Smart Machines & Factories
Published:  20 October, 2017

We are all witnesses to the sustained rise of the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) and the demand to ‘digitise’ within Industry 4.0. Yet legitimate SCADA-based questions, specifically in relation to IoT appear ignored, or at least unanswered. So we ask: “will IoT replace SCADA?” and “can the two concepts be integrated?” SCADA and Distributed Control Systems (DCS) are clearly prevalent automation standards, but as a new tidal wave of data from the IoT surfaces, what role will they play in the factory of the future? Samuel Walton at iconics UK reports.

Origins of SCADA 101: The purpose of the first solid state SCADA systems, back in the 1960’s, was to collect data and monitor processes via sluggish and expensive mainframe computers. This paved the way for data logging technology. Historians were introduced to do just that; store and analyse the vast amounts of data captured by the SCADA system. Now though, with 64bit computing, bulk configuration tools, and next-level graphical user interfaces (GUIs) native to most SCADA products, traditional barriers to entry no longer exist. The question is, what will be the role of these process control systems as we enter the next phase of manufacturing?

SCADA in the Smart Factory

The frank reality is that SCADA as an operator interface, and the features that make it obligatory (such as schematic visualisation, alarming, data logging, real-time control and the passing of data to data historians), are not going to be completely negated by IoT technology. Not anytime soon. There’s no doubt edge computing will begin to engulf certain control features and rationalise the amount of data we choose to push into the cloud over time, but the Industrial Internet of Things will not negate the need to securely open and close valves, start or stop motors or reset an actuator. At least not for assets and processes that require high-speed data collection and control. That's the key. One cannot compare IIoT solely with Data Acquisition (DA), yet forget about Supervisory Control (SC) and the need for reliability, security, fast aggregation and complex data storage. There are of course certain IoT communication protocols, AMQP and JSON to name two, that would need to be present to support the SC + DA elements via the IoT.

4th Generation SCADA: Embracing IoT

Some SCADA/Visualisation technologies have a propensity to play outside the traditional SCADA / process control arena, and have been doing so for a while. With the rate in which connected devices are gathering, exchanging and analysing data, the need for interoperability and information transparency has grown. Certain progressive, and hardware agnostic, ISV’s have always embraced this need and now natively support key Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) protocols. Their platforms are able to fulfil the role of a macro-level control and analytical toolset that can unite the IT and OT. Supervisory control and security are not sacrificed but embellished within existing infrastructure

It is these tools that can and will act as secure IoT Gateways (or Message Oriented Middleware (MOM)), to seamlessly unite edge devices (possibly multi-site) into single analytical view-of-the-world. Remote configuration, open and secure connectivity methods such as REST, MQTT, AMQP and OPC UA Pub Sub are the key to fuelling this merged IoT architecture. One of the most apt, yet rudimentary question(s) anyone wanting to bi-directionally control their equipment via the IoT must ask, is, therefore “can, or in the near future will, my current control system platform support open IoT protocols and run natively in the Cloud, without the need for a Virtual Machine (VM) environment?”

The heterogeneous nature of the factory of the future paves the way for these additional IoT platforms that can truly unite and manage the disparate nature of the industrial digital ecosystem.


Digitisation is bringing about changes in the way manufacturers operate. For over 20 years, the ‘Purdue model’ of Computer Integrated Manufacturing has reigned as the foundation of how manufacturing systems are architected. Its hierarchical nature is slowly shifting as a peer-to-peer model via the IoT opens up.

So, “will IIoT replace SCADA?” For high value, critical industrial processes, I conclude no. “Can the two concepts ever be integrated?” Most definitely. Despite traditional SCADA systems operating in the “micro” environment of manufacturing, collecting and visualising the day-to-day operations of a factory or process, a more powerful SCADA sibling is here. And yes, Industry 4.0 and IIoT belong to the “macro” environment, and more pertinent questions hanker in the quest for optimal productivity; such as, how can we meet consumer needs quicker, cheaper and with better quality? But it is exactly these questions that the 4th Generation SCADA /IoT/Visualisation Platforms have been built to answer.

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