5 Leading Alarm System Mistakes to Avoid

Effectively discerning the alarm codes is an important element in proper management, but it is only a part of the equation. Improperly arranged alarm systems can unwittingly self-sabotage which can unintentionally pose several problems. Poorly arranged alarm systems are a potential safety risk and can financially affect the bottom line as well as the potential to infringe on the environment. Passive alarm settings lack the ability to acclimate to diverse manufacturing conditions. Operators are only as accurate as the alarms informing them, which is why we put together this list of the 5 leading alarm system mistakes to avoid.

The primary mechanism for identifying system interruptions is the alarm code. It is the first line of defense for the plant operator, analyzing and determining correct and rapid action necessary to control plant interruption. Operators must be familiar with a myriad of alarms, but more importantly, they can learn from the alarms to avoid them with the proper settings.

What exactly is the alarm management process?

Having a template to work with is recommended in every undertaking and is particularly crucial with alarm management. Shedding light on the process of alarm management is an excellent way to begin assembling tools to engineer a clear and concise plan. What are the steps to follow? In almost every industry, the following six steps are generally accepted as a tried-and-true blueprint for structuring the alarm management process. The six steps are:

  1. Gauging baseline
  2. Alarm philosophy
  3. Rationalization
  4. Implementation
  5. Renovation
  6. Maintenance

Gauging your baseline is a great way to get started. In this step of the process, you will take the time to analyze plant performance and pinpoint your most critical alarm system issues. This step focuses on where you can find the greatest opportunity for growth. If you are not sure where to begin, this step is a requirement for alarm system management.
Once you have taken the time to evaluate your plant for common alarms and can conclude which alarms
are most crucial, the next step is to develop an alarm philosophy.

What is an alarm philosophy?

An alarm philosophy is known in the engineering world as an APD (Alarm Philosophy Document). This document brings attention to each aspect of your alarm management system. In the APD, you document fundamental concepts as well as your strategic implantation directive. In the first step, you gauged the alarms and grouped them in terms of significance. In this step, the alarms can be dealt with strategically by order of importance. Grouping key elements such as risk categories and how they affect your site operations helps inform the APD. Another key element of the APD is the responsibility role and project management procedures. The APD is also where you can set project goals, for instance, targeting fewer alarm codes. How can you get help generating your APD? The ANSI/ISA-18.2-2009, Management of Alarm Systems for the Process Industries, is a great place to start. It identifies all the parts required in
the alarm philosophy document and much more. Determining what causes the alarm and the consequence of the alarm helps instruct the corrective actions needed. This is the next step in the process known as rationalization. Different avenues can be used for this process, and many solution methods can be used as well. Following this step is

What kind of information is comprised in the implementation step?

Included in this stage are items such as control logic, the design of the alarm, and to aid in the understanding, graphics is an effective tool.

The renovation step is in place because alarms are constantly informed by process and control changes. In this step, the workflow process is steady and, at the same time, continually being monitored to more accurately identify areas of growth. This step optimizes plant performance over time by constantly implementing small changes, keeping up with the subtle changes occurring within the alarm system. Although these steps are in place to help minimize abnormal situations in the industrial setting, there are always risks, oversights, and errors. Knowing these five common slip-ups in alarm management will hopefully help you avoid them and keep operations on track.

1. Up to Date APD

The APD outlines all aspects of the alarm system for your plant. This document establishes specific practices designed to avoid disaster. A well-maintained APD lends itself to a well-maintained factory. If there are holes in your APD, this is where to expect errors to occur.

2. Who’s in charge?

Outline the order of responsibility properly. The operator creates and oversees the plan for the factory. When an error occurs, the maintenance team is often expected to address the alarm. Without a clear plan from the operator, taking time for the diagnosis will delay critical response time waiting for the maintenance team to fumble through. Resolving alarm issues is the responsibility of the operator.

3. Ignoring the baseline

Factories do not accidentally make improvements. Being deliberate about advancing development can only happen when you start with a baseline to measure progress. Building performance from the baseline is vital for tracking your action for improvement. Once you establish alarm system performance, you can then check it against industry standards. Armed with this information, you can identify areas of growth opportunity.

4. Imprudent resource management

Although it is costly to man a decent alarm rationalization team, having the right people on the job always pays in the end. To obtain the best results with alarm system management, your team must include an operator. Expecting your project to succeed without an operator is like running a restaurant without a chef. The operator is best able to determine alarm optimization. An experienced operator is the one you want in the room calling the shots with alarms with their knowledge of the rationalization set up. That being said, the operator cannot do it alone. Operators are key in the alarm rationalization process, but they require a facilitator that is no stranger to the alarm rationalization process. The facilitator will help keep your project on target with the least amount of time exerted and will hopefully the process from being repeated.

5. Assuming personnel have read the manual

It is hard to expect that work crews to read each page of every pertinent manual or handbook at their disposal. The books and manuals are good to have, but practical hands-on learning is invaluable. A good alarm system management plan will allow for hands-on personnel training on the alarms. Establish training with real-world scenarios to improve alarm system implementation performance. By effectively implementing an alarm system management protocol, your business can thrive. Keeping away from these five common alarm system operations mistakes keep processes more efficient, workers more productive, and establishes dependable operations.

Updated on July 2, 2021 by Joe Kaminski

Joe Kaminski

Joe Kaminski is an industrial automation specialist at MRO Electric. He has a background in industrial engineering and supply chain management. Joe has worked in the automation industry for over 10 years providing support to some of the largest companies in the world. For more info, visit www.mroelectric.com.

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