Technological advances have radically transformed engineering over the past few decades. With the new products, materials, and tools available to them, engineers face a wide range of tools to work with these days. However, while the tools to do the job have evolved, the engineer’s basic objective remains mostly unchanged: reduce failure rates and site operating costs while optimizing equipment performance. In other words, figure out how to improve efficiency pretty much every day.
Of course, that’s easier said than done. When it comes to complex engineering problems, particularly in industrial sectors like oil and gas, power generation, or water and wastewater management, decisions need to be made based on the best data available. Until relatively recently, Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA) systems were pretty much the only sources of data for engineers.
Unfortunately, while the data SCADA systems provide is valuable, many of them lack the analytical tools needed to use the data for informing asset-performance decisions. Moreover, SCADA systems are typically customized, resulting in inherently inconsistent interfaces between projects and users.
That’s why many engineers are considering augmenting or expanding their SCADA program using IIoT (Industrial Internet-of-Things) devices to obtain the remote monitoring data they need to do their job effectively. Some are even replacing their old SCADA systems entirely.
While the IIoT promises engineers more data for their decision (usually provided by relatively low-cost sensor nodes) and streamlined functions in general, it’s important to understand the differences between the two methods of data acquisition. That’s why we’re going over the four primary ways SCADA and IIoT systems differ, and what they mean for engineers trying to decide between the two.
- Cost vs. Affordability
- Complexity vs. Simplicity
- Alerts vs. Analysis
- Data for the field vs. data for the team
Engineers serve as an important point-of-contact between field operation teams and your management or executive teams. As such, they have the crucial job of optimizing asset performance to help ensure production is being maximized as cost-effectively as possible. However, doing that job requires the most complete data possible in order to make informed decisions. That’s why it’s important to remember that although we will discuss the four main differences, from an engineer’s perspective it doesn’t really matter what the source of data is, only that it’s useable.
Getting the Most Out of YOUR Data
For data to be useful, it needs to be easily accessible. Although it’s true that some engineers get their data from site personnel’s daily updates, the vast majority use remote monitoring of some kind to collect data from critical operations equipment. In many cases, that data comes from SCADA systems.
The unfortunate reality for many engineers is that getting at the data they need can be a painful and tedious process. Because they’re custom engineered to specific projects with different systems and processes to monitor, their interfaces are unique for each system and typically designed to prioritize alarming as opposed to data extraction. This isn’t to say the data captured by SCADA systems isn’t valuable, but the difficulty accessing and working with SCADA data is why many industrial businesses (and their engineers) may be searching for alternatives. Understanding the four core differences between SCADA and IIoT monitoring systems will help engineers and stakeholders of all kinds make the best decisions going forward.
Cost vs. Affordability
SCADA systems are substantial and robust—bulky even. RTUs, PLCs, and plenty of other equipment are often involved, and the costs for all of it typically gets absorbed into capital budgets during the engineering and buildout phase. Then there’s the manpower required; many medium and large industrial players have entire internal teams dedicated to planning and managing SCADA systems.
On the other hand, remote monitoring systems (and the companies that provide them), typically use a different business model known as SaaS—aka Software as a Service—which charges a monthly fee to subscribers per user, asset, or data point. CAPEX funds and AFEs (Authorizations for Expenditures) are still required to purchase and install hardware, but at the very least part of the capital costs are pushed into operational expenses. For example, tens if not hundreds of thousands of CAPEX dollars for gateways and lifetime software licenses can be saved by transitioning to SaaS programs and thus, transitioning those costs into OPEX budgets. Some vendors have even gone so far as to amortize equipment costs into their subscription fees, allowing businesses to rent or lease the equipment and wrap those costs up into OPEX budgets as well.
Engineers aren’t accountants though, so while price and budget constraints are always important, it’s good to consider why engineers would care about the difference. The answer is data accessibility, which is what engineers are ultimately after. The right remote monitoring systems provide can provide accurate, reliable data immediately, and almost solely using their OPEX budget.
Complexity vs. Simplicity
To be fair, SCADA systems have been around for decades and spent much of that time being truly useful, so plenty of new components and features have been developed. At the time of their invention and deployment, these systems and features were valuable additions to operators’ monitoring and management functions. The additions and expansions just kept on coming year after year, decade after decade. This means that nowadays many SCADA systems can account for virtually any situation that may arise, a prized quality for certain.
Similarly, enormous SCADA systems trying to deliver data about every asset and operations process usually feature interfaces that are not as flexible and intuitive when compared against IIoT web-based UX/UI. When features start getting layered upon one another, usually with little to no regard for design considerations, the system quickly devolves into a kludgy quagmire. Despite possibly containing a trove of useful information, extracting data without the help of experts or paid applications is an almost impossible task.
However, when it comes to modern remote monitoring systems, simplicity is the name of the game. IIoT devices and systems are deliberately built around lightweight and low-maintenance design principles. They may lack the bells and whistles some site managers have come to expect, but those shortcomings likely don’t matter to most engineers. They just want to be able to access high-quality aggregate data that can be analyzed for trends, enhance business intelligence, and make informed decisions. They also need that data to be readily available and intuitive to extract. Also, the complexities of maintaining a private communications network for SCADA systems versus simply using a public network that is maintained by the provider are significant. A modern remote monitoring system, properly designed and implemented, can make all these engineering wishes come true without blowing a hole in your capital budget.
Alerts vs. Analysis
When they were introduced back in the 60s, SCADA systems were originally intended to provide real-time visibility and control over distributed infrastructure at a given complex or, at most, across a small geographic region, and it’s done its job admirably across the decades. The ability to monitor systems and alert personnel to problems has been a boon to safety and efficiency.
However, HMIs, control interfaces, and alarm systems are concerned with real-time events and notifying personnel about immediate problems. They weren’t meant for outputting the sizable amount of data they collect for analysis, an essential function for finding optimization trends that can lead to a strong ROI. Meanwhile, strapping a patchwork of data adapters and adding even more layers of technology onto an already complicated system rarely generates the results the industry is hoping for, although there are applications available for this job, and for a price.
That’s part of what makes modern remote monitoring so attractive to engineers; they’re purposely designed for gathering data and quickly making it available for analysis, in many cases also providing powerful analysis tools within the platform. Unlike SCADA networks that use machine protocols from the equipment all the way to the HMI, remote monitoring technology usually translates machine languages into useful open internet protocols almost immediately. In fact, as IIoT devices continue to be deployed in the field, differing machine languages are disappearing, replaced by devices using standardized protocols right at the source. When it comes to data governance and accessibility, that particular design focus may not be the definitive difference between SCADA and the IIoT, but it’s definitely an advantage for engineers looking to improve their data analysis.
Data for the Field vs. Data for the Team
So, while we’ve established that SCADA is still prevalent, it’s definitely a significantly more complex and costly system to maintain – whether it’s running simple updates, expanding systems, or running complex upgrades across an enterprise. Unfortunately, there’s still one more issue with SCADA, and that’s its overall purpose. SCADA is an inherently response-driven system meant to alert personnel to faults and warnings and provide site managers with direct control and oversight of equipment. It’s very much a “real-time” system and incorporating powerful new AI and ML functions can be a significant challenge based on the age or complexity of the system.
By contrast, using remote monitoring platforms and IIoT devices makes it possible to avoid this complication without additional implementation and subscription costs often associated with a commercial solution. IIoT devices make it incredibly easy to get large data sets out of your equipment and directly into analytical tools – and the cloud-based systems they run on are constantly advancing and evolving with cutting-edge technologies that can be rapidly deployed across an enterprise – in some cases incredibly powerful new features become available on just the next login!
Several solutions are available though to easily integrate IIoT system data with SCADA systems, including:
- Protocol conversion gateways: These gateways act as a bridge between the two systems and help ensure seamless data transfer.
- OPC UA: This is a widely used industrial communication protocol that allows data exchange between different systems.
- API integration: forward-thinking IIoT platforms come with Open APIs that can be used to connect directly and easily to SCADA systems.
- Cloud-based platforms: Intelligent cloud-based platforms are engineered to allow for easy data sharing and analysis between connected systems.
And the Winner is…
No one, because, unsurprisingly, there are use cases for both and this is a complex topic.
Remote monitoring systems built on IIoT devices no doubt have a bright future ahead of them, but SCADA systems are still valuable in many industries and for many operators. They’ve been vital to industrial operations for decades and will likely continue to be for some time. Nevertheless, the lines between the two are already blurring as SCADA teams and system integrators continue to incorporate IIoT devices and design concepts into their own systems.
Remember, the engineer’s goal is to make the best decisions about production assets as possible to maximize their performance. To do that, they need ready access to reliable data about their equipment, their conditions, their environments, and more. For businesses requiring more operational agility, it may make sense to invest in an entirely IIoT-driven system as they’re simpler and easier to manage with limited cash flow and less manpower.
Industry giants have invested heavily in SCADA systems and internal teams to manage them, so it’s unlikely that SCADA will disappear from the industrial lexicon anytime soon. Nevertheless, even the big players can earn a quick win for incremental value by taking a blended approach to monitoring by augmenting data collection systems with IIoT devices that provide easy access to high-quality data regarding critical and peripheral systems alike.
The MOBILTEX portfolio of cathodic protection and pipeline integrity remote monitoring units (RMUs) present an exceptional opportunity for Corrosion and Asset Integrity engineers within organizations big and small to climb on board the Industry 4.0/IIoT bullet train. Unlike SCADA systems which are customized for each application, the turnkey approach of IIoT devices means producers can not only reap the immediate benefits but also help future-proof their monitoring programs with strategic automation and adaptability to meet ever-expanding regulatory requirements. As part of larger monitoring systems, the RMU lineup of CorTalk products can give engineers and other stakeholders access to critical information regarding their corrosion protection systems and the assets they protect by delivering high-quality data quickly via the intuitive CorView user cloud platform and the latest Open API integrations.
If you’re interested in learning how MOBILTEX remote monitoring units create better operational outcomes, reduced failure rates, and lower operating costs without relying on CAPEX dollars, we invite you to consult with one of our corrosion mitigation experts today. We look forward to hearing from you.
Refer to the list below for a quick reference of features available in the CorTalk RMU solutions and Contact a MOBILTEX representative today to find out how our products can improve safety, lower operating costs and future-proof your operations, all while optimizing the performance of your cathodic protection systems.
|CorTalk RMU3||Rectifier interruption, voltage output readings, current output readings, potential readings||Rectifiers|
|CorTalk RMU2||Voltage output readings, current output readings, potential readings||Test points, Rectifiers|
|CorTalk RMU1+INT1||Potential readings, coupon readings, bond readings with interruption||Test points|
|CorTalk RDL1||Cloud-connected Fast sample data logging + Potential readings, coupon readings, bond readings with interruption||Test points, Rectifiers|
|CorTalk RMU1-LITE||Potential readings (including instant-‘off’)||Test points|
|CorTalk RMU1-SUB||Potential readings, coupon readings, bond readings||Subgrade test points designed for urban areas, restricted access points, or roads/highways|
|CorTalk RMU1-ER||ER probe metal loss readings||Pipes and casings test points|