Challenges in Alarm Management

Dec. 8, 2017
Getting executive buy-in, allocating resources and a lack of necessary expertise are a few key challenges that end users face as they implement alarm management projects.

Late last year, ARC Advisory Group conducted a survey on current practices and trends in alarm management in the process industries. Within that survey, we also wanted to learn how end users, suppliers, consultants and system integrators are approaching the often-challenging issue of migrating existing alarm management applications.

Alarm management in general continues to be a big issue in process plants, driven largely by the need to conform to current standards and best practices like ISA 18.2, EEMUA 191 and IEC 62682. The primary goal of these standards and practices is to develop a continuous improvement approach to alarm management and ease the alarm burden on operators so they see only the information they need to see, particularly during process upsets or other abnormal situations.

However, adherence to standards and best practices is not the only issue end users face today. Advanced alarm management systems have been available on the marketplace for many years. As end users increasingly see a need to migrate from their old alarm management applications as they become obsolete, many are also using this as an opportunity to improve their alarm management philosophies and implement some of the newer aspects of these systems, such as dynamic alarms that can change in lock step with the dynamically changing state of the plant.

ARC received more than 170 responses to the survey. Close to half of the respondents were end users, with consultants representing more than 19 percent. Suppliers represented about 17.5 percent of the responses, with others including OEMs and skid-mounted equipment manufacturers, and system integrators. Though not all respondents answered all survey questions, we did note general alignment in the responses, whether from end users, suppliers or third parties. We believe that this is significant.

On an industry basis, the largest group of responses came from the oil and gas sector (more than 24 percent), while petrochemicals and bulk chemicals accounted for 19 percent of responses. Regionally, most respondents were from North America and Western Europe. On a whole, these regions have the largest installed base of advanced alarm management applications.

Most survey respondents had recently implemented a new alarm management and rationalization project at their company or facility; many on a companywide basis. Clearly, there is still a lot of activity in alarm management and rationalization, and ARC believes this effort will only escalate over the next few years. Not only do many end users face the need to migrate from older alarm management platforms, but other users who have not yet implemented advanced alarm management solutions will embark on new projects.

More than 35 percent of respondents were taking existing applications and applying minor upgrades. The rest were fairly evenly distributed among those who were implementing brand new projects, those who were migrating to a new solution from a new supplier, and those who were migrating to a new solution from the same supplier.

Most respondents (72 percent) indicated they follow the ISA 18.2 standard. This is consistent with the survey demographics, since this standard is very popular in North America. Clearly, however, many users outside of North America also follow the standard. Close to 20 percent of respondents indicated that they follow the IEC 62682 standard, which closely follows ISA 18.2.

ARC asked respondents to describe briefly the three primary challenges they faced regarding alarm management project implementation. Though we received quite a few different responses to this open-ended question, we were able to identify three main challenges that stood out among the rest.

Challenge 1: Getting management buy-in and allocating resources. Many of the primary challenges listed deal with human issues, such as getting buy-in from operators and management, and finding the appropriate amount of time, resources and training to do the project effectively. Cost and funding issues were also prevalent. Actually performing the alarm rationalization aspect of the project was also listed as a primary challenge.

Challenge 2: Lack of subject matter experts. Secondary challenges also included human issues such as buy-in, ease of use and basic issues such as time and resources. However, we start to see more specific technical and implementation challenges as secondary issues, such as alarm philosophy development challenges, configuration issues, developing or redefining key performance indicators (KPIs) and database issues. People issues also start to become more specific, such as finding sufficient subject matter experts (SMEs), developing common work processes and procedures across the enterprise, and resistance to change by operator and other personnel.

Challenge 3: Alarm rationalization and consistency. We still see some cost and resource concerns repeated as tertiary challenges, but there are also more specific people-oriented and technology issues listed, such as keeping alarm rationalization up to date, management of change, and implementing dynamic alarming. Achieving consistency in alarm management while dealing with disparate sources of data was also pointed out as a key challenge.

ARC welcomes you to share your own thoughts on this important topic. Please feel free to contact the author at [email protected].

>>Larry O’Brien is vice president of research for ARC Advisory Group, responsible for providing oversight in ARC’s research into process automation markets, including process automation systems, process safety systems, plant asset management systems, intelligent device management strategies and field networks.

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