Invensys: Alarm Mgt Success

Thursday, August 16, 2012 @ 04:08 PM gHale

By Gregory Hale
With up to just over 17,000 alarms a day in some cases and 3 to 8 percent of production lost a year as a result of poor alarm management, it is no surprise the strategy is taking off.

The thing is there is no one solution that will solve the problem of alarms. “There is no single piece of technology,” said Diego Izarra, alarm management project lead for Invensys Operations Management during a session at the 2012 North America Invensys Foxboro User Group in Boston Thursday. “There is no single approach to alarm management. You don’t want the operator not keeping up with alarms where they miss an important incident.”

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“Alarm management is a process,” said Rob Brooks, process control manager for the chemical division at PPG. “It is constant working. The hope is to sit down and talk it over because it is not going away.”

When you get down to is alarm management ends up being a vital cog in the safety wheel at any plant. One operator misses and important alarm because he is inundated and that ends up being a potential safety incident. While the converse is true, if that operator has a clear deck where he can quickly define what an important alarm is and what is not as pressing, he can alert the proper plant personnel of an issue and that will avert a potential crisis.

Gerry Seguin is a senior automation specialist at the mining company Vale and he had a huge alarm management problem. Among their issues was a boatload of alarms going off in its furnace units every day.

“We had over 17,000 alarms going off in one day,” he said. “We had alarms for everything.” Just think about the lost productivity, the trips, shutdowns and outages.

They brought in their alarm management integration team and worked toward finding a way to eliminate the massive amount of alarms.

The end result was the furnace daily alarms went from over 17,000 a day to 66 and the hourly average went from 740 alarms an hour to 28.

“There is still plenty of room to go for improvement,” Sequin said.

Suncor Energy’s Mike Mastrogiacomo needed to improve their alarm management strategy at its 135,000 barrel per day refinery in Montreal.

To get it started they went with a study to understand the tasks they had to accomplish to get a good handle on their alarm management. “That allowed us t put some context behind our alarm management,” Mastrogiacomo said.

They were averaging 3 alarms every 10 minutes and Mastrogiacomo said their goal was to cut that number in half. Their first step was to develop an alarm management philosophy. “That was critical,” he said. “It is a living document; not static.”

Part of that philosophy is to understand and share rules and responsibilities and talk about the management of change among other issues.

After undergoing a series of implementation phases like communicating the plan and philosophy with everyone at the company and then executing on the plan, Suncor was able to almost cut the average in half to 1.8 alarms every 10 minutes and Mastrogiacomo said they will get it down to 1 alarm every 10 minutes.

While it may seems a daunting task, it is possible to reduce alarms to the point of solid management, which means the plant will reduce the amount of unplanned downtime, which means higher productivity and more potential profits.

“There are little things you can do to eliminate alarms easily,” Mastrogiacomo said.

“Getting your alarms to be the right ones will improve results easily,” Izarra said.

Alarm management is not a one man operation, there needs to be all types of people working to accomplish the goal.

“They key is having someone cracking the whip,” Seguin said.

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