Operations Management: Choose An Alarm Champion

You may gain impressive benefits in alarm system performance.

By Lothar Lang, LyondellBasell

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Assigning ownership of alarm management to one person is essential. Ideally, the person should become involved early in the process of establishing proper alarm management at the production unit. However, this isn't a requirement for success.

Three Phases
Establishing alarm management at a production site essentially involves three phases: implementation of alarm monitoring and documentation; maintenance and support; and continuous improvement. Involvement of the alarm champion increases with each phase.

Initial implementation of an alarm management application requires activities that typically are performed only once, including:

• Collecting data and benchmarking current alarm system performance;
• Establishing standard reporting, KPIs and easy-to-use drill-down tools for troubleshooting; and
• Validating the current alarm database and documentation for import into an alarm knowledge base (AKB) under management of change (MOC). The AKB is the master alarm database for a unit's alarm settings.

The local control systems group, with support from the global center of excellence, usually handles these tasks. If an alarm champion already has been selected, this is an excellent opportunity for that person to review and become familiar with current alarm management philosophy and company standards. Efficiency in this phase is achieved by using best practices and standardized tools through central engineering.

The alarm champion is much more involved in maintenance and support of the alarm management system. However, software upgrades or resolution of communication issues between the DCS and alarm database aren't the alarm champion's responsibility, but are managed by the local control systems group or central engineering. (The smaller the site, the more support from the corporate center is needed.) The alarm champion should take the lead in maintaining alarm documentation and auditing, and enforcing implemented alarms on the DCS.

The foundation of alarm documentation should be an alarm rationalization where each individual alarm is discussed, defined and prioritized by a team. This team usually consists of one or two experienced operators, a production specialist or engineer, a control specialist or engineer, and, as needed, a maintenance engineer and other specialty engineering personnel. The alarm champion's role is to participate in alarm rationalization and educate team members on the guiding alarm philosophy.

An important component of alarm rationalization is identifying causes, consequences and corrective actions for alarms. To be valuable, these must be documented in the AKB and operators must have easy access to this electronic documentation. The alarm champion is responsible for ensuring that the documentation is up-to-date and prospective changes follow MOC procedure. The alarm champion also must ensure that the current DCS alarm configuration is regularly audited to verify alarm settings match the current AKB.

An important and sometimes underestimated responsibility of alarm rationalization and of the alarm champion is proper alarm configuration. This involves defining process conditions that should trigger an alarm and consequently setting the alarm limit or set point, any delay and dead band to avoid alarm chattering. Actual implementation should be the responsibility of control systems personnel.

Another potential important duty for an alarm champion is participating in process hazard analysis (PHA), process change analysis (PCA), safety integrity levels (SIL) and other investigations to ensure new and existing alarms are properly evaluated and rationalized.

Overseeing the continuous improvement process of alarm management is the responsibility of the alarm champion. This involves very rigorous data mining and analysis, identifying and addressing problems, and following up to confirm resolution of issues.

To facilitate the monitoring of alarms, we have defined the three KPIs and associated goals for alarm management (based on EEMUA 191 and SP18 recommendations):

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