When a manufacturer, a utility or an operator of industrial assets needs to manage its machines and processes, what is the technology it turns to? The answer is supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA), a 50+ year-old technology that is nearly universal in industrial operations around the world. But with the exception of process engineers, relatively few people know this technology exists. Let’s learn more about the control systems that power the modern world.
First popularized in the 1970s, the SCADA acronym originally described systems that provided automated control and data acquisition. Coinciding with the advent of the microprocessor, SCADA systems were designed to take advantage of exponentially-increasing computing power available on-site at the factory or in the field through telecommunications networks.
Core SCADA system functions
SCADA systems are responsible for two critical tasks – controlling industrial equipment for large operations such as plants or pipelines, and reading measurements from these operations. More specifically, SCADA systems perform the following:
- Plant and process system monitoring
- Industrial process and machine control (manual and automated)
- Data collection and analysis
- Alarm monitoring and notification
- Reporting (real-time and historical)
SCADA systems require data to perform all these activities. In some respects, early SCADA systems were the precursors to the modern concept of digitization.
Industries that use SCADA systems
Today, SCADA systems are nearly universal across all industries. Any industrial process that automatically controls machines or collects data from sensors uses SCADA technology. Modern SCADA systems can be very small or massive.
The industries and applications commonly associated with SCADA include:
- Power generation, transmission and distribution
- Utilities (water, sewer,