Implementing SCADA: Three Questions Plant Managers Need To Ask

SCADA, or supervisory control and data acquisition, is not a buzzword or a trend. Today, it is a baseline for proactive manufacturing operations management. Techtarget.com provides a good definition of SCADA as “a category of software application program for process control, the gathering of data in real time from remote locations in order to control equipment and conditions.” Wikipedia provides a more detailed SCADA definition as a “control system architecture that uses computers, networked data communications and graphical user interfaces for high-level process supervisory management, but uses other peripheral devices such as programmable logic controller (PLC) and discrete PID controllers to interface with the process plant or machinery.”

The concept and early iterations of SCADA have been around since the early 1970s. But what we think of and expect from SCADA has certainly changed over the last forty years. Mainly this is due to the technological evolution of architectural developments.

SCADA History: Architecture Development

Wikipedia lists these four generations as:

  • Monolithic – “SCADA systems as independent systems with no connectivity to other systems and computing performed by large minicomputers”
  • Distributed – “SCADA systems distributed information and command processing across multiple stations which were connected through a LAN. Information was shared in near real time. Each station was responsible for a particular task.”
  • Networked – “SCADA systems were spread across more than one LAN network called a process control network (PCN) and separated geographically. Several distributed architecture SCADAs running in parallel, with a single supervisor and historian, could be considered a network architecture.”
  • Internet of things – “SCADA systems incorporating cloud computing to improve interoperability. Allows for connecting data from a disparate mix of sensors, controllers and databases.”

SCADA: Monitor, gather and process data

SCADA can be boiled down to the following: an integrated system to monitor, gather and process data from all critical machines within a production environment. But it is easy to see how the core purpose for SCADA gets a little clouded in today’s graphical, web-driven, data-intense world. SCADA is a noun, but plant managers should think of SCADA as a verb. SCADA is a series of actions all poised to drive towards a result and purpose.

We see two key factors as steering away from SCADA’s original intent: Data Volume and Rich Graphics.

“The value of an idea lies in the using of it.”

Thomas Edison, co-founder of General Electric

Data Volume:

The overwhelming opinion for SCADA is that it needs more and more data. Most companies and managers are thinking “We need to collect data or more data.” They see data is the key. But data is the resource, not the result. Data is not the driver or the vehicle… it is the fuel. Just having more of something does not mean you will know what to do with all of it to get what you really need from it.

“Beware lest you lose the substance by grasping at the shadow.”

Aesop

 Rich Graphics:

Dashboards. That is another aspect of today’s SCADA thinking that can get in the way of a successful monitoring or SCADA project. Graphics and reporting and visuals are cool. The data that is gathered does need to be analyzed and presented in an easily digestible format. Dashboards are not bad, but let’s make certain that the data presented is information you can use… is actionable information. Is information that helps generate better decisions.

SCADA: What should Plant Managers look for with SCADA?

Plant managers, production or operations managers, and continuous improvement team members need to evaluate SCADA implementation in the same manner. The focus centers on the reason for being in business: to be profitable, aka make money, and to provide opportunities and livelihoods for people.

When evaluating implementing SCADA and improving operational monitoring, stay on track for success by asking these three simple questions:

  • Will it improve my yield?
  • Will it increase productivity?
  • Will it be a benefit for my people?

This blog will be looking at these three questions in more detail. Stay tuned.