April 21, 2023
SCADA vs. IIoT: Which is better for your operations?
Many are wondering: With SCADA systems already in place, why would we need an IIoT platform?
With the rise of IoT — and IIoT with it — comes a shift in operations. For those newer to the industry, IIoT platforms represent a new way of processing large amounts of operations data on the edge. But for those with legacy systems, the question becomes, “Don’t we already have a SCADA system for it?”
Much like Schrödinger’s cat — everyone’s favorite theoretical kitty in a box — the answer is both yes and no.
Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition systems allow for the monitoring, gathering, and processing of device information — and IIoT platforms can do much of the same. But relegating both technologies under the same umbrella disservices them both. Here are four of the critical differences to consider when looking at SCADA vs. IoT platforms.
Difference #1: How data is collected
An essential distinction between SCADA systems and IIoT platforms is how they collect data. SCADA is designed to collect data from sensors and devices on-premise for real-time decision-making. While this data can be accessed outside of factories via SCADA computers, the data is still being held and processed within the factory. Historically, the sensors must have a wired connection to a Programmable Logic Controller or Remote Terminal Unit, but wireless options have begun to crop up in recent years. IIoT platforms, on the other hand, use wireless database connections to store data on-premise or push it to the cloud, which offers a bit more flexibility than legacy SCADA systems.
Additionally, the data collected by SCADA systems focuses on equipment status — speed, state, etc. — so that they can notify overseers of any irregularities within the infrastructure. The plant managers can then control the line from a single Human-Machine Interface. This method provides good visibility and control over real-time operations.
In contrast, IIoT platforms collect more varied data, from equipment to environment to submeter and more. Rather than acting solely as an alert system, these platforms allow a level of device monitoring better suited for predictive maintenance and autonomous decision-making. While both can store historical data, the scope of data collected by IIoT platforms lends itself to data analysis. SCADA systems tell you when things go wrong; IIoT platforms show how operations can improve.
Difference #2: How data is accessed
In SCADA systems, sensors send data to PLCs or RTUs, which then feed that data to the central system. From there, operators can access that data via a Human-Machine Interface. This is often a panel on an operational terminal or a dedicated workstation computer — meaning while users can technically access real-time data from anywhere, there needs to be a specific setup in place first. This data is generally transmitted using machine protocols, usually, OPC, which limits its readability and prevents devices from exchanging data with one another. This siloed approach can make integrating new devices difficult, though SCADA systems generally work well when treated as one centralized hub for data to congregate.
IIoT monitoring works to translate machine languages to open internet protocols. Transforming the languages makes the data more accessible outside of an HMI. It also allows for more specialized use cases. For example, those working in data analysis may prefer to access the data in an easily-read format such as JSON. For a SCADA system to accomplish this, IT teams would need to configure a patchwork of data adapters — but IIoT platforms can often do this automatically.
Difference #3: How data is transformed
As we mentioned before, IIoT platforms allow data to be accessed using a multitude of APIs by transforming data. In fact, some platforms can even enrich the data as it’s transformed. This allows for interoperability impossible for those solely using SCADA systems.
After all, SCADA systems monitor and control specific industrial processes. Data silos are inherent (and logical!) to their purpose. But while IIoT platforms can perform many of the same core functions as SCADA systems, their use cases are more varied.
Transforming data opens up possibilities for more significant data usage, whether on-premise data analysis or bringing the data to the cloud for advanced AI analytics and machine learning. Being able to pull data using JSON, SQL, and the like means more programmers and engineers can access it in their preferred language. This gives IIoT platforms greater scope and ease of use than their SCADA counterparts.
Difference #4: How it scales
For any successful industrial company, the issue of scaling will inevitably come up. It may be adding and integrating more machines, processing more data, or any number of situations requiring more processing power.
SCADA’s traditional architecture puts it at a disadvantage here; increasing the number of users degrades performance. Furthermore, most SCADA systems hold a limited amount of data for a fixed period — it excels at real-time data, but the limited processing power and holding capacity make increasing the data load difficult. Finally, the lack of data transformation can make integrating new vendors — or even new equipment — more of a hassle than it’s worth.
IIoT platforms lack many of these restrictions. The ability to transform data allows more accessible adaptation and integration with new technologies. Its serverless architecture makes scaling more achievable, especially with the ability to process and store data on the edge or the cloud, which lets manufacturers choose what’s best for each specific application.
SCADA vs. IIoT: Which is right for me?
This is a bit of a trick question — both SCADA and IIoT platforms have their areas of expertise. While IIoT platforms can also fulfill the same purpose as SCADA systems, the reality is that legacy SCADA systems are present in most modern industrial environments. Rather than rip out existing infrastructure, it may be better to augment the current system with an IIoT platform.
After all, SCADA does an excellent job providing real-time alerts and remote control of operations — there’s no need to stop it from doing that. But integrating an IIoT platform opens up new possibilities for large-scale analytics and optimizations. Working together, SCADA and IIoT platforms can improve industrial operations on a large scale.
In addition, combining SCADA and IIoT platforms creates a synergy within the data. The IIoT platform can give insights and recommendations to the SCADA system based on the data shared between them. Overall, integrating SCADA systems and IIoT platforms can help industrial operations become more agile, responsive, and efficient, improving productivity and reducing costs.