SCADA’s role in Industry 4.0, manufacturing applications

Data plays a vital role in the digitalization of industrial facilities and supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) systems will be at the center.

By Stefan Reuther July 31, 2023
Courtesy: COPA-DATA, CFE Media's New Products for Engineers Database

SCADA insights

  • SCADA systems have evolved significantly with the rise of IT/OT convergence and Industry 4.0.
  • They are no longer just monitoring tools but are shaping the future of smart factories, thanks to open system architecture and the ability to integrate data from IT and OT sources.
  • To achieve Industry 4.0 goals, modern SCADA systems must provide advanced functionalities and flexible data access for informed decision-making.

Supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) systems as we knew them are gone. The traditional automation pyramid has collapsed, and IT/OT convergence is rising. The next generation of solutions has arrived, paving the way for advanced manufacturing.

We are in the age of industrial digitalization, and control and monitoring software has never been so ubiquitous. Before understanding the purpose of SCADA in Industry 4.0 journeys, we need to understand how the technology is changing. It has shifted from being a monitoring and data capture tool to the technology shaping the smart factories of the future. One of the crucial ways this is achieved is the use of platforms with open system architecture.

Open system architecture describes eliminating vendor dependence often associated with early and proprietary SCADA systems. In practice, an available system is not limited to operating with one original equipment manufacturer (OEM) product or a limited number of communication protocols.

This level of flexibility is critical to ensuring modern systems are fit for purpose in modern factories. Moreover, providers of future-proof SCADA systems must be willing to continually adapt and embrace new standards to keep up with the growing scale of industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) device networks. When specifying a software platform, guaranteed updates are one the one hand a necessity, however vendors do also need to ensure Long-term support (LTS) for up to ten years.

IT and OT convergence

Another consideration is the integration of information technology (IT). Some modern platforms are capable of integrating data sets that were previously limited to the IT space. For instance, they are capturing data from enterprise resource management (ERP) or manufacturing execution systems (MES) for consideration alongside operational technology (OT) data from the factory floor.

Data collected by IT systems can be used to streamline production processes, fix critical issues faster and make better-informed decisions – but only if it is collected, transmitted and processed effectively and securely.

The most effective systems will be able to operate across both technology spheres. In addition, a software platform not only gathers data from different hardware and IT systems but also needs to provide data in an open format and accessible for third parties. Modern SCADA can operate like a data hub or as an operation technology integration layer (OTIL).

So, how do engineers use this technology in their digitalization journey? On its most basic level, a SCADA system lets an operator verify that its machinery is operating correctly. However, modern systems should enable an operator to use SCADA data to determine how to make improvements or adjustments to equipment to maximize productivity or efficiency.

At the beginning of any project, a manufacturer should consider its data sets and use them to determine smart goals. Is achieving better energy efficiency a key company goal? The platform should be capable of identifying areas of high energy usage, and this is where that organization should start its process. Is improved capacity to produce customized projects a goal? In this case, data on equipment availability will be key. For the company to make informed decisions on digitalization, having access to an entire facility of data sets is key.

Without a clear visualization of all the data produced from a facility – whether related to energy usage, productivity, downtime or something else – it is impossible to embark on an informed Industry 4.0 journey. Proper investment in data collection technology should come before any other smart factory investment, including any hardware.

There is no doubt that Industry 4.0 is transforming the way manufacturers operate, but it is also changing how SCADA systems work and what businesses should expect from them. Long gone are the days when straightforward data capture is enough. To fulfill Industry 4.0 goals, SCADA systems must be much more advanced.

– This originally appeared on Control Engineering Europe. Edited by Chris Vavra, web content manager, CFE Media and Technology,

Author Bio: Stefan Reuther is a member of the executive board at COPA-DATA.