The Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition or SCADA system is a tool designed to help manufacturing businesses monitor and control field devices located at their remote sites. For many organizations in the process industries, SCADA systems are essential for optimizing efficiency and processing information in real-time at their various manufacturing plants.
The primary aim of any supervisory system is to provide manufacturers with monitoring tools and equipment controls that give companies more visibility and insight into their industrial processes. SCADA system use has increased substantially across the globe in recent years, and they’re discoverable almost anywhere.
What is SCADA?
SCADA software, sometimes referred to as an industrial control system, gives businesses a reliable tool for making data-informed decisions about their processes through the aggregation and acquisition of live-time data. SCADA gives companies more control over their production and can be used in virtually any industrial application.
These systems incorporate hardware and software elements that gather production data before funneling it to field controller systems. The specified aggregate information is then fed into other systems that swiftly process it into a human-machine interface (HMI).
Think of SCADA systems as advanced industrial automation solutions that keep a comprehensive log of all your relevant production events, reporting their real-time status and any known issues at the remote site. Should conditions become hazardous or abnormal, the SCADA software flags these events by sounding alarms that alert production managers.
The best way to understand how a SCADA system works is to break down its various functions and components and how they interface with the modern industrial workplace. Now, let’s take a closer look at how SCADA systems help industrial manufacturing plants improve operational efficiency and control through enhanced operational visibility.
Some historical background on SCADA systems
Presuming you’ve worked in manufacturing for any significant length of time, you’ve likely heard of SCADA systems already, even if you haven’t worked with them before. However, for executives and operations managers who haven’t dealt directly with the plant floor, the general concept behind SCADA may come off as confusing at first.
These industrial automation solutions serve as a manufacturer’s primary control hub while constituting the core of their daily operations. SCADA effectively automates the control processes of manufacturing businesses, and its architecture starts with the Programmable Logic Controllers (PLCs) which are also known as Remote Terminal Units (RTUs).
PLCs and RTUs serve as microcomputers that receive data through sensors attached to your manufacturing equipment. SCADA functions as the software controls that processes and conveys that information on the HMIs. This interaction between the software and equipment allows manufacturing plant managers and operators to make data-informed decisions based on the data they’re receiving from the remote facility.
SCADA systems are hardly new to manufacturing. They’ve been around since the early 1970s when manufacturers first realized their capacity to automate communications and import data from remote sites through computerized monitoring equipment.
The oil and gas, food and beverage, automotive, and chemical processing industries have all been leveraging SCADA to gain insight into their operations for decades. For a more concise understanding of how SCADA works, let’s explore the system’s core elements in more detail below.
What are the main components of a SCADA system?
SCADA systems deploy various elements in the field to collect valuable real-time data about your manufacturing operations and all its related systems. The main objective of any SCADA system is to enhance production through industrial automation software and information controls. The primary components of SCADA include:
Actuators and sensors
Sensors contained with the SCADA system log inputs about your industrial process that are gathered from the plant’s equipment and machinery. The actuator is a system feature that controls the mechanisms and their processes. The sensor acts like a gauge, while the meter operates as a switch or dial from which you can make adjustments based on the inputs received. SCADA field controllers monitor and control the sensors.
SCADA field controllers
SCADA field controllers are broken down into two distinct categories as they interface directly with the sensors and actuators described above. They are as follows:
- Remote terminal units (RTUs) – RTUs interface with sensors to provide telemetry data before relaying it to the primary system.
- Programmable logic controllers (PLCs) – PLCs, like RTUs, communicate with actuators to provide telemetry-based data inputs and give manufacturers more control over their industrial processes.
- Supervisory computers
Supervisor computers manage every aspect of the SCADA system by delivering commands to its various connected devices, thereby, enhancing industrial processes.
Human-machine interface (HMI) software
The HMI software aggregates industrial process data from remote SCADA devices and conveys it to operators in an intelligible way, allowing them to modify the SCADA process if necessary.
Field devices and controllers comprise the SCADA system’s communication infrastructure, enabling data collection from remote manufacturing sites.
While SCADA systems precede the internet of things (IIoT), the two concepts draw a few noteworthy comparisons. Foremost, they both provide a platform that organizations can use for unifying system controls through the use of various devices. SCADA systems, however, are ostensibly more comprehensive than most current IIoT solutions while offering tighter integration across their varying levels.
What are the benefits and advantages of SCADA?
If you’re still operating on a legacy manufacturing execution system, the first benefit you’ll notice is that SCADA systems are substantially more scalable than older solutions. The supported software and hardware are more accessible, and you can leverage cloud computing to make fast adjustments according to current demands.
Older industrial control systems rely too heavily on proprietary software, which means you’re tied to one vendor. Should the provider go out of business or fail to offer adequate support, this lack of interoperability could leave your organization in a bind. Limited support options represent one of the largest pain points for organizations running outmoded information controls and manufacturing systems.
Need assistance developing a custom SCADA solution?
Automated technology has been advancing at a steady clip, and finding a reliable starting point can be challenging. If you’re wondering where to find industrial automation companies near me, EZSoft can help.
For more in-depth information on SCADA system fundamentals and implementation, reach out to the team of automation specialists at EZSoft online or call us now at (484) 568-5040.