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The term SCADA usually refers to centralized systems which monitor and control entire sites, or complexes of systems spread out over large areas (anything from an industrial plant to a nation). Most control actions are performed automatically by RTUs or by PLCs. Host control functions are usually restricted to basic overriding or supervisory level intervention. For example, a PLC may control the flow of cooling water through part of an industrial process, but the SCADA system may allow operators to change the set points for the flow, and enable alarm conditions, such as loss of flow and high temperature, to be displayed and recorded. The feedback control loop passes through the RTU or PLC, while the SCADA system monitors the overall performance of the loop.
Data acquisition begins at the RTU or PLC level and includes meter readings and equipment status reports that are communicated to SCADA as required. Data is then compiled and formatted in such a way that a control room operator using the HMI can make supervisory decisions to adjust or override normal RTU (PLC) controls. Data may also be fed to an Historian, often built on a commodity Database Management System, to allow trending and other analytical auditing.
SCADA systems typically implement a distributed database, commonly referred to as a tag database, which contains data elements called tags or points. A point represents a single input or output value monitored or controlled by the system. Points can be either "hard" or "soft". A hard point represents an actual input or output within the system, while a soft point results from logic and math operations applied to other points. (Most implementations conceptually remove the distinction by making every property a "soft" point expression, which may, in the simplest case, equal a single hard point.) Points are normally stored as value-timestamp pairs: a value, and the timestamp when it was recorded or calculated. A series of value-timestamp pairs gives the history of that point. It is also common to store additional metadata with tags, such as the path to a field device or PLC register, design time comments, and alarm information.
SCADA systems are significantly important systems used in national infrastructures such as electric grids, water supplies and pipelines. However, SCADA systems may have security vulnerabilities, so the systems should be evaluated to identify risks and solutions implemented to mitigate those risks.
A human–machine interface or HMI is the apparatus which presents process data to a human operator, and through which the human operator controls the process.
HMI is usually linked to the SCADA system's databases and software programs, to provide trending, diagnostic data, and management information such as scheduled maintenance procedures, logistic information, detailed schematics for a particular sensor or machine, and expert-system troubleshooting guides.
The HMI system usually presents the information to the operating personnel graphically, in the form of a mimic diagram. This means that the operator can see a schematic representation of the plant being controlled. For example, a picture of a pump connected to a pipe can show the operator that the pump is running and how much fluid it is pumping through the pipe at the moment. The operator can then switch the pump off. The HMI software will show the flow rate of the fluid in the pipe decrease in real time. Mimic diagrams may consist of line graphics and schematic symbols to represent process elements, or may consist of digital photographs of the process equipment overlain with animated symbols.
The HMI package for the SCADA system typically includes a drawing program that the operators or system maintenance personnel use to change the way these points are represented in the interface. These representations can be as simple as an on-screen traffic light, which represents the state of an actual traffic light in the field, or as complex as a multi-projector display representing the position of all of the elevators in a skyscraper or all of the trains on a railway.
An important part of most SCADA implementations is alarm handling. The system monitors whether certain alarm conditions are satisfied, to determine when an alarm event has occurred. Once an alarm event has been detected, one or more actions are taken (such as the activation of one or more alarm indicators, and perhaps the generation of email or text messages so that management or remote SCADA operators are informed). In many cases, a SCADA operator may have to acknowledge the alarm event; this may deactivate some alarm indicators, whereas other indicators remain active until the alarm conditions are cleared. Alarm conditions can be explicit—for example, an alarm point is a digital status point that has either the value NORMAL or ALARM that is calculated by a formula based on the values in other analogue and digital points—or implicit: the SCADA system might automatically monitor whether the value in an analogue point lies outside high and low limit values associated with that point. Examples of alarm indicators include a siren, a pop-up box on a screen, or a coloured or flashing area on a screen (that might act in a similar way to the "fuel tank empty" light in a car); in each case, the role of the alarm indicator is to draw the operator's attention to the part of the system 'in alarm' so that appropriate action can be taken. In designing SCADA systems, care must be taken when a cascade of alarm events occurs in a short time, otherwise the underlying cause (which might not be the earliest event detected) may get lost in the noise. Unfortunately, when used as a noun, the word 'alarm' is used rather loosely in the industry; thus, depending on context it might mean an alarm point, an alarm indicator, or an alarm event.
SCADA solutions often have distributed control system (DCS) components. Use of "smart" RTUs or PLCs, which are capable of autonomously executing simple logic processes without involving the master computer, is increasing. A standardized control programming language, IEC 61131-3 (a suite of 5 programming languages including Function Block, Ladder, Structured Text, Sequence Function Charts and Instruction List), is frequently used to create programs which run on these RTUs and PLCs. Unlike a procedural language such as the C programming language or FORTRAN, IEC 61131-3 has minimal training requirements by virtue of resembling historic physical control arrays. This allows SCADA system engineers to perform both the design and implementation of a program to be executed on an RTU or PLC. A programmable automation controller (PAC) is a compact controller that combines the features and capabilities of a PC-based control system with that of a typical PLC. PACs are deployed in SCADA systems to provide RTU and PLC functions. In many electrical substation SCADA applications, "distributed RTUs" use information processors or station computers to communicate with digital protective relays, PACs, and other devices for I/O, and communicate with the SCADA master in lieu of a traditional RTU.
Since about 1998, virtually all major PLC manufacturers have offered integrated HMI/SCADA systems, many of them using open and non-proprietary communications protocols. Numerous specialized third-party HMI/SCADA packages, offering built-in compatibility with most major PLCs, have also entered the market, allowing mechanical engineers, electrical engineers and technicians to configure HMIs themselves, without the need for a custom-made program written by a software programmer. The remote terminal unit(RTU) connects to physical equipment. Typically, an RTU converts the electrical signals from the equipment to digital values such as the open/closed status from a switch or a valve, or measurements such as pressure, flow, voltage or current. By converting and sending these electrical signals out to equipment the RTU can control equipment, such as opening or closing a switch or a valve, or setting the speed of a pump.
Communication infrastructure and methods
SCADA systems have traditionally used combinations of radio and direct wired connections, although SONET/SDH is also frequently used for large systems such as railways and power stations. The remote management or monitoring function of a SCADA system is often referred to as telemetry. Some users want SCADA data to travel over their pre-established corporate networks or to share the network with other applications. The legacy of the early low-bandwidth protocols remains, though.
SCADA protocols are designed to be very compact. Many are designed to send information only when the master station polls the RTU. Typical legacy SCADA protocols include Modbus RTU,RP-570, Profibus and Conitel. These communication protocols are all SCADA-vendor specific but are widely adopted and used. Standard protocols are IEC 60870-5-101 or 104, IEC 61850 andDNP3. These communication protocols are standardized and recognized by all major SCADA vendors. Many of these protocols now contain extensions to operate over TCP/IP. Although the use of conventional networking specifications, such as TCP/IP, blurs the line between traditional and industrial networking, they each fulfil fundamentally differing requirements.
With increasing security demands (such as North American Electric Reliability Corporation (NERC) and critical infrastructure protection (CIP) in the US), there is increasing use of satellite-based communication. This has the key advantages that the infrastructure can be self-contained (not using circuits from the public telephone system), can have built-in encryption, and can be engineered to the availability and reliability required by the SCADA system operator. Earlier experiences using consumer-grade VSAT were poor. Modern carrier-class systems provide the quality of service required for SCADA.
RTUs and other automatic controller devices were developed before the advent of industry wide standards for interoperability. The result is that developers and their management created a multitude of control protocols. Among the larger vendors, there was also the incentive to create their own protocol to "lock in" their customer base. A list of automation protocols is compiled here.
Recently, OLE for process control (OPC) has become a widely accepted solution for intercommunicating different hardware and software, allowing communication even between devices originally not intended to be part of an industrial network...