Change Is in the Wind for SCADA

Are SCADA Systems Showing Us the Future of Control System Architecture?

By Walt Boyes

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SCADA in the Cloud

B&B Electronics' Bill Conley has designed a solution for a small water utility in Arizona that incorporates nearly all of the new SCADA system architecture (Figure 1). Using local radio modems, the individual sensors are connected to a cellular router through the "RF cloud." The cellular router transmits the data via the cellular provider's network to the Internet, and from there it goes to the remote PLC, video feed and remote PC at the system head end.

Where previously the system head end was in a control room, Conley's head end is wherever he wants it to be. "Using the cloud for data storage and transmission," he said, "I can control my installation from anywhere using a standard browser, yet maintain a high level of security."

SCADA Apps

SCADA systems are using more COTS products and integrating them like building blocks. Many systems are architected using standard IEEE 802.11 access points and routers. Others use Zigbee, Z-wave and Z-link access points from home automation systems.

Now SCADA meets the app store concept. In February, at the ARC Advisory Group meeting in Orlando, Fla., Inductive Automation announced a marketplace for SCADA software modules for its Ignition software platform. Ignition is a modular software platform that can be customized for applications in a wide variety of industries. Inductive Automation has created a software module store (http://marketplace.inductiveautomation.com/) where users can download, try and buy Ignition modules ranging from small plug-ins to complete MES solutions. The concept is similar to the app store and its competitors on iOS and Android platforms. In the same way they use other app stores, Inductive Automation's users can provide their own modules, and upload them to the marketplace. In the press release announcing the store, CEO Steve Hechtman says, "The ability to instantly buy modules and share modules with the simplicity of an ‘app store' experience will be revolutionary for our users."

Read Also: GE's iPad ProficySCADA App

In fact, the Smart Manufacturing Leadership Coalition is working on a non-proprietary platform designed to permit apps to be combined into systems to control any manufacturing process from automobiles to water and wastewater. It seems this concept is the future of SCADA and industrial control system architecture.

Integration for Everyone?

COTS products, including wireless sensors, network access points and gateways have redefined the simplicity of integrating SCADA systems. With the addition of modular software apps, it will be possible to create a SCADA system of nearly any size or complexity with the efficiency of plug-and-play utilities. This will lower the cost of system design and widen the number of systems in use. 

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