Industry began to develop the principles of SCADA in the mid-20th century as industry began to scale and factories got larger. SCADA stands for Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition. Essentially, it is composed of any system that lets industry:
Control processes locally or remotely
Monitor, gather, and process real time data
Directly interact with devices using human machine interface (HMI) software
Record events into a log file.
With the IoT, SCADA has changed and is evolving rapidly. Thanks to modern communication products, this type of system is much more efficient.
Initially, SCADA consisted of relays and timers to accomplish some automation. The larger the scale of operation, the less effective they were, and often issues with this hardware itself made systems unreliable.
On the early 1950’s, computers were developed and began to make their way into supervisory control systems in the utility and oil and gas line markets. The 1960’s saw the addition of telemetry, which allowed automated systems to send data and measurements to remote systems. The term SCADA originated in the early 1970’s.
As computer systems became smaller, SCADA evolved with them. From large mainframes to smaller systems, the improvements incremental and primarily in hardware. None were considered truly revolutionary.
In the 1990’s and 200’s, technology boomed, and SQL became the standard for IT technologies, which accelerated rapidly. However, this was not adopted by SCADA developers, and the technology lagged behind.
Modern SCADA Systems
As the Internet of Things (IoT) and big data began to make their way into mainstream industry, SCADA evolved with it. Besides sensors, smart devices can often send data and measurements themselves, alerting operators about issues, and even allowing them to be remotely corrected.
This data can be accessed anywhere in the world, from factory offices to airport lobbies, allowing leaders to make data driven decisions based on what is happening in the moment. Without an effective SCADA system this would be difficult or nearly impossible.
Also, most modern SCADA systems have rapid app development (RAD) systems in place. This means that even users who do not have extensive software development expertise can quickly develop applications to solve particular issues.
Also, modern SCADA software has evolved into using SQL languages, which makes it easier to integrate it with the rest of the company’s IT systems so data flows freely between different departments. SCADA data is no longer compartmentalized and in need of interpretation or conversion before it can be useful.
SCADA System Components
SCADA systems are made up of several components. These components are also part of the Internet of Things, so the overlap between the two systems is simple to understand.
The fuel for the IoT is data, and that data is gathered by sensors who are also an integral part of the internet of things. The first key in any SCADA system is knowing what is happening in real time. This is accomplished by the use of sensors.
A sensor loosely defined is anything that gathers and transmits data. The sensor does not analyze or act on the data.
Programmable Logic Controllers
A programmable logic controller consists of a few simple components: input modules, a central processor, output modules, and a programming device.
A simple example would be a smart sprinkler controller with a rain sensor or other weather input. The device consists of weather input, either from sensors or an internet connection that provides it with data. It also consists of output: the electrical switching that controls the sprinkler heads themselves.
The programming device allows the user to set a time schedule that can be interrupted manually or by information from the weather sensor input. This controls the central processor which carries out its commands.
The controllers in industry may be more complex, but they still consist of the same components and operate on the same principles.
These controllers send data and other reports to a computer with SCADA software.
Remote Terminal Units
In some cases, data is instead sent to remote terminal units (RTU). These devices serve as a middle man: they use telemetry to send data to the main system, or SCADA. Essentially, these are microcomputers that communicate with the various different devices in an industrial environment and send that data to computers with SCADA software.
The SCADA Computer
The last component in the system is the computer that contains the SCADA software. This computer is where all of the data from the sensors and devices is processed, accessed by human users and supervisors, and other decision-making systems.
As devices and sensors become better and smarter, SCADA systems improve with them. The internet of things, consisting of sensors and devices, the data that they create, and the networks that transmit them, plays a huge role in that process, and makes SCADA both more efficient and eminently scalable.
The impact of the Internet of Things on SCADA has an impact on industry of all sizes, from startup to growth to scaling operations on an enterprise level.