More answers on new SCADA features and functions

In an August 15 webcast on new SCADA features and functions, Avanceon’s Matt Ruth and Nicholas Imfeld discussed advances in SCADA technology—and how to justify investing in an upgrade. See unanswered questions from the live event below.

By Control Engineering November 7, 2023
In the Control Engineering webcast SCADA series: New SCADA features and functions,” Matt Ruth, president at Avanceon, and Nicholas Imfeld, operations manager at Avanceon, discussed current trends and innovations pertaining to SCADA technology. Courtesy: CFE Media and Technology


Learning Objectives

  • Explore audience questions from a Control Engineering webcast on new SCADA features and functions.
  • Review additional audience questions related to situational awareness, cybersecurity and more.

From its inception, Industry 4.0 has emphasized the pursuit of system-wide efficiencies and data-based decision making. As such, it’s no surprise that interest and investment in supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) systems has grown in recent years as companies seek to adapt. SCADA systems can provide end-users with a variety of benefits, including:

  • Holistic visibility: Because SCADA systems provide a central platform for monitoring and visualization of entire operations, they can help end-users understand how different components and processes interact with each other.

  • Data integration and analysis: By aggregating data from numerous sources, SCADA can help operators identify system-wide trends, patterns and correlations.

  • Adaptive and predictive control and maintenance: Advanced analytics as well as artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning can be applied to the large datasets SCADA systems provide in order to anticipate future system behavior. This enables proactive, rather than reactive adjustments to optimize performance and prevent production stoppages.

In an August 15 Control Engineering webcast, “SCADA series: New SCADA features and functions,” Matt Ruth, president at Avanceon, and Nicholas Imfeld, operations manager at Avanceon, discussed current trends and innovations pertaining to SCADA technology.  Questions submitted by the audience that were not answered during the live event are addressed below.

In what ways does the integration of virtual reality (VR) or augmented reality (AR) technologies enhance situational awareness and decision-making in SCADA environments?

Matt Ruth: I see these as different spaces. VR and AR are primiarly being used in the training space (E.G. How work is done on the physical elements of a system), and less in the monitoring of the system. I would argue that using VR/AR in a SCADA system would run counter to the principles of situational awareness much the same way that the earlier SCADA trends of using 3D graphics and lots of colors worked against the simple/clean presentation of information which is highlighted by situational awareness display methodologies.

How does offering a variety of access options impact the security, convenience and operational flexibility of SCADA systems?

Matt Ruth: Access options drive use and expansion of scale for operations resources.  With more mobile and remote options, there is less reliance on staffing at each physical asset location.  As a result, less operators can cover more assets.  From a security perspective it is critical to consider a security approach that addresses verification on a physical basis (firewall, DMZ, etc.) as well as from a procedural perspective (allowing specific access only to operators allows you to know who should be online at any given time).

What are the most common communications protocols for SCADA and IED’s?

Matt Ruth: Ethernet is the main protocol in today’s modern factory.

How is modern SCADA different from the original?

Matt Ruth: There are many technical innovations in modern SCADA (refined graphics, mobile form factors of interface, alarm segregation, historian integration, advanced navigation, etc.), but at the end of the day the modern SCADA answers the following questions:

  • It simplifies and streamlines the information and makes it easy for operators to access.

  • It’s accessible by everyone from anywhere

  • It emphasizes having valuable information/knowledge rather than just large quantities of data.

  • It is a platform for future expansion and advanced applications like MES, analytics and predictive maintenance.

What are some advancements in SCADA technology to protect against extreme weather climates (excessive heat)?  Are there new technologies to support the system in the event of localized power loss?

Matt Ruth: The main environmental impacts come from applying thin client technology and removing the non-solid state components from the hazardous area.  Removing moving parts from PC’s makes them more robust in the event of failure, as well as easier to change out in the event of failure. Additionally, the use of UPS and solar panels (for outside applications) has expanded the options on local power issues.

Is the existing data on a SCADA system transferred to a new SCADA automatically?

Matt Ruth: Most SCADA platforms have an upgrade path that allows the data and screen content from the past to be migrated to the newer versions.  There are implementation strategies that allow the old SCADA to be “wrapped” inside of the new SCADA, and allow the use of the old while still getting the value of the new.

You said for a multi-plant installation, you implemented and installed the first SCADA upgrade at the most complex facility and then rolled out to the other plants in the network. It seems that from a risk and complexity standpoint, rolling the new design out to smaller, less complicated systems and plant operations would have been a safer approach. Was this considered and discussed with the client?

Matt Ruth: This path was considered and discussed with the customer.  In this case, the customer had a commitment to documentation and simulation for their process and, while more complex, the system was exercised for a significant period of time and verified by top customer operations before installation.  Additionally, in this system there was an approach to use temporary PLC’s for a hot cutover allowing a fall back path if needed or if issues.

With the upgrade at the wastewater treatment plant (from the example) were the PLCs also upgraded, and what are the most significant lessons learned from the upgrade? Also, how much time did it take for the upgrades per plant including planning and integration?

Matt Ruth: In the SCADA upgrade project, the PLC’s were also upgraded.  Some of the biggest consideration were the approach to naming convention and the development of tightly integrated PLC/SCADA standards where the functionality could be developed, tested and then relied upon for rollout in multiple instances.

Rollout for the first plant development was one year with commissioning taking two months. Each successive plant is averaging about 10 to 15% reduction in time over the prior.