What is SCADA?


SCADA, or Supervisory Control And Data Acquisition, is a system of software and hardware elements that allows industrial organizations to control industrial processes locally or at remote locations, monitor, gather, and process real-time data, directly interact with devices such as sensors, valves, pumps, motors, and more through human-machine interface (HMI) software, and record events and information into log files or databases.

A SCADA system is very important for an industrial organization to maintain efficiency, process data for better decisions, and communicate system issues to help mitigate downtime. A basic SCADA system’s architecture begins with PLCs (programmable logic controllers) or RTUs (remote terminal units). PLCs and RTUs are microcomputer controllers that communicate with an array of objects such as factory machines, human machine interfaces (HMIs), sensors, and end devices that route the information to the SCADA software from the industrial system. The SCADA software processes, distributes, and displays data from the controllers. This data helps operators and other users analyze the data to make necessary decisions and/or changes.


For example, Sweetwater Authority provides water treatment and distribution to 200,000 people in a service area that covers 32 square miles near San Diego, California. In 2017, Enterprise Automation was contracted to complete controls system design and architecture for Sweetwater. The components provided by Enterprise Automation as part of construction included 5 new local well control panels located throughout the city, 5 new plant panels for new equipment at the facility, and 21 new local VFD control panels for chemical dosing pumps. Among these installations, EA helped document the facility’s control strategy and functional operation. EA then programmed and tested a SCADA system to operate the plant and all its functions, ensuring maximum efficiency.

Who uses SCADA?

SCADA systems are used by industrial organizations and companies in both public and private sectors. These organizations and companies use SCADA to control and maintain efficiency, distribute data for better decisions, and communicate system issues to help mitigate downtime. SCADA systems work very well in many different types of industries and enterprises due to SCADA’s versatility. SCADA systems are the foundation on which the following modern industries stand upon:

  • Energy
  • Food and beverage
  • Manufacturing
  • Oil and gas
  • Power
  • Recycling
  • Transportation
  • Water and waste water

SCADA systems run the processes of the modern world almost everywhere you look, whether it be the refrigeration system at a grocery store, the production and safety at a refinery, the energy consumption at your house, and ensuring quality standards at a waste water treatment plant. Modern SCADA systems help organizations save time and money, all while ensuring the best possible processes and standards.

SCADA At Its Inception

Prior to the concept of SCADA being introduced in the mid-20th century, many manufacturing plants, industrial plants, and remote sites relied on company personnel to manually control and monitor equipment personally. As these industries began to scale out in size, a need for a solution to control equipment on a larger scale and longer distances arose. The first solution was to use relays and timers to provide a level of supervision and control without sending personnel to various locations to monitor various devices.

At first, the relays and timers solved many problems by providing limited automation functionality. However, more issues arose as organizations continued to grow. Relays and timers became difficult to reconfigure, troubleshoot, and took up too much space. More efficient automation became an apparent need to control and monitor systems.

Shortly after, in the 1950’s, computers were developed and utilized for industrial control purposes. This gave major utilities, oil and gas pipelines, and other industrial markets supervision and control. Telemetry, the process of recording and transmitting the readings of an instrument, was introduced in the 1960’s. This allowed for automated communications to transmit measurements and other data from sites and equipment. “SCADA” was coined in the 1970’s to describe microprocessors and programmable logic controllers that helped increase enterprises’ ability to monitor and control automated processes more than ever before.

Evolution of SCADA

The first versions of SCADA began with mainframe computers. Networks were not available at the time, and each SCADA system stood completely on its own, referred to as monolithic SCADA systems. In the 80’s and 90’s, SCADA began to evolve alongside smaller computer systems, Local Area Networking (LAN) technology, and PC-based HMI software. SCADA systems were now able to communicate with other similar systems in proximity. The LAN protocols used in these systems were proprietary, which gave vendors control on how to optimize the transfer of data. However, these systems could not communicate with other systems from other vendors. These were called distribution SCADA systems.

In the 90’s and early 2000’s, SCADA embraced an open system architecture and communications protocols that were not vendor specific. This version of SCADA was called a networked SCADA system, and it took advantage of technology for communication such as Ethernet. Networked SCADA systems allowed systems from other vendors to communicate, thus alleviating the limitations of previous SCADA systems. This allowed organizations to connect more devices to the network.

Traditional SCADA systems still use proprietary technology to handle its data but is messy and expensive. Modern SCADA aims to solve this by leveraging the best of controls and information of technology.

Modern SCADA Systems

Modern SCADA systems allow real-time data from the plant floor to be accessed from anywhere. This access enables organizations and companies to make data driven decisions about how to improve processes. Modern SCADA also incorporates rapid application development (RAD) capabilities that allow its users to design and modify applications in low-code interfaces.

The introduction of modern Information Technology standards and practices has improved the efficiency, security, productivity, and reliability. Using SQL data within a SCADA system will allow for easier integration of existing mission essential systems (MES) and enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems and allow the data to freely flow through the entire organization.

Future of SCADA

The future of SCADA is tied closely to the evolution of industrial automation. As the industry moves towards heavier utilization of advanced analytics, the supporting technologies will adapt to the needs of these cutting-edge systems and reflect the priorities of the industry. SCADA systems will increasingly employ technologies that facilitate large scale real-time data collection and interconnectivity such as IIoT devices (Industrial Internet of Things) and cloud-based data servers. Beyond increased connectivity between physical assets, SCADA systems will become more tightly integrated with other software systems such as manufacturing execution systems (MES) and business systems. These highly integrated data systems will enable the use of machine learning and artificial intelligence algorithms for predictive analytics, anomaly detection, process optimization, and more.



What is SCADA (supervisory control and data acquisition)? (techtarget.com)

What is SCADA? Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (inductiveautomation.com)

What is SCADA? Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (oleumtech.com)