What is SCADA?

Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition

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In the world of industrial control and management, a SCADA application is essentially a software system designed to control a process. Some types of SCADA are relatively simple, for instance where the process is controlled by an application directly embedded in a piece of industrial hardware. In a wider context, a SCADA application may also be capable of managing highly complex and geographically dispersed processes.

The main functions of a SCADA system are to collect data, model and build processes, operate plant and optimize operations. A SCADA solution will:

  • Collect data from PLCs, sensors and proprietary systems.
  • Model how this data can be correlated together and made available to operators through HMIs.
  • Operate facilities by managing the processes modeled in the SCADA applications.
  • Optimize operations through interactions created inside the SCADA system with third party systems making up the industrial information system.

The backbone of industrial information systems

Widely used in the energy, water, manufacturing and process industries, SCADA applications are also common in building management, where they are known as facilities management (FM) or building management systems (BMS). SCADA also has a role to play in more specialist solutions such as safety/security and energy efficiency. Through their ability to collect data from many different sources and systems, build technical processes, and allow operators to control them through HMIs, SCADA systems can be viewed as the backbone of industrial information systems. They are fundamental to the digital transformation of businesses, provided that the chosen solution is technologically sustainable, functionally proven and capable of meeting strategic cybersecurity challenges.

A core feature of Industry 4.0

When appropriately designed from the outset, SCADA software can incorporate intelligent interfaces to third-party systems. In this case, management applications can converge information flows from the industrial information system (OT: operational technology) with data from the enterprise information system (IT: information technology). This is known as OT/IT convergence.   Indeed, one of the key challenges for industry of the future (or Industry 4.0) will be how to share OT/IT information and harness all this data productively. These emerging capabilities, combined with new information technologies, such as IoT (Internet of things) and BIM (building information management), when implemented around SCADA systems, offer huge potential for new growth. Continuous improvement, performance optimization, increased agility of production systems and improved overall efficiency are all opportunities for strengthening the competitiveness of companies and identifying new drivers for development.

From measurement point to decision-making

The data harnessed by SCADA applications can come from both “hot sources” (real-time data) and “cold sources” (time-stamped data). The data volumes collected can represent up to several million measurement points in some the of largest applications. Once collected and archived, the values are processed by a software engine capable of modeling or digitizing all the steps in a process. The human-machine interfaces (HMIs) then take over. Designed in accordance with international ASM-type or business-specific standards, they provide operators with the information they need to manage operations. Operators can also control facilities through the HMIs, monitor the correct execution of a process and receive alerts in the event of deviations.

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