Reaping the Benefits of SCADA and the Industrial Internet of Things

The future for industrial automation means more than replacing people with robots. Through the use of supervisory control and data acquisition, or SCADA, the gathering of data in real time is automated to manage components like conveyor belts and adjust climate controls to save energy.

Consider how technology is evolving in the workplace.

Just a few years ago, a maker of a product like wet wipes may have had a dozen or more workers for each packaging line. Another half-dozen or so workers were needed to re-seal the product.

Robots were used to reduce labor costs and speed up production. The workers were taught to supervise the robots while various production lines were operating independently.

Now, let's say the wet wipe maker has taken another step to gain a competitive edge and that is using the enterprise cloud in the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT). The various components that were once separate are now connected to share data in real time so they function optimally.

Automation once focused solely on labor. Now, knowledge is being automated. Getting connected the smart way with a SCADA system is a critical step in the process.


On a personal level, the Internet of Things enables homeowners to remotely control heating and air conditioning systems in their "smart homes." Drivers using GPS may already see the benefits of finding the fastest routes through heavy traffic. An improvement in data sharing will be helping them locate empty parking spaces in crowded lots.

The workplace will have similar efficiencies that will become widely adopted. Machines that communicate via sensors can reduce energy use or speed up operations depending on the number of orders needing processed. A person supervises the data flow and can override settings if necessary and any changes made to the system are recorded.

Driverless dump trucks with Australian-based mining company Rio Tinto have already been equipped with sensors on axles and gears to find the most efficient routes that save fuel costs plus wear and tear. The data sharing is paying off by extending the life of the vehicles.

Preventative maintenance is another benefit. All machines, including robots, need to have physical parts replaced, software upgraded or both. The IIoT can alert supervisors to emerging problems that require adjustments before a problem occurs.

In the article Industrial Internet of Things: Sifting Reality from Hype, the network's value includes improved efficiency and less downtime. Orders can be run on short notice and, when combined with robotic customization, manufacturers will have a greater ability to deliver personalized products.

Most of the required technology to tap in to the IIoT already exists in the form of smart sensors, intelligent components, connectivity protocols, and software applications. Connecting them isn't a snap decision. Careful planning is needed to upgrade equipment that's already been in place and to handle other potential obstacles.


An automated system that produces a product like packaged wet wipes may look like this: delta robots and EtherCAT master stations coordinate programmable logic controllers (PLCs), and connect conveyers, sensors, gluing, and labeling equipment.

This can reduce manpower needs by about thirty percent and boost productivity by up to 1.5 packages per second, according to findings in the article Robotic Automation Propels Manufacturing Transformation. An automated production line for one type of product can be duplicated so a company can diversify and process other products.

Don't rush to connect devices just because you can. Companies that want to successfully mine data may face bandwidth issues. In the Sifting Reality from Hype write-up, the network can get clogged.

"Every time you put something on your network, you’ve got to make sure your network and support policy can handle it," said Mike Hannah, commercial program manager for the connected enterprise, Rockwell Automation in Cleveland, Ohio.

Security issues are another concern. Many equipment owners don’t want to connect their assets to the Internet because of the fear that hackers will access their data or impact the operation of their equipment.

This may seem counter-intuitive, but here's where a SCADA system can make a plant secure. Real time data analysis can alert users to possible tampering. More connectivity and more intelligent monitoring of what’s happening on those networks is one of the best ways to minimize any damage or destruction from a hack.

Another challenge to plan for and tackle is choosing to invest in newer components versus existing ones.


Factories have to overcome communication barriers. One barrier can exist in the form of older robots, programmable logic controllers and sensors that use different protocols and were made to run independently. Upgrading them may lead to greater efficiencies.

Another communication barrier is not having policies in place to handle the flow of information which can be overwhelming. Yet, the value in connecting an array of equipment is that a critical mass of data can be mined to deliver insights that are greater than simply preventing downtime on one machine in one location.

Manufacturers need data handling policies to glean the most strategic information.

The technology that makes accurate collection possible includes Industrial IoT controllers, gateways that are built especially for manufacturing. In the write-up IoT Gateways Secure Productivity through Predictive Maintenance, it's noted that these controllers serve as "the cornerstone of big supervisory control and data acquisition (Big SCADA)" that monitors factory operations using the enterprise cloud.


The phrase "work smarter" certainly applies to the IIoT. The United States, Germany, Japan, and China have launched initiatives including Advanced Manufacturing Partnership (AMP), Industry 4.0, New Robot Strategy, and China Manufacturing 2025.

How your company will make use of smart manufacturing requires advance planning and understanding what data is necessary to track. The benefits can lead to an even more efficient and profitable operation.

As you explore the latest developments in industrial automation, make use of the resources like videos, blog posts, and events you can link to through A3.