SCADA goes on a transformation journey

10 February 2020

Christian Nomine explores the changing requirements for both SCADA software and HMI systems across the manufacturing and processing sectors as the importance of collecting, storing and analysing data grows.

The changing requirements for both SCADA software and HMI systems are being defined by industry‚Äôs digital transformation. A core element of this process is bridging the gap between operational technology (OT) and the information technology (IT). Achieving this connectivity allows both OT and IT staff to have quick and easy access to timely, relevant data for efficient plant operation and management decisions. 

So, SCADA is moving from simply being a convenient tool for managing a plant or process to a vital part of the digital make-up of a factory. This raises the importance of SCADA platforms to a much more prominent position in the digital transformation process and enabling new business models that go alongside that change.

Because most process and manufacturing plants in Europe have evolved over a long period, modern SCADA solutions need to be able to interact with a variety of both new and legacy software systems and hardware components. This requires a large library of built-in connectivity options for third-party automation controllers, and also requires the ability to connect seamlessly with a range of database technologies and management software platforms such as MES and ERP.  

A role to play
When it comes to machine learning and data analytics, SCADA also has a role to play: using it as a simple way to contextualise data, for example. By adding meaning to pure numbers it can be used to visualise and understand logged machine data, before it is put into a deep neural network to learn patterns and predict outcomes.

From a more independent function point of view SCADA systems are now also being asked to support web services, IIoT and cloud-based connectivity such as OPC UA, plus MQTT and IT connectivity such as SNMP or ICMP to monitor IT assets. 

The need for greater connectivity and functionality requires SCADA solutions to also be underpinned by appropriate levels of security. Once this has been dealt with, convenience becomes the key to usability, and this applies equally to the numerous platforms a comprehensive SCADA solution has to support now. The operator interface should work just as well on an HMI as it does on an industrial PC, a touch screen laptop, a tablet or smart phone. Being platform-independent is also important when it comes to alarm notifications and push messages to mobile devices as much as it is for the main screen interface. 

Christian Nomine is solutions consulting & product marketing SCADA, Factory Automation EMEA, Mitsubishi Electric Europe B.V.

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