For more than 40 years Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA) has helped various industries to monitor and manage their industrial applications and processes, helping to boost the efficiency of operations and reduce costs. Yet with technological advances expanding the range of systems and monitoring methods available, has SCADA had its day?
SCADA is an end-to-end supervisory system that acquires data from the field through Remote Terminal Units (RTUs) or Intelligent Electrical Devices (IEDs), which are connected to sensors through a communications network. The system processes this data and subsequently sends commands back to the field, with individual SCADA applications often working in parallel with one another.
The Oil and Gas industry uses SCADA to monitor offshore or onshore extraction processes or pipelines from a central remote location. Similarly the Mining industry uses it for environmental monitoring and asset tracking. Power Utilities use SCADA in Energy Management Systems (EMS) and Distribution Management Systems (DMS) to optimise the performance of transmission and distribution networks, and to protect the grid network. Railways also use SCADA to control traction power supply, implement train control automation, and manage communication, electrical and mechanical assets at stations.
But after three-generations of SCADA – standalone SCADA, distributed SCADA, and networked SCADA – some industries, including Oil and Gas, are now utilising what some argue is the fourth-generation SCADA application: Internet of Things (IoT).
IoT is revolutionizing SCADA by offering standardisation and openness. Indeed several communication protocols between a back end and a machine have been standardised by the Open Mobile Alliance (LW-M2M*, OMA-DM**) and the Broadband Forum (CWMP-TR69***). IoT is also providing scalability, interoperability, and enhanced security by introducing the concept of middleware or IoT platform.
Unlike proprietary, siloed and fragmented SCADA solutions in which individual sensors all talk to their respective back-end applications using proprietary protocols, the single IoT service platform from Nokia called IMPACT™ collects, syndicates and manages all flows using open communication standards and exposes the data through standard APIs and web services. This has enabled the development of business applications and business analytics software on top of this middleware which can compute the information collected from millions of devices.
So does the advent of IoT mean the end of SCADA?
Not necessarily. It is relatively complex to upgrade existing SCADA systems, and many industries continue to rely on them for mission-critical applications like collecting parameters from a mining gallery on carbon monoxide and methane gas, temperature and humidity, status of ventilation and many more operational parameters, which are essential for the safety of field workers.
IoT is considered the next phase in the evolution of SCADA and logical platform for an upgrade when the time is right. It finally offers a standardised, scalable, inter-operable and future-proof solution that does not tie a customer to a single supplier but still delivers the improved efficiency and reduced costs associated with SCADA applications over the past 40 years.
* LightWeight M2M
** Open Mobile Alliance – Device Management
*** CPE WAN Management Protocol – Technical Report 69
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