), ease of use and database issues. Personnel issues also begin to become more specific and clearly defined, such as finding sufficient subject matter experts (SMEs), developing common work processes and procedures across the enterprise, and overcoming resistance to change by operators and other personnel.

Challenge #3: Alarm rationalization and consistency

ARC still observes cost and resource concerns repeated as tertiary challenges, but more specific personnel-oriented and technology issues, such as keeping alarm rationalization up to date, the management of change, and the implementation of dynamic alarming, remain relevant. Achieving consistency in alarm management while dealing with disparate sources of data was also pinpointed as a key challenge. HP

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