Supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA)

What is SCADA?

A Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA) system is used to monitor and control an industrial facility’s operational processes from a central location. It uses a combination of software and hardware to accomplish the following:

  • Monitor, collect, and process data in real-time
  • Record event data into a log file
  • Control industrial processes locally or remotely
  • Interact directly with connected devices using a graphical user interface (GUI)

A typical SCADA system can be used to monitor a process for any potential failures. If a failure is detected, the SCADA carries out a chain of commands to identify the issue and alert you of the problem. Every SCADA system can be customized to fit a specific application and can range from simple to complex.

SCADA systems were first used in the 1960s and are now a vital component in industrial operations worldwide. As technology advances, some SCADA systems are incorporating wireless communication and IoT technologies to improve reliability and cost efficiency, and to increase remote range and capabilities.

How do SCADA systems work?

A SCADA system is made up of several pieces of software and hardware, all working to monitor and control the function of equipment across local or remote networks. This collection of software and hardware includes:

  • Programmable logic controllers (PLCs)
  • Remote terminal units (RTUs)
  • Distribution control systems (DCS)
  • Process control systems (PCS)

These control components can then be connected to other devices that monitor processes, such as sensors and meters. All information collected and generated by these devices is sent to the SCADA software, which processes and displays the data for operators to review. They can also record all gathered data into a log file. This log file can be accessed and downloaded for later investigation if necessary.

From there, operators can analyze the data, make an informed decision about the operation of equipment, and put those decisions into action. This is when PLCs and RTUs are used to directly trigger components such as valves, switches, and factory machines.

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How is a SCADA system used in maintenance?

A SCADA system’s primary benefits are its ability to maintain efficiency, collect information, and communicate potential issues—all of which are perfectly suited for a maintenance function. A maintenance department can install a SCADA system to detect any undesirable change in system status. Let’s say they set up a system to detect leaks in a critical pipeline. Once the leak is found, the system can be set up to automatically shut off flow to the pipe to prevent hazardous conditions and/or material loss. This automated capability minimizes human error and increases safety for the facility.

When it comes time to diagnose the leak and conduct root cause analysis, the maintenance team can pull the logs from the SCADA system and use that information to help determine the source of the malfunction. Then, once the problem is fixed, the SCADA system can remain in place for as long as necessary to ensure that all issues have been addressed properly.

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