Better Alarm Management at an Ethanol Plant

Dec. 7, 2012
Don Jolly and Jason D. Hurst, both principals and senior controls engineers for system integrator Trident Automation ( in Kaukauna, Wis. report on the experience of Advance Bio-Energy, a 110 MMgy ethanol plant in Fairmont, Neb. whose current HMI software and PC hardware were showing signs of age.

The existing HMI was obsolete, the operating system was limited to Microsoft Windows 2000 and the software was no longer being supported. The Siemens Customer Retention Program allowed a cost effective option in addition to a new alarm subsystem and Web server. Trident enhanced the Siemens application with its Lab and key performance indicator (KPI) products, and the plant experienced no down time for the conversion. The upgrade has been deployed at 18 similar plants.

The DCS was a combination of Siemens APACS with ProcessSuite HMI. The underlying APACS equipment is still supported and was left as-is with the new Siemens APACS OS (based on PCS7), used to replace the ProcessSuite HMI along with all the PC’s and peripherals. In coordination, ABE did the following for the upgrade: implemented new alarm priority scheme with the use of ANSI/ISA-18.2-2009, “Management of Alarm Systems for the Process Industries” guidelines; hosted the HMI to a web server for front office viewing and via the internet through a secure VPN connection; took the opportunity to integrate their corn oil extractor into the DCS/HMI.

As part of every upgrade, Trident identifies each alarm that is present in the current HMI. With this information, the plant is provided a unique spreadsheet that allows them to review alarms and identify those that are actually necessary, along with priorities. The priorities have three levels and in the end it recommends that the plant keep the ratio of alarms to a 5/15/80 ratio, with 5 being the highest level, 15 being medium level, and 80 being low level. This effort, along with the statistical alarm management in the new HMI, provides the plants with greatly enhanced alarming.

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