A History of SCADA in the Water Sector

System Control and Data Acquisition technology has been around for decades. While first used in industrial settings, utilities quickly noticed the advantages of receiving vital information over a broad network. Today, water utilities continue to embrace SCADA as information technology advances.

What is SCADA?

SCADA involves a collection of sensors throughout an industrial system sending data to a central processing unit. With SCADA technology, managers can observe the system’s health at every point. They will also receive alarms when a piece of equipment isn’t working correctly or dangerous conditions arise.

The system control aspect of SCADA allows managers to make changes from a remote location. They can also set the system to respond automatically to specific alarms. For example, shutting down the system immediately when there’s a blockage can prevent unnecessary equipment damage.

The Phases and Development of Water SCADA

The history of SCADA runs parallel with the history of communications. SCADA technology improves as innovations increase the system’s connectivity and the amount of data it can share.

Phase One: Wide-Area Network SCADA

Information traveled over phone lines and radio waves to cover a wide-area network in the first generation of SCADA technology. The amount of information was limited to basic status reports. Pump stations could indicate a failure, but they couldn’t provide a diagnosis. Handling an alert meant crews driving to the location to check out the problem in person.

Phase Two: Local-Area Network SCADA

The next improvement was the move from a wide area to a local-area network. Connected clusters of machines reported through the same line. This arrangement drastically decreased the time required to check the system. Improvements in bandwidth also meant that facilities could provide more status information. Armed with diagnostic codes, crews arrived on the scene with a better idea of the problem.

Phase Three: Water SCADA Meets the Internet

SCADA history progressed from the 1970s through the 1990s, and the capabilities of information technology expanded into the digital age. Information traveled in faster and larger packets through internet connections. However, SCADA technology still required some hybrid radio-frequency solutions when remote devices couldn’t be wired into the system.

In this phase, SCADA was also changing from a tool primarily focused on maintenance to a greater emphasis on efficiency and system control. A growing amount of data meant that utility companies could look at historical usage information and better predict customer needs.

Phase Four: SCADA in the Cloud

The present generation of SCADA has incorporated the cloud as the central hub for water system information. Sensors in the network can send constant streams of data, and managers and technicians can access them from any location. The result of these innovations is improved diagnostics, faster response times, and fewer service disruptions.

The cloud-based nature of modern SCADA has also improved the control aspect of the technology. With comprehensive information about system conditions, water companies can make informed decisions about rerouting water or adjusting the flow rate. They can often carry out these changes from a handheld device.

The Future of SCADA in Industry

As bandwidth and speed increase, SCADA in the industry will embrace emerging technologies. In the water industry, these may include:

  • Virtual and augmented reality devices to assess facility conditions
  • Haptic tools for remote diagnostics
  • Robotics for remote repairs

Addressing Water SCADA Security Concerns

One of the advantages of a cloud-based model is data safety. A natural disaster could disrupt operations or destroy data stored in physical servers. Cloud-based computing prevents data loss by securing data at multiple server locations.

Cyberattacks on utilities are a pressing concern for the water sector. Turning off the water or interfering with water treatment for a large city would have serious consequences. Organizations that embrace cloud-based SCADA must take security precautions to prevent access. In addition to firewalls and other basic measures, cloud-based SCADA organizations should use the following:

  • Two-factor authentication for all authorized users
  • Role-based access to minimize the impact of breaches
  • VPN connections for encrypted communication

A Partner for SCADA in the Water Industry

High Tide Technologies develops, installs, and maintains cloud-based SCADA systems for water collection, treatment, and distribution facilities. We’ve learned the lessons of SCADA history and take advantage of the latest technology to provide a tool that will improve your water system’s efficiency and organization. Contact us today to learn more about the benefits of cloud-based SCADA design.