How can a SCADA System change your business?
First thing’s first. What do we mean when we talk about a SCADA?
Break the acronym down and what you get from SCADA is ‘Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition.’
Any the wiser?
OK, a SCADA is a centralized system that lets you keep an eye on – and control – devices at remote locations. In simple terms, it’s a remote control system that lets you monitor what’s happening elsewhere, and take measures according to the data you receive. There are levels of SCADA systems – some with a human in command before action is taken, and others which are system-run, the SCADA itself adjusting activity based on the data it acquires and the parameters set for it.
So…why would you want one of those?
That depends who you are. We’re getting more and more used to versions of SCADA in our own domestic lives – smart hubs allowing for auto-temperature regulation, so for instance when we walk in the door on a cold winter the temperature’s right and it improves our lives immeasurably.
That’s not what we’re talking about here though. SCADA in an industrial setting is all about using real-time data to ensure and maintain peak efficiency within systems at all times.
Whether you’re aware of them or not, SCADA systems are more or less everywhere in 21st century industry. Industrial plants, manufacturing, transportation, oil and gas, power distribution, water control, you name it, chances are there’s a SCADA system at the heart of it.
Elements Of A SCADA System
What you need to have an effective SCADA system are four elements working together.
There’s usually at least two elements here – collection of data in its raw form, and translation from one schema to another so raw data can be used by other systems. Temperature data can be collected in Celsius and translated to Fahrenheit for instance, or raw signal data to usable dBm data.
Networked Data Communication
Similarly with communication, there are at least two usual ways this is done. Data can either be transmitted as soon as it’s received and processed, or it can be transmitted on receipt of a data request signal from the supervisory hub.
Data in its raw form (or even when translated into a technically useful schema) can be impenetrable to either systems or systems operators without further translation into easily-accessible forms. The data can be translated into tabular or graphical forms for ease of understanding and use.
If the data supports command or control actions, they can be implemented, either by technicians, usually via a Human Machine Interface (HMI), or automatically by things like Programmable Logic Controllers (PLCs) or Remote Telemetry Units (RTUs)
How Can A SCADA Change Your Business?
They can save it time and money, naturally.
Oh. Oh, you mean what can it do that will save your business time and money?
Imagine you have real-time-critical system checking to do, with various out-stations needing to report in with collected data on a regular basis, day and night.
To do that with an all-human system, you’re requiring at least one person at each site to collect data and transmit it, and at least one person at control to collate the date, check it for conformity to standards, and OK it as having been collated, checked and within acceptable parameters.
That’s not only the very definition of a box-checking exercise, it’s intensively labour-expensive. Maybe five, six, ten salaries just for one process that has to be repeated throughout the day and the night. That’s shift work, so ten, twelve or more people, employed on a simple checking exercise. It also depends on x-number of people to check and collate data more or less at the same time, and for the controller to collate the data in real time at the speed of a human being in order to keep the data collation as fresh, relevant and reliable as possible. There might also need to be a data-checker involved, adding latency into the system for the sake of certainty.
With a SCADA, none of that is necessary. Once they’re programmed, remote units can be relied on to ping data to control precisely when required, and control can collate it without the rational possibility of error, and record it, action it, do whatever is necessary in response to the data, at the speed of a computer. Which is to say, faster than any number of human beings.
Computers have neither trade unions, nervous breakdowns, nor philosophical musings about whether data-checking in the middle of the night is what they were really cut out for. Computers just do their job. Which makes a SCADA not only faster, easier and more efficient than people for some such necessary but tedious jobs, it makes them perfect for those jobs.
What a SCADA gives you is the rapid, usually error-free processing of routine but system-necessary data points from remote locations, without needing to involve staff until or unless there is an anomaly that requires particular human operator oversight. It streamlines the process, speeds it up considerably, and gives you instant double-checking.
The Heart Of The Matter
It can initiate actions that are within the parameters of its programming, so if, for instance, data-points indicate an increasing heat level, it can auto-initiate systems that will bring temperatures back down to within optimum levels. And where data is received which requires actions outside the scope of its programming, it can then alert a human operator to perform any necessary judgments or actions. And all without a need to employ real people to be bored for the largest part of their day, and press some buttons for added excitement.
Essentially, you can think of a SCADA as being equivalent to a heart in a body. Nobody has to tell the heart to keep beating. No-one, thankfully, has to send regular thoughts to the heart, saying “Beat now.” If we did, we’d never have survived.
But the system keeps running, keeping the whole outlying body operating – brain, armpit, left big toe, nose, they’re all dependent on the automatic operation of the heart. The SCADA is a low-cost heart for plenty of industrial systems.
We initially made the comparison between a home smart system and an industrial SCADA. While they’re not actually the same thing, they do operate on similar principles – to the extent that there are now SCADA systems which can be operated and monitored remotely via the internet, in the same way as you can check your heating at home, see who’s at your door and the like through smart connected technologies and a smartphone app.
We also made the extreme example of saving several staff salaries by implementing a SCADA system at the heart of your operation.
The extreme example though is rapidly becoming the mainstream. By running systems more effectively and automating so many processes, SCADA systems eradicate some of the costlier elements out of your processes, and allow you to deliver both data and systems processes to meet real-time needs. From pre-heating or pre-starting machine processes automatically at programmed times, to data collation without excessive staffing costs, SCADA systems are helping streamline industrial processes, increase accuracy at speed, and cut those staff budgets.
It’s also worth noting that you don’t need to retrain a SCADA system from scratch – if your needs change, you don’t usually need to swap out hardware. Merely adapt the software and the programming parameters of your system, and you should be good to go down whatever new lines you need.
Ideally when you install a SCADA system in your processes, it’ll be done by a professional team. That means they’ll be able to advise you on the most efficient way of running the system, and ideally, will support you through any maintenance or upgrading you need as time goes on
That makes SCADA a highly effective way to run your industrial processes and systems, saving you time, duplication of effort, the opportunity for error, and an unnecessary staffing budget into the bargain.
How can a SCADA System change your business?