Alarm Management in the Integrated Control Room

The integration of information from complementary systems reduces the risk of delays in responding to alarm events. Lists generated in milliseconds simplify and speed up the tasks of searching for faults and maintenance

The continuous flow of information on production planning and process control makes the management of a plant more effective, increasing the stability of production processes. A delay of a few hours in creating a report on the amount of ingredients consumed in a given process step could result in an insufficient supply of material for the next batch. Integrated management of this and other information makes reporting automatic, correct and timely. Operators also need to be able to access CAD files, user manuals and other plant documentation on demand.

One click is all it takes to have documents readily available 

When irregularities occur in the process, the first thing to avoid is a frantic search for a binder which has been misplaced. Once the binder is found, the risk remains that the information might not be up-to-date or correct. The lack of access to correct operating procedures or instructions can be one of the causes of accidents. In an integrated platform, operators need only call up the contextual menu with a click of their mouse to have at their fingertips the correct and up-to-date documentation for the specific task, such as instructions and schemes for planned plant shutdowns. The direct integration of communication systems into an integrated platform enables more effective collaboration with other operators, on-site technicians, shift managers, maintenance staff and off-site personnel. All to the benefit of process stability, productivity and safety. During the working day, control room operators communicate continuously with the outside world using different methods, such as a landline or mobile phone.

Sending timely information

Event and alarm lists generated in milliseconds simplify and speed up the tasks of searching for faults and maintenance, minimising disruption and plant downtime. Other possible applications include scheduled load shedding, whereby operators can set priorities for shutting down non-vital plant sections safely and automatically in the event of a power failure or to avoid penalties in the event of peak consumption. Increased visibility also allows the exploration of new energy saving opportunities, and the enhancement of current consumption reduction programmes. For instance, increased consumption by a unit or area can indicate malfunctioning or wear of equipment. According to the ARC Advisory Group, simply increasing visibility of energy consumption can reduce equipment use rates by up to 10%.

The advantages of an integrated environment

The integration of the automation platform with the operational environment gives operators a global vision of the process, with comprehensive visualisation and lists of common alarms which improve the understanding of process events and reduce risks. An integrated environment can also help validate the accuracy and operation of safety equipment compared to that used for process control.

Similarly, being able to easily submit work orders from an integrated asset management application to an integrated maintenance management system (CMMS) speeds up repair work, as maintenance engineers receive more timely information about any necessary corrective measures. In addition, the automatic compilation of work orders significantly reduces the percentage of manual errors, which saves time. The fault report is made available to the maintenance department at the same time as the operator sends it in, streamlining collaboration and improving the ability to resolve faults before they affect production.

Alarm management strategies

Displaying recent performances is a feature of integrated control room platforms, which provides operators with a better overall view. This function displays the most recent performance data of an object alongside its graph and current status. Immediate comparison of the latest operational data with the actual operating status alerts operators to possible deviations before the situation worsens. Graphs of recent performance can be viewed at any time for all objects, without having to call up dedicated windows for trend viewing.

High-level alarm management strategies can include features such as alarm grouping, alarm shelving (temporary suppression of the alarm by the operator) and alarm hiding (suppression based on conditions). The alarm response function also allows multiple relevant operator screens to be displayed with a simple click on the corresponding alarm. These screens must be selected according to the user’s operational needs and can be configured uniformly throughout the system, or individually for a single instance or object. This function provides the operator with a contextual head start in problem solving regardless of experience level. This reduces the number of non-critical malfunctions and alarms.

Better performances with integration into the automation platform

Alarm management can be fully integrated into the automation platform, thereby achieving better navigation, analysis and management performance and greater cost-effectiveness compared to a standalone alarm management system. With an integrated system, operators can spend more time managing the process safely and efficiently. Besides, they only need to identify a group of alarms in the system to generate the respective performance indices, without specifying rule files, analysing data or connecting OPC interfaces. Since every relevant fact and event is accessible from a single system, operators obtain consolidated alarm lists, in chronological order, which include information from electrical systems, safety systems and all controllers regardless of brand or supplier. This gives a more complete overview of what has happened in the process, in the precise order in which it happened, and of what is happening at any given time. This makes the process of finding and fixing malfunctions faster and more effective. In addition, the integrated platform often provides a detailed overview of key performance indicators (KPIs), including the most frequent alarms, the most persistent alarms, the average time taken to silence them, and alarm priority distributions. These calculations are presented in an easy-to-understand graphical form, helping operators to identify problematic alarms and tackle underlying process issues once and for all.