What’s driving the development of future-proof SCADA?

Jon Lawson

With the role of SCADA changing within the process industry, it pays for plant managers to become familiar with the trends that are shaping the development of next-generation systems. With modern technology pushing operating capabilities ever further, what key features will denote 'future-proof' SCADA?

Here, we explore the characteristics of modern and future SCADA platforms.

If you put the obvious (and inevitable) jumps forward in functionality and networking communication to one side, the major factor in the development of SCADA for the process plants of the future is a practical one; the user demand for increased versatility.

Not only should the latest SCADA monitoring systems offer ease of integration for existing and new technologies, they should also display the scalability and transparency required to allow plant managers to create a truly custom monitoring system with ease.

Such characteristics can be achieved by actively designing a SCADA system for the latest software platform technologies – future-proofing, which can be achieved by utilising the latest network protocols, modular process structures, graphical capabilities and communication technologies as part of SCADA software architecture.

A next-gen SCADA platform should use specific hardware and OPC UA protocols for ease of integration across the plant; Windows Presentation Foundation (WPF) graphics for modular process modelling would be a good idea and connectivity to the cloud via a range of options is pretty much essential. All are technologies that will likely form the basis of Internet of Things (IoT) and compatibility with future expansion towards Industry 4.0 compatible monitoring systems. SCADA platforms must evolve and adapt seamlessly with these trends.

Beyond the plant’s walls

Traditionally, SCADA has been confined within the plant walls, either though network PCs or HMI terminals.

However, the smart device revolution of the last few years has changed this. Smart phone SCADA apps for iOS and Android operating systems mean that plant managers can now monitor and analyse data from anywhere, 24 hours a day, on a personal wireless device, offering improved responsiveness to alarms and increasing production uptime as a result.

Monitoring will be further revolutionised by breakthroughs in augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) technologies.

In the not-too-distant future, it is not implausible that we will see engineers using virtual headsets to navigate a 3D plant that offers real-time data and models representing the physical plant off-site.

Increases in graphical capabilities will achieve accurate environments that will enable engineers to gain even more insight into processes, and maybe even amend applicable parameters virtually via the AR or VR environment.

Continuing demand from users for versatility and ease of implementation are spurring large developments in SCADA frameworks, while the increased connectivity available in our modern world is being reflected by cloud and smart-device based monitoring systems. Ultimately, to keep pace with the demands of Industry 4.0, SCADA systems are now required to be modular, so that they can seamlessly adapt to incorporate future technologies. With this approach, operators can enjoy the efficiency, profitability and agility of an ever-evolving future-proof SCADA platform.

Paul Hurst is director at Products4Automation

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