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August 12, 2016

Situational Awareness in Context of Alarm Management


Wonderware is the global leader in Human Machine Interface (HMI), SCADA and real-time operations management software. Wonderware solutions enable production and industrial operations to synchronize with business objectives to achieve speed, flexibility and sustained profitability. Wonderware software delivers significant cost benefits for designing, building, deploying and maintaining robust applications for manufacturing and infrastructure operations.

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Situational Awareness involves having the appropriate level of awareness of what is happening in the plant (in order to properly interpret information and events), make timely decisions, and take all necessary actions that are required to meet the business goals. At Wonderware, we approach Situational Awareness from a design perspective, providing operators with the most relevant and necessary information at the right time. Operators see the situation at hand in full context of what is happening in real-time, how it links to previous events, and where the process might be headed. 

Operational Benefits

Situational Awareness can reduce the noise and distraction in alarming events. By using Situational Awareness design elements, the time it takes to recognize a problem is on average 38% faster than traditional approaches to Process Visualization screen design. In many cases, diversions from normal operation can be recognized and mitigated, or corrected, before an alarm condition ever ensues. We have observed that the adoption rate of Wonderware Situational Awareness Symbols Library throughout our ecosystem, with InTouch and System Platform, has been somewhere between 30% and 50% among our users. Users are leveraging features like alarm shelving, alarm suppression, alarm border animation, alarm aggregation, and of course our symbols.

“The project included a complete redesign of the operator interface, taking into consideration the best practices for alarm management and situational awareness principles. The end result is a very simple yet highly effective interface which requires minimal operator intervention.”

– Barend Esterhuizen, Pr Eng, Senior Engineer, Lethabo Power Station

Maintaining a Well-functioning Alarm System

Situational Awareness cannot be successful without a proper alarm management strategy. Without an efficient alarm management system, it is basically like tying a horse behind a cart and it really has no purpose. If during abnormal situations or alarm aggregation, there are 100s of outstanding alarms, the whole system can become inefficient. It becomes impossible for an operator to follow up or follow through the system, if there is so much noise within the system.

The management of alarms, design, runtime, and analysis can be an enormous task. This process is also ongoing; not a task that is executed only one time. Though this ongoing process can appear tedious, ultimately it will result in more stable operations with higher throughput. What’s more, operators can be freed to focus on other more productive activities. Our approach to alarm management begins with a thorough analysis of the current situation, implementation of the system, and alarm system philosophy. These activities are ongoing activities; monthly/weekly activities are required to act upon report data, and to execute improvement plans such as eliminating bad actors, implementing state-based alarm suppression, and/or adjusting alarm limit settings.

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Here is a graphical representation of high-level annual and monthly operations activity plans. This is a modified version of a typical alarm management life cycle, which shows where exactly Wonderware software fits in.



To achieve operational excellence, it is very important to understand and use Situational Awareness principles in combination with Wonderware Alarm Adviser and HMI/SCADA software solutions like Wonderware InTouch and System Platform.

I am happy to share the new Alarm Management infographics that our team at Wonderware/ Schneider Electric Software put together. This infographics has some interesting information about common alarm management challenges, signs of poor alarm management system, and top alarm management priorities for control room operators, engineers and facility managers.

Click here to download the Infographic: Effective Alarm Management.



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