Adroit Technologies – Advanced Alarm Management Strategy

15 April 2008

New white paper from Adroit Technologies explores issues with alarm overload and explains how advanced alarm management can help operators, increase efficiencies, minimise downtime and identify problem areas within a process.

FIG: Showing incidents in the plant per hour
FIG: Showing incidents in the plant per hour


Adroit Technologies provides real-time Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA) and Human machine Interface (HMI) software to industrial and manufacturing organisations around the world. The company has recently announced the release of ver 7.0 of their Adroit SCADA/HMI product, which includes new Advanced Alarm Management technology, aimed at providing information which will help users to improve operator workload, increase efficiencies, minimise downtime and identify problem areas within a process.

There are many third-party applications that deal with Advanced Alarm Management and in the drive to be globally competitive and improve operational efficiency there is more and more interest in this area.

Nigel Ball, sales director of Adroit Technologies, said: 'We identified that there is enormous value in a good and well constructed alarm strategy. Along with historical data in the form of trends the alarms and events generated in any process are the live indicators that operators use to run and optimise the process. Adroit has always had the capability to allow users to log events and alarms into a database but this required that they develop the queries and reporting to support the analysis and business intelligence aspects.' He continues, 'Given that the source of all the data is the SCADA we took the decision that in version 7.0 of the product we would release the first release of our Advanced Alarm Management Agent. This new Agent will plug directly into the Agent Server on top of existing alarm configurations and allow users, through simple configuration, to construct an Advanced Alarming capability.

What are the drivers?

Over 90 per cent of all installations have some alarming configured but often suffer from the same problems, namely:

* Too many nuisance alarms

SCADA installations are mostly configured to create an over-abundance of alarms. Cited here is a large diamond mine customer who after the project was delivered had over 10 000 alarms configured. This is information overload for operators. According to the EEMUA 191 guidelines, an alarm is an event to which an operator must react, respond and acknowledge (not simply acknowledge and ignore) and no plant should have more than 6 such alarm occurrences an hour.

* Alarms are simply ignored

These alarms are simply ignored by most users because they are either inconsequential and/or irritating, because there is simply too much information.

* Alarm viewers under-utilised

Mostly, process faults are adequately displayed by graphical components on the mimic and these are used as a starting point to initiate the correction process making “noisy” alarm viewers redundant when it should be the most important global view of any process indicating the current health of the process.

* Mass acknowledgement

Alarms on alarm viewers tend to be acknowledged blindly.

* Lack of real information

A lot of academic and industry body work done around this subject and there are 3rd party software applications making their way into the industrial arena but they are often too complicated and expensive. These focus on the events/alarms themselves without taking into account the dynamics of the process, for example the time it takes by certain operators to simply acknowledge, clear and reset the alarm.

John Ballinger, managing director of Adroit Technologies, adds: 'Systems, plants and process’s are run by human beings. They are often under pressure, working the third shift, late into the night and lack motivation. The operators running the plant are the people who need to ensure that the process runs optimally. We need to assist and motivate them by focusing there attention into the areas that will firstly, make their lives easier by identifying problem areas and secondly give them information that motivates them by showing how they are going against targets i.e. they are on the right track.

What is the solution?

Given that most sites suffer from too much alarm 'noise'. The only way to solve this problem is through a well planned executed Alarm strategy and technology such as the Adroit Advanced Alarm Agent:

* The Alarm Management Agent

Allows users to analyse statistical data of existing alarming configurations and use the information to remove nuisance alarms, adjust noisy alarm limits, identify problematic process areas/equipment.

* Create information out of data

The value of the data generated by SCADA alarming systems is completely under utilised due to the lack of statistics that could be generated, analysed and used to improve the process and reduce nuisance alarms.

The first step is to get a reliable, well designed relational database going. This should contain everything surrounding the event or alarm. It is not good enough to also simply use the raw data but you also need context.

Examples of raw and inferred data would be:

Raw data would include:

* The name and the Tag/Agent

* The description of the Tag/Agent

* The value of the Tag/Agent

* The time of the occurrence

* The time it was acknowledged

* The time it was cleared

Inferred data might include:

* The plant name

* The area of the plant

* The Operator logged on at the time

* Values of other process variables

Features of the Adroit Advanced Alarm Agent:

* Collects alarms & events across your enterprise

- Centralised problem solving via a central database

* Eliminates nuisance alarms

- Through conditional alarming and post analysis repair

* Replaces alarm printers

- No one looks at the stuff anyway … too much data …. Not enough information

* Enables fast and thorough incident reviews

Most Queries on the data base can be represented graphically in a chart format for easy understanding
Most Queries on the data base can be represented graphically in a chart format for easy understanding

- By recording various alarm time parameters and application of reasons and custom notes

* Analyses, manages, and monitors alarm systems

- Use the information to improve existing alarm configurations

* Helps monitor operations and operator workload

- Use the information to identify process bottlenecks and impact on operator workload and efficiencies

* Improves process efficiencies

- Only if the information is used to fix potential and existing problem areas

The Methodology

As with Adroit’s usual philosophy the new technology has been integrated as part of the Adroit SCADA software. Making deployment and configuration very simple:

* Incidents can be categorised

- Simply to improve query information based on equipment, process areas, physical area etc

* Incident records include time of incident occurring, clearing and acknowledgement

* Incidents can be enabled for alarm reasoning

- Using preconfigured reasons and sub reasons and optional free format comments

* Incidents are all stored to a database of choice

- Should be remotely accessible by 3rd party MIS applications

* Adroit allows for configuration, post-reasoning and viewing of incidents in tabular or graphic format

- Provides first level information using standard, built in queries. 3rd party MIS applications can improve the quality of information created using meaningful queries suitable to the process

The Results

As part of the solution the user has easy access to about 15 different views and analysis of the data in both tabular and graphical format Some of the standard queries are shown in the UI screen grab of the pre-release version below:

The Future

Nigel Ball, sales director of Adroit Technologies concludes by adding, 'Now we have all the data in an open central database the sky is the limit. The future will lie in users abilities to construct their own views of the data. In future roadmaps, we too will be working on delivering even higher value knowledge such as 'Parent, Child' relationships, pointing users in the direction of which alarms are inhibiting production, or even better to find patterns in alarms that will be meaningful to creating a smoother more efficient running operation.'

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