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What is a SCADA System and How Does It Work?

By ·Categories: Tech Explained·Published On: April 20th, 2022·6.3 min read·

We get asked all the time, “What is a SCADA system and how does it work?” SCADA stands for Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition. It is a type of control system designed to collect, analyze, and visualize data from industrial equipment. In this article, we’ll provide you with a high-level introduction to SCADA, how it works, and how to get started.

If you’d prefer to learn about SCADA through a short video, check out our Tech Edge video below.

What is a SCADA system?

A SCADA system is a combination of hardware and software that enables the  automation of industrial processes by capturing Operational Technology (OT) data. SCADA connects the sensors that monitor equipment like motors, pumps, and valves to an onsite or remote server. 

SCADA system hardware

Hardware such as Remote Terminal Units (RTUs) and Programmable Logic Controllers (PLCs) serve as local collection points for acquiring sensor information, often while triggering actions of the connected piece of equipment via programed logic. In a SCADA system, the sensor information is gathered from this collection hardware by a computer commonly known as a “gateway.” 

Gateways can come in various forms: 

  • Edge computers close to the source of the data can act as a gateway, processing the data on-premise before transferring to the cloud or central physical server.
  • Human Machine Interfaces (HMIs) are also able to act as a gateway in addition to providing a touchscreen interface for machine monitoring and control. 
  • The server itself can act as both a gateway as well as the control center for your SCADA environment. 

Once collected, sensor data can either be acted upon directly through the use of SCADA software, or saved for later review. SCADA systems can help monitor and control processes from the same location in which actions are performed, or remotely from a separate location. 

Programmable logic controller in industry.

How does SCADA work?

One of the major efficiencies of SCADA is the ability to monitor and control systems in your facility from multiple locations. Depending on the configuration of the SCADA control system, the state of your production processes can be viewed from an operator workstation overlooking the physical facility, a HMI located directly beside machinery, or even from the home of an employee.

You can also influence and control a SCADA environment without having to directly respond to each event. For example, using logic-based rules, operators are able to designate the completion of certain actions when sensors detect abnormalities. Is the rotating bit on a plywood cutting machine vibrating excessively? The SCADA software can be programmed to power down the machine immediately and avoid causing further potential harm to materials or operators.

Facilities often choose a hybrid version of direct and automated control by creating rules that alert an operator to the abnormal operation. The operator can then make an informed decision on the appropriate next steps. 

Who uses SCADA?

By providing real-time visibility over the state of assets and operations, SCADA helps business owners and operators make smarter decisions, improves efficiency, and minimizes downtime. A huge range of industries use SCADA including manufacturing facilities, oil and gas operations, and public utilities. 

Examples of a SCADA system

From wastewater treatment to power grid management, smart cities are increasingly relying on SCADA control systems to help monitor and optimize everything from traffic light patterns to public power consumption. When a city is able to see spikes in resource usage, such as public transit or electrical consumption, they are able to more quickly respond.

Cities are also able to optimize resources long term when repeated trends are recognized. Certain temperatures and humidity levels may directly correlate with residents turning on their heating or cooling systems. The grid can then be prepared to increase electrical production and transfer as those conditions develop. This also applies to the growing number of electric cars that are charged simultaneously.

Modern factories monitor data from machinery sensors in order to predict maintenance, monitor output speed, and increase operator safety. If a piece of equipment becomes less efficient at a certain point in its maintenance cycle, it may be more profitable to perform maintenance actions more often to avoid a bottleneck in production. Without a SCADA system, it would be difficult to recognize such patterns manually.

Ignition SCADA Ecosystem Map

One example of a SCADA system utilizing Ignition by Inductive Automation

How to implement a SCADA solution

To implement a SCADA solution, you should consider  following these steps:

  • Clearly define and understand what you want to monitor
  • Determine what data you currently collect and how 
  • Add gateways to connect current data collection points
  • Create new data collection points if desired
  • Centralize your data to your intended monitoring location
  • Map data in your SCADA software of choice
  • Add visualizations of data and controls
  • Define automations and rules

SCADA software then takes over to help you interact with your facility, alert you to issues, inform predictive maintenance, and provide control over a handful, or even thousands of pieces of equipment.

It may seem complicated at first, but the goal is essentially to connect the things you want to monitor and control to the location from which you wish to monitor and control them.

Integrated SCADA software

OnLogic partners with the SCADA experts at Inductive Automation. They are the creators of the popular and powerful Ignition SCADA software. Our line of hardware with Ignition Edge software pre-installed can help you get up and running with a SCADA solution more quickly. We combine our reliable hardware designed for industrial environments with the Ignition software, which was specifically developed to streamline modern SCADA implementations.

With the amount of data being produced in modern industrial facilities, the opportunity for optimization has never been greater. The concept of collecting and acting on data isn’t new, but today’s SCADA solutions offer incredible insights and capabilities that were previously inaccessible.

If you still have questions about SCADA,  contact our team of experts today. 

This blog was originally posted on December 1st, 2021. It was updated for content on April 20th, 2022.

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About the Author: Patrick Metzger

Patrick is the Partnership Marketer at OnLogic. His love for technology started with building computers from components with his father as a child and continues to this day. With a professional background in IT, Marketing, Media Production and SaaS, communication is the passion that brings it all together. Patrick currently lives in Richmond, VT, taking advantage of all the outdoor adventures Vermont has to offer.
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