SCADA: Bridging the OT/IT divide

01 March 2021

Christian Nomine discusses how SCADA can overcome one of the key barriers to the digital transformation of a company’s operations.

Today SCADA is perhaps more important than it has ever been, providing an integration bridge between the plant floor and the higher level enterprise. In an environment where commercial success depends on both plant floor and IT staff having quick and easy access to timely and relevant data, SCADA has become the enabler for efficient plant operation and effective management decisions.

Transparent communications between operational technology (OT) of the plant floor and the information technology (IT) of the higher level business systems is a fundamental requirement for the success of Industry 4.0 projects. The bridge needed to achieve this must be able to handle a range of different protocols and conversions, deal with a mix of new and legacy technologies, and interface seamlessly with different database technologies and management software platforms.

Starting with a blank sheet of paper, these challenges might appear significant. However, SCADA systems have long offered the ability to communicate with multiple systems at various levels of the automation pyramid. With a library of built-in connectivity options for new and legacy components, third-party automation controllers and systems, plus data translation capabilities, SCADA can provide the important bridge between OT and IT.

As the link between the plant floor and the higher-level systems, SCADA provides the means to contextualise data, adding meaning to raw information. At the same time, it is able to transform data into an easy-to-understand graphical representation, offering improved visualisation and enhanced productivity.

Gateway for OPC UA
The traditional strength of SCADA in interfacing different protocols means it can also provide a gateway for OPC UA, which has become the preferred technology for connecting the separate OT and IT worlds, and on to the Cloud. At the same time, modern SCADA systems have risen beyond the perception of a technology that is only really relevant to process industries where event times and reaction times are often far longer than in discrete manufacturing. Today’s SCADA is just as adept at providing the deterministic Ethernet or Time Sensitive Networks (TSN) interface between plant controllers. 

Further, modern SCADA in its new role of Industry 4.0 enabler addresses another of the fundamental challenges of the digital transformation – security. The latest developments in SCADA enable system developers to implement a robust defence strategy against cyber attack, all as part of the natural design process rather than being a series of ad-hoc add-ons to patch perceived vulnerabilities. As a result, SCADA can provide a platform for creating advanced, integrated and secure solutions that deliver real value to the business.

Industry 4.0 is raising the importance of SCADA platforms to become a vital part of the digital make-up of the plant. In addition to continuing to fulfil its traditional role, SCADA has become the key enabler for the digital transformation of industry and the new business models that it creates.

Christian Nomine is strategic product manager Visualization, Factory Automation EMEA at Mitsubishi Electric Europe B. V.

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