12 Jul 2024

SCADA is dead, or is it?


Stefan Reuther, member of the executive board at industrial software specialist, COPA-DATA, examines the role of SCADA in Industry 4.0.

Data plays a vital role in the digitalisation of industrial facilities. But, as industry’s digitalisation goals become more ambitious, and our expectations of facility data increases, how is technology for data capture and analysis changing?

Let’s get this straight: SCADA as we knew it is gone. The traditional automation pyramid has collapsed, and IT/OT convergence is on the rise. The next generation of solutions has arrived and is paving the way for advanced manufacturing.

We are in the age of industrial digitalisation, and control and monitoring software has never been so ubiquitous. Before we can understand the purpose of SCADA in Industry 4.0 journeys, we need to understand how the technology is changing. The technology has shifted from a tool for monitoring and data capture, to the technology shaping the smart factories of the future. One of the crucial ways this is achieved is the use platforms with open system architecture.

Open system architecture

Open system architecture describes the elimination of vendor dependence that is often associated with early and proprietary SCADA systems. In practice, an open system is not limited to operating with one original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) products, or a limited number of communication protocols.

This level of flexibility is key to ensuring modern systems are fit for purpose in modern factories. Moreover, providers of futureproof SCADA systems must be willing to continually adopt and embrace new standards to keep up with the growing scale of Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) device networks. When specifying a software platform, guaranteed updates are one the one hand a necessity, however vendors do also need to ensure Long-term support (LTS) for up to ten years.

IT and OT convergence

Another consideration is the integration of Information Technology (IT). Some modern platforms are capable of integrating data sets that were previously limited to the IT space. For instance, capturing data from Enterprise Resource Management (ERP) or Manufacturing Execution Systems (MES) systems for consideration alongside Operational Technology (OT) data from the factory floor.

Data collected by IT systems can be used to streamline production processes, fix critical issues faster and make better informed decisions — but only if it is collected, transmitted and processed effectively and securely. The most effective systems will be able to operate across both of these technology spheres. In addition, a software platform doesn’t only gather data from different hardware and IT systems but do also need to provide data in an open format and accessible for third parties, e.g. through a REST API. Modern SCADA can operate like a data hub or, as you could also name it, as an OTIL (Operation Technology Integration Layer).

Applying SCADA for Industry 4.0

Now we understand the potential of modern SCADA systems — how do engineers use this technology in their digitalization journey? On its most basic level, a SCADA system lets an operator verify that its machinery is operating correctly. However, modern systems should enable an operator to use SCADA data to determine how to make improvements or adjustments to equipment to maximize productivity or efficiency.

At the beginning of any digitalization project, a manufacturer should consider its data sets and use them to determine smart goals. Is achieving better energy efficiency a key company goal? The platform should be capable of identifying areas of high energy usage, and this is where that organization should start their process. Is improved capacity to produce customized projects a goal? In this case, data on equipment availability will be key. In order for the company to make informed decisions on digitalization, having access to a full facility of data sets is key.

Without having clear visualization of all the data produced from a facility — whether this is related to energy usage, productivity, downtime or something else — it is impossible to embark on an informed Industry 4.0 journey. In fact, proper investment in data collection technology should come before any other smart factory investment — including any hardware.

Challenges of SCADA upgrades

A common challenge faced by engineers when updating their SCADA system is setting up new automation projects. Overhauling aging SCADA systems can leave engineers with a significant programming burden. This is particularly challenging as the industry continues to struggle with skills shortages. However, good systems are capable of removing the need for complex programming.

The product philosophy of COPA-DATA’s zenon, as an example, is to set parameters instead of programming. In practice, this means an extensive library of pre-designed static and dynamic elements and symbols. This means that no prior knowledge of programming is needed and projects can be created via clicking instead of coding — in comparison to an engineer having to write tens of thousands of lines of code. This can result in significantly less downtime for a manufacturer switching its system and crucially, a reduced need for investment, recruitment and training resources for the engineering team.

This ease-of-use is crucial for a next generation SCADA to be implemented in an Industry 4.0 project. Frankly, the only good digital tools you will invest in, are the ones you will actually use.

SCADA for Industry 4.0

There is no doubt that Industry 4.0 is transforming the way manufacturers operate, but it is also transforming how SCADA systems work, and what businesses should expect from them. Long gone are the days when straightforward data capture is enough. To fulfil Industry 4.0 goals, SCADA systems must be much more advanced.

At COPA-DATA, we took the decision to move away from using heavily the terminology SCADA for our solutions approx. 5 years ago. The zenon software platform had developed into a far more advanced tool for data capture, visualisation, analysis and reporting. For manufacturers with Industry 4.0 goals, a platform with this level of comprehension is necessary.

Company info: COPA-DATA UK