SCADA helps industrial organizations maintain efficiency, communicate system issues to mitigate downtime, and process data to make smarter decisions. 

Many industrial plants, remote sites, and manufacturing floors used to rely on personnel to manually monitor and manually control electrical equipment through analog dials and push buttons. 

Since the remote sites and industrial floors began to scale out, they needed better solutions to control their electrical equipment from long distances. Some organizations started to use timers and relays to offer a better level of supervisory control. 

Although timers and relays solve big problems, they provide limited automation functionality. Again, timers and relays were difficult to configure. The control panels and fault-find took up more space. Hence, more issues began to arise.

A technology- ‘ SCADA’- was introduced to solve these kinds of issues.

The rise of PLCs and microprocessors during the start of SCADA helps organizations monitor and control automated processes more than before. 

In this article, I’ll discuss SCADA, its uses, features, components, types, and more. 

Let’s start!

What Is SCADA?

Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA) is a type of application that allows industries to control their industrial processes, such as gathering data from remote locations in real time to control the conditions of equipment. It offers many tools needed to deploy data-driven decisions in real-time. 

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SCADA has solved many industrial monitoring and controlling processes since the 1970s.

In the late 90s and early 2000s, SCADA adopted a change by grabbing open system architecture as well as communication protocols, which are not vendor-specific. This leveraged communication technologies like Ethernet, which allowed systems to communicate with other vendors, elevating the limitations in older SCADA systems. 

Modern SCADA systems allow industrial floors to access real-time data from anywhere in the world. This access allows businesses, individuals, and governments to make better decisions on how to enhance their processes. It will be impossible to collect sufficient data without SCADA software.

In addition, modern SCADA designer software has Rapid Application Development (RAD) capabilities. This lets users design applications easily even with zero knowledge of software development. 

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The introduction of modern IT practices and standards, such as web-based applications and SQL into SCADA software has improved the security, reliability, productivity, and efficiency of SCADA systems.

The big advantage of using SQL databases is that it makes the process of integrating into ERP and MES systems easier, allowing data to flow through the entire organization seamlessly. 

Thus, SCADA is a system of hardware and software elements that let industrial organizations:

  • Control industrial processes at remote locations or locally
  • Monitor, collect, and process data in real-time
  • Interact directly with devices, such as pumps, valves, sensors, motors, and more, through Human Machine Interface (HMI software)
  • Record all the events in a log file

The basics of its architecture begin with Remote Terminal Units (RTUs) and Programmable Logic Controllers (PLCs). These two are the microcomputers that communicate with a wide range of objects, such as sensors, end devices, HMIs, and factory machines. RTUs and PLCs route the data from the objects to the computers using SCADA software. 

However, SCADA software processes, displays, and distributes the data, helping employees and operators analyze the information and make important decisions. 

For example, the SCADA system quickly addresses an operator regarding a batch of products that show errors. The operator pauses the operation, views the system data through HMI, and determines the cause of the issue. The operator then reviews the information and discovers that ‘Machine 4″ is not working. 

This way SCADA system helps the operator in identifying the issue, resolving it on time, and prevent further loss

Components of a SCADA System

SCADA systems have various components that are deployed in the field to gather data in real time. These components enable the collection of data and enhancement of industrial automation. 

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Let’s discuss each component in detail.

#1. Sensors and Actuators

A sensor is a device or system that detects input functions from industrial processes. An actuator is a device that controls the mechanism of industrial processes. Sensors functions like a meter or gauge that displays the status of the machine.

An actuator acts like a dial, control, or switch that can be used to control the device. Both are monitored and controlled by SCADA field controllers. 

#2. SCADA field controllers

The field controllers interface directly with actuators and sensors. There are two categories in this:

  1. Remote Telemetry Units (RTUs) interface with sensors to gather telemetry data and then forward the same to a primary system for the next action. 
  2. Programmable Logic Controllers (PLCs) interface with the actuators to maintain and control industrial processes based on current telemetry that the RTUs collect. 

#3. SCADA supervisory computers

Supervisory computers control all processes related to SCADA. They are used to collect data from field devices and to send commands to the devices in order to control industrial processes. 

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#4. HMI Software

This software provides a system that confirms and presents data from the SCADA field devices. It also enables operators to understand and modify the status of the SCADA-controlled processes. 

#5. Communication infrastructure

The communication infrastructure allows SCADA supervisory systems to communicate with the field controllers and field devices. This also enables SCADA systems to gather data from the field devices and control these devices. 

Features of SCADA Systems

SCADA systems include special features for specific applications or industries, and most of the systems support the following features:

  • Data acquisition: It is a foundation of SCADA systems where sensors gather data and deliver the same to field controllers. In return, the field controllers feed data to the SCADA computers. 
  • Remote control: It is achieved by the control of the field actuators, which is based on the data gathered from field sensors. 
  • Networked data communication: It allows all SCADA functions. Data gathered from sensors are transmitted to the SCADA field controllers, which then communicate with the SCADA supervisory computers. The remote control command is transmitted back to the actuators from the supervisory computers. 
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  • Data presentation: It is achieved through HMIs that represent current and historical data needed by the operators in order to run the SCADA system. 
  • Alarm: It alerts the operators of the significant conditions in the SCADA system. It can be configured easily to notify operators when the processes are blocked, some systems are failing, or other aspects need stopping, starting, or adjustment. 
  • Real-time and historical data: Both are essential parts of the SCADA system. This will enable users to track the performance of the current scenario against historical trends. 
  • Reporting: This includes reports on process performance, system status, and customized reports for specific uses. 

Working of SCADA

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The SCADA systems perform some functions, including data acquisition, data communication, information/data presentation, and monitoring/control. These functions are performed by the components of the SCADA, such as sensors, RTUs, controllers, a communication network, etc. 

The sensors are used to gather essential data, and RTUs are used to send this data to the controller to display the system’s status. According to the status, the user gives the command to other components to perform their function. A communication network does this function. 

Here, we will discuss each function to understand the working principle of the SCADA systems. 

Data Acquisitions

A real-time SCADA system consists of many sensors and components to gather information and send the data for further processing.

For example, some of the sensors measure the water flow from a reservoir to the water tank, and other sensors measure the pressure as the water is released from the reservoir. Here sensors acquire different types of data to understand if all the processes are going smoothly. 

Data Communication

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The SCADA systems use a wired network to collect and transfer data between users and devices. Real-time SCADA applications use components and sensors that are controlled remotely. It uses internet communications as well. Since relays and sensors are not able to communicate, RTUs are used to communicate network interfaces and sensors. 

Data Presentation

The normal networks consist of indicators that are visible in order to control. In real-time SCADA applications, there are a lot of alarms and sensors which are impossible to manage at a time. The SCADA system uses HMI to offer all the data gathered from various sensors. 

Monitoring and Control

The SCADA system uses various switches to operate devices and displays the status of the controlled area. Any part can be turned on/off from the station by using these switches. The SCADA application is implemented to work without any human intervention automatically. Only in critical situations will it be handled by a human. 

Types of SCADA

SCADA systems are categorized into four types, including Monolithic SCADA systems, Distributed SCADA systems, Networked SCADA systems, and IoT SCADA systems.

#1. Monolithic SCADA Systems

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The early or first-generation SCADA systems are known as Monolithic SCADA systems. In this, minicomputers are used. The development of monolithic SCADA systems can be done when a common network service is not available. The design of this system is like an independent system, which means the design of one system doesn’t need to be related to another system. 

The data can be collected from the RTUs by using a backup mainframe. The crucial function of first-generation systems is restricted to flagging processes and monitoring the sensors. 

#2. Distributed SCADA Systems

Distributed SCADA systems are also called second-generation systems. The control functions are distributed across various systems by connecting with a LAN. The control operations are performed by command processing and sharing real-time data.

In this system, the cost and size of each station are reduced, but there are no consistent network protocols.

#3. Networked SCADA Systems

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The networked SCADA systems are known as third-generation systems. The communication network of present SCADA systems works via WAN system through phones or data lines.

The data transmission among the nodes is done by using Fiber-optic or Ethernet connections. This uses PLC to adjust, monitor, and control the flagging operations once there is a necessity. 

#4. IoT SCADA Systems

IoT SCADA systems are known as fourth-generation systems. Here, the system’s infrastructural cost is minimized by implementing IoT via cloud computing. Integrating and maintaining these systems is easier than others. 

In a real-time system, the condition of the components or devices can be reported easily through cloud computing.

Benefits of SCADA

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The benefits of SCADA systems are as follows:

  • Scalability: Modern SCADA systems are scalable for several reasons, such as better availability of supported software and hardware, use of cloud computing in order to meet workload demand, etc. 
  • Interoperability: Modern SCADA systems don’t rely on proprietary software and hardware, resulting in zero vendor lock-in. 
  • Communications: SCADA supports modern communications protocols that enable greater accessibility to the Scada controls and data. 
  • Support: Modern SCADA systems are well supported by the vendors. The use of open networking standards, modern software development platforms, and commercial off-the-shelf hardware makes third-party vendors more accessible as well. 

Limitations of SCADA

Some of the limitations of a SCADA system are the following:

  • It comes with complex hardware units and dependent modules.
  • It needs programmers, skilled operators, and analysts for maintenance.
  • Installation cost is high.
  • Many speculate that SCADA can help increase the unemployment rate.

Use Cases of SCADA

SCADA is used on many industrial floors to assist in managing and automating industrial processes and purposes since these processes have become complex and cumbersome for human control and monitoring. 

SCADA is useful for processes that can be controlled and monitored remotely, especially in the case where it is quite possible to minimize waste and enhance efficiency. 

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The common industry examples of SCADA automation are as follows: 

  • Oil and gas refining operations
  • Electricity generation and distribution
  • Chemical manufacturing
  • Telecommunications infrastructure
  • Fabrication and related processes
  • Transportation and shipping infrastructure
  • Utility infrastructures, such as water and waste control 
  • Food and beverage processing

With the help of SCADA technology, these processes can be tracked closely and controlled properly to improve performance over time. Effective systems result in significant savings of money and time. 

The modern world is using SCADA systems of some kind. Some examples can be – maintaining refrigeration systems, ensuring production safety at a refinery, getting quality standards at a wastewater treatment plant, tracking energy use at your home, and more. 

How to Implement a SCADA Solution

You must consider these important steps while implementing a SCADA system:

  • Define what you want to monitor clearly and understand it
  • Determine what type of data you want to collect and how
  • Add gateways to join recent data collection points
  • Create data collection points if required 
  • Centralize the data to the monitoring location you want
  • Map data in the SCADA application of your choice
  • Add visualizations of controls and data processes
  • Define rules and automation

Once you are done with everything, SCADA software takes care of the rest. It helps you interact with the facility, alert issues, inform predictive maintenance, and offer control over the equipment. 

Conclusion

SCADA offers an efficient way to control and manage industrial processes and data and detect system issues and communicate them for quick fixation. So, instead of doing everything manually or wasting your time and money, you can automate these processes using a SCADA system.

SCADA is implemented with specific goals. So, when you wish to implement it in your company, determine your needs and automate the processes accordingly.