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SCADA BASICS

SCADA is an acronym that stands for Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition. SCADA refers to
a system that collects data from various sensors at a factory, plant or in other remote locations
and then sends this data to a central computer which then manages and controls the data

SCADA systems are used not only in industrial processes: e.g. steel making, power generation
(conventional and nuclear) and distribution, chemistry, but also in some experimental facilities
such as nuclear fusion. The size of such plants range from a few 1000 to several 10 thousands
input/output (I/O) channels. However, SCADA systems evolve rapidly and are now penetrating
the market of plants with a number of I/O channels of several 100 K: we know of two cases of
near to 1 M I/O channels currently under development.

There are many parts of a working SCADA system. A SCADA system usually includes signal
hardware (input and output), controllers, networks, user interface (HMI), communications
equipment and software. All together, the term SCADA refers to the entire central system. The
central system usually monitors data from various sensors that are either in close proximity or off
site (sometimes miles away).

An industrial measurement and control system consisting of a central host or master (usually
called a master station, master terminal unit or MTU); one or more field data gathering and
control units or remotes (usually called remote stations, remote terminal units, or RTU's); and a
collection of standard and/or custom software used to monitor and control remotely located field
data elements. Contemporary SCADA systems exhibit predominantly open-loop control
characteristics and utilise predominantly long distance communications, although some elements
of closed-loop control and/or short distance communications may also be present.

Systems similar to SCADA systems are routinely seen in factories, treatment plants etc. These
are often referred to as Distributed Control Systems (DCS). They have similar functions to
SCADA systems, but the field data gathering or control units are usually located within a more
confined area. Communications may be via a local area network (LAN), and will normally be
reliable and high speed. A DCS system usually employs significant amounts of closed loop
control.

SCADA systems on the other hand generally cover larger geographic areas, and rely on a variety
of communications systems that are normally less reliable than a LAN. Closed loop control in this
situation is less desirable.

SCADA comes under the branch of Instrumentation Engineering. The term SCADA stands for
Supervisory Control And Data Acquisition. Scada systems are used for controlling and monitoring
chemical or transport processes and can be used in a factory environment such as electic power
generation, water supply systems, gas and oil pipelines or any other distributed processes.

A typical SCADA system comprises of i/o signal hardware, controllers, software,networks and
communication. SCADA system is normally used to monitor and control a remote site or a
distribution that is spread out for a long distance. An RTU (Remote Terminal Unit) or a PLC
(Programmable Logic Controller) is usually used to control a site automatically. The SCADA
system also provides a host control functions for the supervisor to control and define settings.

For example, in a SCADA system a PLC can be used to control the flow of cooling water as part
of an industrial process. At the same time the supervisor can use the Host control function to set
the temperature for the flow of water. It can also have alarms and can record the flow of water
temperature and report back to the SCADA system.

The RTUs and PLCs are responsible for data collection such as meter readings, equipment
status etc and communicate back to the SCADA system. This data can be stored in a database
for later analysis or monitored by a supervisor to take appropriate actions if required.

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 is representative of an actual input or output connected to the system, while a soft point
represents the result of logic and math operations applied to other hard and soft points. Most
implementations conceptually remove this distinction by making every property a "soft" point
(expression) that can equal a single "hard" point in the simplest case. Point values are normally
stored as value-timestamp combinations; the value and the timestamp when the value was
recorded or calculated. A series of value-timestamp combinations is the history of that point. It's
also common to store additional metadata with tags such as: path to field device and PLC
register, design time comments, and even alarming information.

SCADA comes under the branch of Instrumentation Engineering. The term SCADA stands for
Supervisory Control And Data Acquisition. Scada systems are used for controlling and monitoring
chemical or transport processes and can be used in a factory environment such as electic power
generation, water supply systems, gas and oil pipelines or any other distributed processes.

A typical SCADA system comprises of i/o signal hardware, controllers, software,networks and
communication. SCADA system is normally used to monitor and control a remote site or a
distribution that is spread out for a long distance. An RTU (Remote Terminal Unit) or a PLC
(Programmable Logic Controller) is usually used to control a site automatically. The SCADA
system also provides a host control functions for the supervisor to control and define settings.

For example, in a SCADA system a PLC can be used to control the flow of cooling water as part
of an industrial process. At the same time the supervisor can use the Host control function to set
the temperature for the flow of water. It can also have alarms and can record the flow of water
temperature and report back to the SCADA system.

The RTUs and PLCs are responsible for data collection such as meter readings, equipment
status etc and communicate back to the SCADA system. This data can be stored in a database
for later analysis or monitored by a supervisor to take appropriate actions if required.

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 is representative of an actual input or output connected to the system, while a soft point
represents the result of logic and math operations applied to other hard and soft points. Most
implementations conceptually remove this distinction by making every property a "soft" point
(expression) that can equal a single "hard" point in the simplest case. Point values are normally
stored as value-timestamp combinations; the value and the timestamp when the value was
recorded or calculated. A series of value-timestamp combinations is the history of that point. It's
also common to store additional metadata with tags such as: path to field device and PLC
register, design time comments, and even alarming information.

What SCADA can do for you?

SCADA is not a specific technology, but a type of application. SCADA stands for Supervisory
Control and Data Acquisition — any application that gets data about a system in order to control
that system is a SCADA application.

A SCADA application has two elements:

1. The process/system/machinery you want to monitor a control — this can be a power


plant, a water system, a network, a system of traffic lights, or anything else.
2. A network of intelligent devices that interfaces with the first system through sensors and
control outputs. This network, which is the SCADA system, gives you the ability to
measure and control specific elements of the first system.

You can build a SCADA system using several different kinds of technologies and protocols. This
white paper will help you evaluate your options and decide what kind of SCADA system is best for
your needs.
Where is SCADA Used?
You can use SCADA to manage any kind of equipment. Typically, SCADA systems are used to
automate complex industrial processes where human control is impractical — systems where
there are more control factors, and more fast-moving control factors, than human beings can
comfortably manage.
Around the world, SCADA systems control:

• Electric power generation, transmission and distribution: Electric utilities use


SCADA systems to detect current flow and line voltage, to monitor the operation of circuit
breakers, and to take sections of the power grid online or offline.

• Water and sewage: State and municipal water utilities use SCADA to monitor and
regulate water flow, reservoir levels, pipe pressure and other factors.

• Buildings, facilities and environments: Facility managers use SCADA to control


HVAC, refrigeration units, lighting and entry systems.
• Manufacturing: SCADA systems manage parts inventories for just-in-time
manufacturing, regulate industrial automation and robots, and monitor process and
quality control.

• Mass transit: Transit authorities use SCADA to regulate electricity to subways, trams
and trolley buses; to automate traffic signals for rail systems; to track and locate trains
and buses; and to control railroad crossing gates.

• Traffic signals: SCADA regulates traffic lights, controls traffic flow and detects out-of-
order signals.

As I’m sure you can imagine, this very short list barely hints at all the potential applications for
SCADA systems. SCADA is used in nearly every industry and public infrastructure project —
anywhere where automation increases efficiency.
What’s more, these examples don’t show how deep and complex SCADA data can be. In every
industry, managers need to control multiple factors and the interactions between those factors.
SCADA systems provide the sensing capabilities and the computational power to track everything
that’s relevant to your operations.
What’s the Value of SCADA to You?
Maybe you work in one of the fields I listed; maybe you don’t. But think about your operations and
all the parameters that affect your bottom-line results:

• Does your equipment need an uninterrupted power supply and/or a controlled


temperature and humidity environment?
• Do you need to know — in real time — the status of many different components and
devices in a large complex system?
• Do you need to measure how changing inputs affect the output of your operations?
• What equipment do you need to control, in real time, from a distance?
• Where are you lacking accurate, real-time data about key processes that affect your
operations?

Real-Time Monitoring and Control Increases Efficiency and Maximizes Profitability


Ask yourself enough questions like that, and I’m sure you can see where you can apply a SCADA
system in your operations. But I’m equally sure you’re asking “So what?” What you really want to
know is what kind of real-world results can you expect from using SCADA.
Here are few of the things you can do with the information and control capabilities you get from a
SCADA system:

• Access quantitative measurements of important processes, both immediately and over


time
• Detect and correct problems as soon as they begin
• Measure trends over time
• Discover and eliminate bottlenecks and inefficiencies
• Control larger and more complex processes with a smaller, less specialized staff.

A SCADA system gives you the power to fine-tune your knowledge of your systems. You can
place sensors and controls at every critical point in your managed process (and as SCADA
technology improves, you can put sensors in more and more places). As you monitor more
things, you have a more detailed view of your operations — and most important, it’s all in real
time.
So even for very complex manufacturing processes, large electrical plants, etc., you can have an
eagle-eye view of every event while it’s happening — and that means you have a knowledge
base from which to correct errors and improve efficiency. With SCADA, you can do more, at less
cost, providing a direct increase in profitability.

How does a SCADA system works?

A SCADA system performs four functions:

1. Data acquisition
2. Networked data communication
3. Data presentation
4. Control

These functions are performed by four kinds of SCADA components:

1. Sensors (either digital or analog) and control relays that directly interface with the
managed system.
2. Remote telemetry units (RTUs). These are small computerized units deployed in the
field at specific sites and locations. RTUs serve as local collection points for gathering
reports from sensors and delivering commands to control relays.
3. SCADAmaster units. These are larger computer consoles that serve as the central
processor for the SCADA system. Master units provide a human interface to the system
and automatically regulate the managed system in response to sensor inputs.
4. The communications network that connects the SCADA master unit to the RTUs in the
field.

The World’s Simplest SCADA System


The simplest possible SCADA system would be a single circuit that notifies you of one event.
Imagine a fabrication machine that produces widgets. Every time the machine finishes a widget, it
activates a switch. The switch turns on a light on a panel, which tells a human operator that a
widget has been completed.
Obviously, a real SCADA system does more than this simple model. But the principle is the same.
A full-scale SCADA system just monitors more stuff over greater distances.
Let’s look at what is added to our simple model to create a fullscale SCADA system:
Data Acquisition
First, the systems you need to monitor are much more complex than just one machine with one
output. So a real-life SCADA system needs to monitor hundreds or thousands of sensors. Some
sensors measure inputs into the system (for example, water flowing into a reservoir), and some
sensors measure outputs (like valve pressure as water is released from the reservoir).
Some of those sensors measure simple events that can be detected by a straightforward on/off
switch, called a discrete input (or digital input). For example, in our simple model of the widget
fabricator, the switch that turns on the light would be a discrete input. In real life, discrete inputs
are used to measure simple states, like whether equipment is on or off, or tripwire alarms, like a
power failure at a critical facility.
Some sensors measure more complex situations where exact measurement is important. These
are analog sensors, which can detect continuous changes in a voltage or current input. Analog
sensors are used to track fluid levels in tanks, voltage levels in batteries, temperature and other
factors that can be measured in a continuous range of input.
For most analog factors, there is a normal range defined by a bottom and top level. For example,
you may want the temperature in a server room to stay between 60 and 85 degrees Fahrenheit. If
the temperature goes above or below this range, it will trigger a threshold alarm. In more
advanced systems, there are four threshold alarms for analog sensors, defining Major Under,
Minor Under, Minor Over and Major Over alarms.
Data Communication
In our simple model of the widget fabricator, the “network” is just the wire leading from the switch
to the panel light. In real life, you want to be able to monitor multiple systems from a central
location, so you need a communications network to transport all the data collected from your
sensors.
Early SCADA networks communicated over radio, modem or dedicated serial lines. Today the
trend is to put SCADA data on Ethernet and IP over SONET. For security reasons, SCADA data
should be kept on closed LAN/WANs without exposing sensitive data to the open Internet.
Real SCADA systems don’t communicate with just simple electrical signals, either. SCADA data is
encoded in protocol format. Older SCADA systems depended on closed proprietary protocols, but
today the trend is to open, standard protocols and protocol mediation.
Sensors and control relays are very simple electric devices that can’t generate or interpret
protocol communication on their own. Therefore the remote telemetry unit (RTU) is needed to
provide an interface between the sensors and the SCADA network. The RTU encodes sensor
inputs into protocol format and forwards them to the SCADA master; in turn, the RTU receives
control commands in protocol format from the master and transmits electrical signals to the
appropriate control relays.
Data Presentation
The only display element in our model SCADA system is the light that comes on when the switch
is activated. This obviously won’t do on a large scale — you can’t track a lightboard of a thousand
separate lights, and you don’t want to pay someone simply to watch a lightboard, either.
A real SCADA system reports to human operators over a specialized computer that is variously
called a master station, an HMI (Human-Machine Interface) or an HCI (Human-Computer
Interface).
The SCADA master station has several different functions. Themaster continuously monitors all
sensors and alerts the operator when there is an “alarm” — that is, when a control factor is
operating outside what is defined as its normal operation. The master presents a comprehensive
view of the entire managed system, and presents more detail in response to user requests. The
master also performs data processing on information gathered from sensors — it maintains report
logs and summarizes historical trends.
An advanced SCADA master can add a great deal of intelligence and automation to your systems
management, making your job much easier.
Control
Unfortunately, our miniature SCADA system monitoring the widget fabricator doesn’t include any
control elements. So let’s add one. Let’s say the human operator also has a button on his control
panel. When he presses the button, it activates a switch on the widget fabricator that brings more
widget parts into the fabricator.
Now let’s add the full computerized control of a SCADA master unit that controls the entire
factory. You now have a control system that responds to inputs elsewhere in the system. If the
machines that make widget parts break down, you can slow down or stop the widget fabricator. If
the part fabricators are running efficiently, you can speed up the widget fabricator.
If you have a sufficiently sophisticated master unit, these controls can run completely
automatically, without the need for human intervention. Of course, you can still manually override
the automatic controls from the master station.
In real life, SCADA systems automatically regulate all kinds of industrial processes. For example,
if too much pressure is building up in a gas pipeline, the SCADA system can automatically open a
release valve. Electricity production can be adjusted to meet demands on the power grid. Even
these real-world examples are simplified; a full-scale SCADA system can adjust the managed
system in response to multiple inputs.

SCADA can do a lot for you — but how do you make sure that you’re really getting the full
benefits of SCADA? Evaluating complex systems can be tricky — especially if you have to learn a
new technology while still doing your everyday job.

But you’ve got to be able to make an informed decision, because the stakes are incredibly high. A
SCADA system is a major, business-to-business purchase that your company will live with for
maybe as long as 10 to 15 years. When you make a recommendation about a permanent system
like that, you’re laying your reputation on the line and making a major commitment for your
company.

And as much as SCADA can help you improve your operations, there are also some pitfalls to a
hasty, unconsidered SCADA implementation:

• You can spend a fortune on unnecessary cost overruns


• Even after going way over budget, you can STILL end up with a system that doesn’t
really meet all your needs
• Or just as bad, you can end up with an inflexible system that just meets your needs today,
but can’t easily expand as your needs grow

So let’s go over some guidelines for what you should look for in a SCADA system.
The Two Most Important Components of Your SCADA System
Although you need sensors, control relays and a communications network to make a complete
SCADA system, it’s your choice of a master station and RTUs that really determine the quality of
your SCADA system.
A Brief Note on Sensors and Networks
Sensors and control relays are essentially commodity items. Yes, some sensors are better than
others, but a glance at a spec sheet will tell you everything you need to know to choose between
them.
An IP LAN/WAN is the easiest kind of network to work with, and if you don’t yet have LAN
capability throughout all your facilities, transitioning to LAN is probably one of your long-term
goals. But you don’t have to move to LAN immediately or all at once to get the benefits of
SCADA. The right SCADA system will support both your legacy network and LAN, enabling you
to make a graceful, gradual transition.
What to Look for in a SCADA RTU
Your SCADA RTUs need to communicate with all your on-site equipment and survive under the
harsh conditions of an industrial environment. Here’s a checklist of things you should expect from
a quality RTU:

 Sufficient capacity to support the equipment at your site … but not more capacity than
you actually will use. At every site, you want an RTU that can support your expected
growth over a reasonable period of time, but it’s simply wasteful to spend your budget on
excess capacity that you won’t use.

 Rugged construction and ability to withstand extremes of temperature and humidity.


You know how punishing on equipment your sites can be. Keep in mind that your SCADA
system needs to be the most reliable element in your facility.

 Secure, redundant power supply. You need your SCADA system up and working 24/7,
no excuses. Your RTU should support battery power and, ideally, two power inputs.

 Redundant communication ports. Network connectivity is as important to SCADA


operations as a power supply. A secondary serial port or internal modem will keep your
RTU online even if the LAN fails. Plus, RTUs with multiple communication ports easily
support a LAN migration strategy.

 Nonvolatile memory (NVRAM) for storing software and/or firmware. NVRAM retains
data even when power is lost. New firmware can be easily downloaded to NVRAM
storage, often over LAN — so you can keep your RTUs’ capabilities up to date without
excessive site visits.

 Intelligent control. As I noted above, sophisticated SCADA remotes can control local
systems by themselves according to programmed responses to sensor inputs. This isn’t
necessary for every application, but it does come in handy for some users.

 Real-time clock for accurate date/time stamping of reports.

 Watchdog timer to ensure that the RTU restarts after a power failure.

What to Look for in a SCADA Master


Your SCADA master should display information in the most useful ways to human operators and
intelligently regulated your managed systems. Here’s a checklist of SCADA master must-haves:

 Flexible, programmable response to sensor inputs. Look for a system that provides
easy tools for programming soft alarms (reports of complex events that track
combinations of sensor inputs and date/time statements) and soft controls (programmed
control responses to sensor inputs).
 24/7, automatic pager and email notification. There’s no need to pay personnel to
watch a board 24 hours a day. If equipment needs human attention, the SCADA master
can automatically page or email directly to repair technicians.

 Detailed information display. You want a system that displays reports in plain English,
with a complete description of what activity is happening and how you can manage it.

 Nuisance alarm filtering. Nuisance alarms desensitize your staff to alarm reports, and
they start to believe that all alarms are nonessential alarms. Eventually they stop
responding even to critical alarms. Look for a SCADA master that includes tools to filter
out nuisance alarms.

 Expansion capability. A SCADA system is a longterm investment that will last for as
long as 10 to 15 years. So you need to make sure it will support your future growth for up
to 15 years.

 Redundant, geodiverse backup. The best SCADA systems support multiple backup
masters, in separate locations.. If the primary SCADA master fails, a second master on
the network automatically takes over, with no interruption of monitoring and control
functions.

 Support for multiple protocols and equipment types. Early SCADA systems were
built on closed, proprietary protocols. Single-vendor solutions aren’t a great idea —
vendors sometimes drop support for their products or even just go out of business.
Support for multiple open protocols safeguards your SCADA system against unplanned
obsolescence.

The SCADA RTU is a (hopefully) small ruggedised computer which provides intelligence in the
field, and allows the central SCADA master to communicate with the field instruments. It is a
stand alone data acquisition and control unit. Its function is to control process equipment at the
remote site, acquire data from the equipment, and transfer the data back to the central SCADA
system.

There are two basic types of RTU - the "single board RTU" which is compact, and contains all I/O
on a single board, and the "modular RTU" which has a separate CPU module, and can have
other modules added, normally by plugging into a common "backplane" (a bit like a PC
motherboard and plug in peripheral cards).

A typical single board RTU.

The single board RTU normally has fixed I/O eg 16 digital inputs, 8 digital outputs, 8 analogue
inputs, and say 4 analogue outputs. It is normally not possible to expand its capability.
The modular RTU is designed to be expanded by adding additional modules. Typical modules
may be a 8 analog in module, a 8 digital out module. Some specialised modules such as a GPS
time stamp module may be available.

Hardware functionality in an RTU

The SCADA RTU is a small ruggedised computer. It has the following hardware features:

• CPU and volatile memory.


• Non volatile memory for storing programs and data.
• Communications capability either through serial port(s) or sometimes with an on board
modem.
• Secure Power supply (with battery backup).
• Watchdog timer (to ensure the RTU restarts if something fails).
• Electrical protection against "spikes".
• I/O interfaces to DI/DO/AI/AO's.
• Real time clock.

Software functionality in an RTU.

All RTU's require the following functionality. In many RTU's these may be intermingled and not
necessarily identifiable as separate modules.

• Real time operating system. This may be a specific RTOS, or it may be code that started
out life as one big loop scanning the inputs, and monitoring the communications ports.
• Driver for the communications system ie the link to the SCADA Master.
• Device drivers for the I/O system ie to the field devices.
• SCADA application eg scanning of inputs, processing and storing of data, responding to
requests from the SCADA master over the communications network.
• Some method to allow the user applications to be configured in the RTU. This may be
simple parameter setting, enabling or disabling specific I/O's or it may represent a
complete user programming environment.
• Diagnostics.
• Some RTU's may have a file system with support for file downloads. This supports user
programs, and configuration files.

Basic operation

The RTU will operate scanning its inputs, normally at a fairly fast rate. It may do some processing
such as change of state processing, timestamping of changes, and storage of the data awaiting
polling from the SCADA master. Some RTU's have the ability to initiate reporting to the SCADA
master, although more common is the situation where the SCADA master polls the RTU's asking
for changes. The RTU may do some alarm processing. When polled by the SCADA master, the
RTU must respond to the request, which may be as simple as "give me all your data", to a
complex control function to be executed.

Small vs Large

RTU's are specialty devices manufactured often by small suppliers in batches of as little as one
hundred. They are made for niche markets, and at the smaller end can be subject to intense cost
pressures. Therefore not all RTU's support all functionality. Larger RTU's may be capable of
processing hundreds of inputs, and even controlling smaller "sub RTU's". These are obviously
more expensive. The processing power of an RTU ranges from small 8 bit processors with
minimal memory to larger sophisticated RTU's capable of time stamping data to millisecond
accuracy.
Some types (sizes ) of RTU's are as follows:

• Tiny stand-alone systems that run off batteries for an entire year or more. These
systems log data into EPROM or FLASH ROM and download data when physically
accessed by an operator. Often these systems use single chip processors with minimal
memory and might not be able to handle a sophisticated communications protocol.

• Small stand-alone systems that can power up periodically and apply power to sensors
(or radios) to measure and/or report. Usually run off batteries that are maintained by solar
energy. The batteries are large enough to maintain operation for at least 4 months during
the darkness of the winter in the far northern hemisphere. These systems generally have
enough capability for a much more complex communications scheme.

• Medium systems. Dedicated single board industrial computers, including IBM-PC or


compatible computers either in desk-top enclosures or industrial configurations such as
VME, MultiBus, STD bus, PC104 etc.
• Large systems. Complete Plant control with all the bells and whistles. These are usually
in Distributed Control systems in Plants, etc and often communicate over high speed
LANS. Timing may be very critical.

Standards

As indicated RTU's are specialty devices. There has been a lack of standards, especially in the
communications area, and generally RTU's from one supplier cannot be mixed with RTU's from
another supplier. An industry has grown up developing protocol converters and emulators.
Recently some standards have begun to emerge for RTU's. Some standards are

• DNPs and IEC870 for communications


• IEC1131-3 for programming RTU's.

PLC's vs RTU's

A PLC (programmable logic controller) is a small industrial computer which originally replaced
relay logic. It had inputs and outputs similar to those an RTU has. It contained a program which
executed a loop, scanning the inputs and taking actions based on these inputs. Originally the
PLC had no communications capability, but they began to be used in situations where
communications was a desirable feature. So communications modules were developed for PLC's,
supporting ethernet (for use in distributed control systems) and the Modbus communications
protocol for use over dedicated (wire) links. As time goes on we will see PLC's support more
sophisticated communications protocols.
RTU's have always been used in situations where the communications are more difficult, and the
RTU's strength was its ability to handle difficult communications. RTU's originally had poor
programmability in comparison to PLC's. As time has gone on, the programmability of the RTU
has increased.
We are seeing the merging of RTU's and PLC's, but it will be a long time (if ever) before the
distinction disappears.

What should I specify for my RTU's

• Temperature ratings for your application eg -10 to 65 deg cent.


• Relative humidity 0 to 95% noncondensing.
• Dust, vibration, rain, salt and fog protection.
• Electrical noise immunity.
• Physical size - make sure it will fit in your site.
• Power consumption.
• I/O capability and capacity. Always allow some spare (say 10-20%). Don't ask for AO if
you don't need it. Look at the accuracy of analogs, and the type of signal digitals are
expecting. eg 0-5v, etc.
• Programmability and configurability (Look at IEC1131-3 for programmability.
• Diagnostics - local and remote.
• Communications capability including support for radio, PSTN, landline, microwave,
satellite, X.25. Remember use of PSTN implies the RTU will timestamp and store the
data while it is not connected, and that the SCADA master can dial up, accept this
backlog of data, and backfill its database with this historical data (including trend files).
Also consider how alarms are to be handled with PSTN.
• Communications protocols. Consider standard protocols such as DNP3, IEC870, MMS
instead of proprietary protocols.
• Supported functionality - eg timestamping, memory capacity to store data in the event of
loss of communications, ability to do calculations.
• Look at support for peer to peer communications including store and forward capability if
communications are difficult (esp radio).
• Look at data rates supported (1200 baud FSK, or 9600 baud data radio).
• You may require additional serial ports especially to interface with PLC's.
• Your SCADA master must support all of the RTU functionality especially timestamping of
analog data, and the communications protocols.
• Ensure if you want timestamped data, the RTU can time stamp to the required accuracy.
The standard in the electricity industry appears to be 1 millisecond accuracy and this is
not achievable without fast processors and an accurate time signal eg from GPS.
• Maximum addressability (eg max of 255 RTU's).
• Clear local indication of diagnostics.
• Compatibility checks of software configuration vs actual hardware
• Log kept of all errors. Remote access to these logs.
• Software filtering of analog input channels.

Wireless SCADA

Wireless media can also be a communication medium for the master unit and the remote
unit. Systems using this type of media are termed "wireless SCADA systems." A few
examples of wireless media are explained below.

• Spread Spectrum Radio - The frequency band for this is 900 MHz to 5.8GHz and is free
for general pubic use. Spread spectrum radio modems are used to ensure efficient
network communication.
• Microwave Radio - In this case signals are transmitted at high frequencies using
parabolic dishes installed on towers or on the tops of buildings. However, one
disadvantage of this communication is that transmission may get interrupted due to
misalignment and/or atmospheric conditions.
• VHF/UHF Radio - This is an electromagnetic transmission with frequencies of 175MHz-
450MGz-900MHz. Special antennas are required to receive these signals.

Benefits of a Wireless SCADA system

A perfectly designed wireless SCADA system offers the following benefits:

• Monitors in real time


• Minimizes the operational costs
• Provides direct information of system performance
• Improves system efficiency and performance
• Increases equipment life
• Reduces labor costs required for troubleshooting or servicing the equipment
• Automated report generation reduces errors in calculations and interpretations
• Uses advanced technologies