Advanced SCADA applications, Part 3: SCADA system development best practices

In an October 12, 2023 webcast, “SCADA series: Advanced SCADA applications,” Andreina Lugo, software automation manager at Northwind Technical Services, and Mike Lennon, vice president at Applied Control Engineering, discussed the SCADA software selection process and SCADA implementation best practices.

By Control Engineering March 6, 2024

SCADA insights

  • In an October 12, 2023 webcast, “SCADA series: Advanced SCADA applications,” Andreina Lugo, software automation manager at Northwind Technical Services, and Mike Lennon, vice president at Applied Control Engineering, discussed the SCADA software selection process and SCADA implementation best practices
  • In Part 1, Lugo discusses the SCADA software selection process and vendor research.
  • Read part 2 for more information on the role and value of system integrators, part 3 for SCADA best practices and part 4 for upcoming advances in SCADA technology.

For an industrial company, selecting a supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) system is vital decision that involves taking a variety of different factors into consideration. End-users most find a platform that is compatible with their pre-existing software and hardware; capable of accommodating the needs of their unique applications; allows for future scalability via easy expansion and upgrades; and provides appropriate report configuration and data sharing capabilities. Moreover, once a platform is selected, adhering to best practices is critical to ensuring that end-users get the most out of their chosen software.

In an October 12 Control Engineering webcast, “SCADA series: Advanced SCADA applications,” Andreina Lugo, software automation manager at Northwind Technical Services, and Mike Lennon, vice president at Applied Control Engineering, discussed the SCADA software selection process and SCADA implementation best practices.

Below, the transcript of their presentation has been provided with minor edits and adaptations.

SCADA best practices and application integration

Mike Lennon: Today, I aim to discuss SCADA best practices and their integration into the applications you develop for your systems, specifically for plant users. This discussion will include implementation best practices and examples of applications that might be novel to you. I will start with a personal experience that reshaped my approach to developing SCADA applications for my customers.

Case study: A hydroelectric plant experience

My pivotal experience was at a hydroelectric plant in Massachusetts. We were tasked with providing an HMI package and SCADA software. The plant manager desired a visually appealing graphic with 3D animations, including spinning turbine blades and current megawatt output displays. However, an encounter with Teddy, a seasoned plant operator, shifted my perspective. Teddy, with 30 years of experience, primarily operated through an old board system without computerized HMI. After implementing our SCADA system, Teddy custom-adjusted it to display only the essential data he needed for efficient operation: upstream river levels, power canal levels, and downstream levels. This experience highlighted the importance of understanding what operators and users genuinely need from SCADA systems.

Best practices in SCADA system development

When developing SCADA systems, the primary focus should be on safety, efficiency, and quality production. It’s crucial to provide contextual information and design systems where abnormal situations stand out, enabling operators to respond effectively.

Effective use of color in SCADA systems

A key best practice is the strategic use of color. I’ll share an example from a modernization project where we applied ISA-101 best practices. We used neutral backgrounds and limited the use of alarm colors, such as red, to emergency situations only. This approach enhances the visibility of abnormal conditions, as demonstrated in a comparison of two graphics. The revised graphic, with its neutral background, makes it easier to identify issues like low levels and discharge pressures, which were harder to spot in the original graphic.

Practical example of a SCADA graphic enhancement

An effective SCADA design should enable operators to quickly understand and react to the current state of the system. For instance, in one of our enhanced graphics, a lightweight trend on a tank displays current levels, allowing operators to anticipate future states and take proactive actions. This kind of practical, user-centric design is what we aim to implement in SCADA systems.

Understanding the role of level 3 graphics in SCADA systems

While Level 3 graphics, as defined in ISA-101, represent a more traditional, living P&ID approach, they should not be the primary control in a SCADA system. These graphics, although familiar, are not designed for primary control purposes.

Designing effective primary control screens

For a primary control screen, the design should enable operators to take comprehensive action within their responsibility area and quickly identify issues. A screen like the one shown here exemplifies the type of graphic ideal for primary control. It allows immediate recognition of problems, like the apparent issue with the scrubber. This kind of graphic is what I would have ideally created for Teddy, reflecting the principles I’ve learned throughout my career.

Evolution and accessibility of SCADA software

Historically, creating such user-focused graphics was challenging due to limitations in SCADA software. However, modern packages offer more flexibility and ease of use. With today’s software, I would have provided Teddy with essential information like the three river levels and the status of the 15 gates in the gatehouse. Important safety systems, such as emergency releases, should also be prominently displayed, offering operators like Teddy crucial information at all times.

Efficiency of modern SCADA software

Addressing a query about the effort required in developing SCADA software, modern packages typically include pre-built objects for easy integration into graphics. For example, analog displays with lightweight trends can show levels over time, providing more context than a mere numerical value. These features, requiring minimal setup like tagging, offer significant information with historical context, essential for effective operation.

Developing user-centric SCADA interfaces

Switching back to our Level 2 graphic, I want to emphasize the importance of a process-friendly interface. When unfamiliar with a specific process, an operator should still be able to discern the system’s status at a glance. In our example, the problematic scrubber is highlighted to draw immediate attention. Creating such an interface is an iterative process involving extensive discussions with staff and end users. By exploring Level 3 P&ID graphics, we gather insights into the essential information needed for efficient plant operation. This collaborative approach results in a control room interface that is both informative and intuitive, as demonstrated in the example provided.