Home Technology Enterprise How SCADA, PLC, and System Automation Work in Industrial Processing

How SCADA, PLC, and System Automation Work in Industrial Processing

Approaching the space of industrial processing and facility process controlling, you’ll quickly encounter heaps of acronyms and technologies that might be not instantly clear to anyone. Here’s a quick info that hopefully proves to be useful to many of you.

SCADA

SCADA is an acronym that stands for Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition. It is an architecture control system that uses networks and computers and graphical user interfaces for high-level supervision. SCADA is also used for management and operations of project-driven construction processes.

SCADA is used in both large and small systems. Examples of use include:

  • Industrial processes
  • Infrastructure processes
  • Facility processes

SCADA components include a variety of systems. These include supervisory computers, remote terminal units, programmable logic controllers, communication infrastructure, human-machine interface, and alarm handling. Telstar Instruments, for instance, provides a full line of products and services for SCADA and PLC system needs. You can go to their site to find out more about what they do.

PLC

PLC is an acronym for a programmable logic controller, an industrial digital computer which has been adapted for the control of manufacturing processes, such as assembly lines, robotic devices, or any device that uses high reliability and process fault diagnosis.

PLCs are most often designed for multiple arrangements of digital and analog I/O, extended temperature ranges, and resistance to vibration and impact. The PLC was born from the automotive industry in the USA and thus designed for assembly line productivity models. The logic soon applied to other areas of business requiring heavy processing, such as food production. Because of the extreme nature of climate changes in production areas, PLCs are made to resist changes in temperature, noise, and vibration. Utilizing SCADA can administer fault processing during alarm indication.

Automation

Automation is the technology where a process and procedure is performed with minimum human assistance. It controls the use of various control systems for operating equipment, such as machinery, factory processes, boilers and heat treating ovens, telephone switching, and various other applications. The future of automation could be linked to cloud computing, and how cloud computing can affect the future of automation.

Two types of automation include open-loop and closed-loop systems. In an open loop system, the control action from the controller is independent of the processing system. Imagine a central heating boiling controlled only by a timer. In a closed loop system, the control action is dependent on the process output. Imagine a thermostat used to control the central heating boiling unit.

PLCs and SCADA units rely on automation to perform the tasks assigned. The computers can be programmed to both sequential and feedback control where a single computer will do both in either scenario. Automated systems rely on a series of complex algorithms to accomplish a task. An example of an automated system is an ATM or an automated teller machine. The ATM is driven by a series of different commands, each based on the command of the user.

Vulnerability

A SCADA system is vulnerable to attack more than an IT system and it is the vulnerability of the system’s failure rate which requires the need for consistent monitoring. Systems such as PLCs and SCADA are not impervious to failure. They are running based on programming instructions and can certainly have a failure rate depending on the amount of programming involved with the operations.

Therefore, technicians who are being trained in the repair and programming of the systems need to keep up with the education involved in such systems. Without the proper knowledge, they won’t know what to do to fix the system and they will fail with a fault sequence unknown to the technician.

The vulnerability of systems to cyber-attacks has become increasingly stronger as the attacks become more specific, and the systems grow in more specific ways. Imagine, if you will, a nuclear power plant that is powered by several SCADA systems. A single SCADA system is attacked by a cyber tactic, and it could possibly throw all of the SCADA systems out of alignment thus causing havoc in the plant.

With the possibility of this happening, there must not only be safeguards in place but contingency networks that prevent total failure. A contingency network is simply a backup plan or a system that will take over when the primary system fails. The key is to keep the contingency network active and within testing-mode to ensure this is a fail-safe plan.

Photo credit: The feature image “PCB Board Production” has been done by Louis Reed.
Source: Caitlin Winter (Enterprise Features) / Zeljka Zorz (Help Net Security)
Editorial notice: This article was made possible by site supporters.

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