Be prepared. When the alarms go off and the wrong people get them, there’s no time to go back and re-work the system. Get it right from the start. These are three of the top challenges in remote alarm notification. Good software will address each of them.
Challenge #1: Identifying which alarms to send and when
Remote alarm notification isn’t as simple as “attach an alarm to everything.” A part doesn’t have to actually break to lead to a breakdown.
To use an example from the food industry, if a paddle designed to handle raw materials at ice-cold temperatures warms to room temperature the consequence isn’t so immediate that it will cause an obvious stoppage. Rather, the production line experiences problems a few steps down, when the raw material, which hasn’t cooled, can take on an irregular texture that “gums up” the works.
Pairing an alarm with a sensor on the paddle itself can tell you when the paddle’s temperature is irregular but it doesn’t shed light on the root cause. But that doesn’t matter as much as the potential for batch failure down the line.
An alarm in the cooling mechanism offers the fastest, clearest path to resolving a potential jam. That alarm should be given priority and sent to the appropriate technician ASAP.
This is where collaboration between systems integrators designing the alarm system and plant operators is crucial. The best alarm automation systems anticipate potential chain reactions. This requires collaboration between the people who run the operation and understand the dependencies intimately and the engineer creating the cascade of alarms.
Good alarm software will allow integrators to model if-then-else scenarios, and to assign severity levels that make sense for any condition.
Challenge #2: Sending the alarm to the right person
Processes are often automatic. But, the people who manage and maintain them are dynamic. They have varied skill sets and schedules.
Conventional logic dictates a top-down process of resolving incidents. The manager or supervisor gets notified first, and they delegate to the technician required to respond. Adherence to this hierarchy reduces an operator’s ability to react quickly when trouble hits.
Let’s say a reverse osmosis system fails at a water treatment facility. A site manager lives five miles from the plant, but the repair technician lives less than two miles away. An alarm that first goes to the site manager and needs to be passed onto the technician severely limits speed to resolution. The alarm software should be able to identify the right person for the job based on alarm type and severity as well as who is actually on call and available.
Sophisticated schedule handling is not just a nice to have, it is imperative.
As well, it’s not enough to send an alarm to the right person. A good remote alarm system also allows people to acknowledge them. Acknowledgement immediately establishes that a response is underway and prevents unnecessary further call-outs.
Challenge #3: Understanding a situation as it unfolds
What are the likely consequences of a particular failure? Are you able to receive real-time condition reports as subsequent cascading effects unfold? What will be the appropriate response?
For example, when a filter at a fish hatchery is blocked, that could lead to a water pump overheating. This, in turn, may prevent the supply of fresh oxygen to the water, killing the fish. While there may be an alarm when the filter is blocked, sending a worker to clear the blockage, a new alarm should trigger if the associated pump overheats to call out the pump technician. If the oxygen level in the ponds drops below a certain level, another alarm should be sent with higher severity. Every scenario requires orchestration in terms of the appropriate response. The more real-time condition reports are available, the more precise and timely your response will be.
Electricity fails, conveyor belts snap, machines break. No part of an operation works in isolation. And things can rapidly go bad. A viable remote alarm notification program escalates alarms given real-time condition reports. The severity of a particular breakdown given the downstream consequences can dictate whether a call-out is required immediately or if it can wait until morning.
An escalation workflow that contacts people automatically as dynamic situations unfold gets the right people on the ground at the right moment.
If you are assessing the value of alarm notification software for your next SCADA or HMI project, make sure it can meet these three challenges.