Plant Construction & Process Technology

Less Can Be More

ISA 18 Alarm Management Supports Stability of Production Processes

10.02.2014 -

Fine-Tuning The Alarms - Avoiding operating upsets along with minimizing reject rates and outage times is gaining ever-increasing importance in today's process industries. Achieving these goals requires stable production processes and an efficient work environment for employees.   

An important step in this direction is the introduction and optimization of suitable alarm methods to qualify the increasing flood of alarm messages and reduce them to a manageable level.  Processes that generate more than 2,000 alarm messages per day even during normal operation are nothing unusual. According to EEMUA (Engineering Equipment and Material Users' Association), alarms requiring immediate action by the operator must be relevant, unique, timely, prioritized, understandable, diagnostic, indicative and focused. For alarms to be manageable by the operator, the long-term average alarm rate should not exceed one alarm every 10 minutes.  

 Set The Standard

One of the leading institutions dealing with this topic is the U.S.-based International Society of Automation (ISA). This globally active organization has been making a major contribution to the development of international automation standards. Since its establishment in 1945, ISA has developed and published more than 150 industry standards. More than 30,000 members are working as volunteers in more than 140 ISA committees, subcommittees and working groups.  

From Sept. 22 to 25, ISA members convened at Automation Week in Orlando, Fla. This industry tradeshow, initiated by ISA, presents the latest developments in the field of automation technology. The spotlight of the 2012 Automation Week was, however, on driving business value through the automation of business processes and the automation industry's answers and solutions to these specific customer needs.  

At the same time, the ISA Fall Leaders Meeting in conjunction with Automation Week is one of ISA's most important face-to-face events. This year, more than 1,200 ISA volunteer leaders met in committees to exchange information on current projects and their status.

ISA18 Instrument Signals and Alarms is one of 40 main committees managed under the umbrella of ISA.  Established in 1955, this committee began work on the development of standards, technical reports and guidelines for alarm systems including alarm annunciators and process control systems in 2003. To date, ISA18 has developed and issued two standards.  

ISA-18.1-1979 (R2004), first published in 1979, deals with annunciator sequences and specifications and applies primarily to electrical annunciators. This standard is being revised and updated by an ISA working group.

The second standard, ANSI/ISA-18.2-2009, addresses the management of alarm systems for facilities in the process industries and sets out requirements and recommendations for their life cycle. This standard was written on the basis of excellent upstream work provided by ASM (Abnormal Situation Management Consortium), EEMUA and NAMUR (Automation Systems Interest Group of the Process Industry).

Facilitate Efficiency

Speyer, Germany-based company SpiraTec has been an active member of ISA18 since 2010. The company's representative, Rainer Spies, head of process and discrete automation, is active in both the Enhanced and Advanced Alarm Methods and the Alarm Design for Batch and Discrete Processes working groups. In 2012, he and his working group peers finalized the ISA-TR18.2.6-2012 and ISA-TR18.2.4-2012 technical reports.   

ISA-TR18.2.4-2012 "Enhanced and Advanced Alarm Methods" provides practical guidance on how enhanced and advanced alarm methods can modify alarm behavior or improve operator guidance to achieve efficient alarm management. The report provides operators with practical guidance and offers solutions where basic alarm systems and methods fail to accomplish the goals. Potential, costs and risks are made transparent, thus facilitating business decisions on the introduction and selection of suitable methods/systems. By providing clear instructions and practice-oriented examples, this report supports industrial users in the successful use of the alarm methods covered, thus establishing the basis for the implementation of ISA18.2.

ISA-TR18.2.6-2012 "Alarm Systems for Batch and Discrete Processes" covers the application of ISA18.2 to batch and discrete processes. The focus and intent of this report is, however, not on problem prevention in alarm management. Instead, its aim is to help identify and address the alarm specification, design and options of alarm management and match them specifically to batch and discrete processes. ISA18.2 can also help minimize nuisance alarms that could complicate and frustrate an operator's awareness, understanding and response to abnormal situations. This ensures that important alarm messages requiring immediate operator action are recognized, and upsets are corrected without delay.

These two reports were published in 2012 together with the Technical Report TR5, "Alarm System Monitoring, Assessment and Auditing." They were the first of six reports expected to be published by the end of 2013 in support of the application of the ISA18.2 standard.  

Process Progress

The ISA Spring Leaders Meeting scheduled for June 2013 will likewise have an abundance of new developments. Thus, a new working group was formed in autumn 2012 to take up work on a report termed "Alarm Management for Packaged Systems in the Process Industries."  This report will deal with the integration of lower-level systems such as cooling units, heating boilers or package units into a broader control system environment to enable a consistent alarm management. This move comes in response to the current trend toward increased use of package units in the field of process automation.  

Another subject will be the work of the IEC (International Electrotechnical Commission) on the basis of the existing ANSI (American National Standards Institute) standard. This standard was handed over to the IEC some time ago and has been updated with the support of participating countries such as Germany, Japan, Brazil, Australia and the United Kingdom. The preliminary version is awaiting approval voting for adoption as an international standard. Should the IEC 62682 standard be adopted, its publication is expected in 2014.  An approval of this standard would also benefit the ISA 18.2 Committee, which is considering taking this IEC standard as a basis for its work.  

The publication of IEC 62682 as an international standard would mark one of the major milestones of the ISA18 Committee since 2003 - the development of a standard terminology and standard methods of alarm management with the aim of improving process safety in the process industries.



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