Can We Put Old Alarms in HMIs?

Combining Alarms and HMIs. Is It Possible?

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Customers in our industry traditionally insisted on multiple-light, audible-horn, annunciator-type panels for alarming and operator notification. We want to move forward with up-to-date HMI touchscreens and to incorporate alarming and important operating notifications there. We'd like this to be part of the normal HMI configuration with screens that look as much like the old annunciator boards as possible. What are some possibilities?

—from September '09 Control Design


Questions and More Questions

Think about how the machine's users would answer these questions.

  1. Do you currently have a structured process for understanding what adds to the cost of your process and reduces availability?
  2. What systems are in place that generate alarms, and do you analyze those alarms?
  3. Do you obtain key metrics from the alarm system, such as average/maximum alarm rate, standing alarms per interval, top 10 worst actors?
  4. When a critical failure occurs, do you have a reliable way to analyze the root cause?
  5. Do your operators feel they are overloaded with useless, distracting alarms?

Multimedia Alarming is a distributed enterprise-wide, alarm-notification system. It delivers real-time alarm information to you, wherever you might be. Alarms can be sent to your email, pager, fax, voice, text-to-speech, phone, marquees and more.
When looking to see if multimedia alarming would be a good fit, consider the following.

  1. Do you need instant notification on your facilities or operations around the clock?
  2. Do you need to send multiple alarms to different sources and people simultaneously?
  3. Would sending HMI alarms directly to pagers, Blackberry devices or mobile phones increase your productivity?
  4. Would an email log of your alarms be useful?
  5. Do you have marquees throughout your operations that people use to see alerts?

Tim Donaldson, director of marketing,

HMI Migration

Modern HMI touchscreen panels, hardware and software include the ability to visually represent existing annunciator panels with graphical tools for color-coded indicators, alarm messaging preferences and even audio output. They also provide advanced alarm management, trending and historical logging capabilities that allow users to establish alarm patterns to troubleshoot problems faster. Modern HMI touchscreen products for machine control also help improve preventive maintenance and long-term equipment sustainability through the configuration software tools that often include functions for alarm analysis tasks.

Other benefits of migrating to HMI touchscreen panels include giving machine operators and maintenance more information with a touch of the alarm for instructions on how to resolve a problem. This extended capability can also be easily upgraded, changed or adapted through software for future improvements to the connected equipment, thus eliminating the need to rewire traditional annuciator panels.

Paul Ruland, product marketing – automation systems,
Siemens Industry,

Comfortable and Familiar

CE HMI devices are a great fit for this type of application because they are inexpensive and the graphics displays can be "drawn" to very closely mimic any existing pushbutton implementation. Wonderware InTouch Compact Edition uses a common development environment with the larger scale HMI and SCADA applications so graphics also can be used for central control room applications.

A single panel can provide the same information as multiple annunciator layouts, as necessary, and to the right operator. Multiple output audible annunciation can be designed into the HMI simply by calling up the right audio file and playing it over a standard built-in audio output on the device.

Longevity is important for OEMs; the design and implementation of a system today must stand the test of time and be supported often for 10 years or more. By using a low-cost HMI device, this is easily achieved, even if a mid-life upgrade of hardware and software is implemented by the machine builder.

Lastly, should an interface design really be required, implementing this in an HMI is far simpler than re-engineering the physical hardware associated with a panel of old. HMI designs today can easily mimic the hardware and early HMI screens of yesterday, providing the required familiarity to existing operations personnel. But they are also versatile, so for example, if necessary, detailed additional information can be overlaid on the display, temporarily presenting this to the operator thanks to the non-rigid nature of the interface.

Keith Jones, product manager for visualization products,
Invensys Operations Management,

Check Out Our Touchpanels

Today's HMIs not only can simulate the traditional annunciator-type panels, they can store a complete history of alarms, the time the alarm occurred, the reason it occurred and how long it was on. Our touchpanels can trigger alarms automatically based on PLC tags, display the picture of the machine or process and pinpoint or flash the area where the trouble is. These panels can send email alerts to maintenance personnel and also display messages on a marquee for plants where the decibel level is too high to hear audible alarms.

Shalli Kumar, chairman, CEO,

What About the Annunciator Panel?

Before the HMI possibilities are discussed one key question must be addressed. Can the annunciator panel be replaced by the HMI? A risk assessment should be conducted. Edward Marzal, president of Kenexis, provides criteria to consider with having a separate annunciator panel from the basic process control system (BPCS) if the initiating event causing the hazard is a BPCS failure or cannot be detected by the BPCS, if the consequence is significant; if operator actions are required outside the BPCS, or if reliability of the BPCS. Is the BPCS fault tolerant?

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