In a process plant, there are many operational layers that need to be monitored for anomalies as a matter of safety and security. But flooding the operator with too many alarms, some of which may be irrelevant, can cause confusion and negatively impact plant production and safety. Identifying which alarms are the right ones to expose to operators, however, is not an easy task. It takes years of experience and in-depth understanding of the processes, industry standards and best practices in alarm management.
This is an area that PAS Global, a provider of industrial control system (ICS) cybersecurity and process safety, continues to sharpen and advance. For 20 years, PAS has been helping companies in the energy, power and processing industries optimize alarm systems through a seven-step methodology and software, called PlantState Suite (PSS), that delivers a variety of functionality, including analysis, rationalization, audit and enforcement, dynamic alarming and more.
PAS founder and CEO Eddie Habibi said PlantState goes “beyond alarm management,” adding that the software has evolved over the last two decades by establishing layers of protection, starting with basic process control.
Basic process control loops are designed to keep everything in the optimum zone. When there is disturbance to the process the first thing that happens is a movement in levels, flows and temperatures. “The basic process control loop has one single responsibility and that is bring everything back to normal,” Habibi said. The job of the basic control loop is to reject disturbances. “We have software that continuously monitors the process control loop and reports anomalies, early fault detection and analytics for instrumentation.”
If the process control loop fails and the process is out of control, the next layer of protection is alarms. “Our expertise is there,” Habibi said, noting that the company continues to add capabilities to its layers of protection.
The latest addition to PlantState suite was rolled out this week with version 8.3 of the alarm management software, which adds a feature called Alarm Mechanic. This new function helps improve process plant safety and console operator performance by minimizing nuisance alarms through automated analytics and recommendations.
With the addition of Alarm Mechanic, PSS 8.3 fully automates complex analyses that determine alarm delay time settings. Delay time is a critical method for solving nuisance alarm problems. Leveraging PAS project experience and a proprietary Master Alarm Database, Alarm Mechanic replaces manual calculations and guesswork with automated, deterministic recommendations that ensure consistent and optimal settings.
"Automating complex tasks like analysis of alarm delay time settings is a key example of real-world Big Data and analytics capability being applied to the world of process automation,” said Larry O’Brien, vice president of ARC Advisory Group. “The ability of suppliers like PAS to turn the large amounts of data generated in complex alarm management systems into useful and actionable information for end users will improve both plant safety and reliability and provide a path to operational excellence.”
Habibi also noted that the deep roots PAS has in safety and alarm management translates to cybersecurit, as well. A cyber attack typically starts with the adversary testing to see if they can penetrate the system. If they can, they’ll take control of programs or directly take control instruments through control loops. In either case, they are driving the process to places that the process is not supposed to go.
PAS recently received a $40 million investment from Tinicum to continue to develop its cybersecurity software, called Cyber Integrity. “PAS is leveraging our alarm management experience, data analytics around alarms and control loop performance to come up with a new generation of cyber anomaly detection that no one else is looking at,” Habibi said.