Friday, May 29, 2015

7 Tips for Selecting the Right SCADA System for Your Needs

The SCADA system is the brain of your automation system, so choosing the right one for your specific requirements is an important decision. The best SCADA system is the one that can easily communicate with all your RTUs and PLCs , meet your needs today and tomorrow and ensure your investment is protected. Below are some considerations when choosing a SCADA solution.

1.     Will it work with my existing hardware?
Is your facility a patchwork of old and new hardware from various vendors? If so, you comprise the vast majority of industrial sites.  Since the hardware is typically a much bigger and longer term investment, it’s important your SCADA system will effectively communicate with your legacy equipment.

While many SCADA systems offer OPC connectivity alone, this will be a problem if you have older equipment that doesn’t support OPC.  In these instances , you will be forced to buy an expensive OPC wrapper or find the drivers that work for your legacy equipment.  This can be avoided by ensuring  the SCADA package you select offers a wide variety of native drivers to work with any vendor’s hardware, regardless of its age.

2. Will it support my future needs as well as my existing ones?
Many vendors think scalability is just purchasing more I/O. However, if you are going to have to add another production line or another plant in the future, you need an industrial system with an architecture that can manage that type of growth. Unlimited I/O licensing is great, if the system is really built to handle it.

Make sure the SCADA system has been thoroughly tested to handle a large number of I/O points before you purchase it to avoid slow response times and other problems caused by a SCADA system not designed for industrial use. 

3. Is the SCADA software a low risk investment?
When  you select a motor, you know that the initial cost is only a small percentage of the lifetime cost of the equipment; the same applies to SCADA systems.  Some SCADA vendors will tell you that that because their software is lower priced, it is a “low risk investment” because you can throw it away if you don’t like it. While the system may look like a bargain, why not make the investment in software that really works and does the job for you the first time.  You don’t have the time to mess around with projects that are throwaway.
Selecting a SCADA system with large graphic libraries, customizable reports, and a familiar programming language are all elements of a good investment.

4. Can I get support when and where I need it?  
SCADA packages aren’t disposable software. If they go down, the consequences can be serious, ranging from lost data that will affect regulatory compliance to unscheduled downtime that impacts customers.
Therefore, it’s important your SCADA provider is there to support you when and where you need it. You will also want to make sure there’s a large network of system integrators thoroughly certified to meet your needs with regular training and coursework.

5. Will my SCADA vendor be in business next year or the year after?
Your SCADA system is a big purchase; not just the initial cost, but it’s ability to meet your needs today and years in the future.  With such an important investment, you need to be certain your SCADA supplier will be in business for as long as you are.
Another consideration is the provider’s experience in your industry. You don’t just need someone to install the system, you need someone who thoroughly understands your industry unique needs, such as DNP3 support.

6. How easy will it be to upgrade my system?
SCADA systems must be adaptable to changing requirements and new technologies. Backwards compatibility is key because replacing the entire system is expensive, not to mention migrating from one SCADA platform to another can cause downtime and data loss.
To avoid this situation make sure your vendor offers a long history of 100 percent backwards compatibility to make upgrades easy and preclude you from having an orphaned solution.

7. How safe is my SCADA system?
There have been many instances of SCADA systems being comprised from intrusions, either from the Internet or internal sources.  Due to the mission critical nature of a SCADA system protecting it from unauthorized users and hackers is vital.
Security is provided in many ways, from the SCADA architecture to the programming language with which it’s written.  The vendor’s commitment to security and investment in cutting edge security technologies are also a big factor in safeguarding your system.

This post was created by Christine Lesher, Marketing Manager, Software, North America, HMI & Supervisory.