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Bid Review: Small SCADA RTUs for County Government Sites

By Andrew Erickson

September 2, 2023

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You have a big responsibility in the intricate world of SCADA and remote monitoring. You're tasked with understanding the nuances of the technology, and ensuring a device's alignment with your site-specific needs is critical.

Given the implications of such systems in monitoring and managing critical operations, I've found a recent bid document online to give you a tutorial on SCADA concepts with real-world applicability.

I've analyzed key excerpts from the bid document that point us to some significant SCADA topics. These are things that any prospective bidders should be keenly aware of.

Let's explore these areas. As specific examples, we'll also examine how the bid provisions relate to DPS Telecom devices, particularly NetGuardians and T/Mon.

Scheduled Pre-Bid Inspection

The bid highlights the significance of a scheduled inspection, suggesting that bidders attend a walk-through presentation to better understand the premises and its conditions.

"It is recommended that prospective bidders attend a scheduled inspection and walk through presentation in order to inspect premises and familiarize themselves with the conditions of the sites prior to submitting a bid."

A hands-on understanding can serve as a precursor to any potential challenges that arise during the installation phase.

This approach is critical in the context of NetGuardians and T/Mon. Although I can't justify an in-person site survey for every project, it's an essential part of any semi-custom equipment that we build at any significant scale.

I find it hugely satisfying when I get to visit a DPS client, interview them about their needs, visit a remote site, then deliver a custom product that satisfies the requirement. This bid document is requesting, if not demanding, that potential bidders take the same step to ensure that the solution is high-quality.

Basis for Selection of a Vendor

The criteria for vendor selection underscore experience, past projects, ability to deliver timely installations, bid quality, and cost proposal.

Experience is notably emphasized with a stipulation of at least five years in pumping station alarms, installation, and monitoring.

Fortunately, I'm in good shape when I have to bid on SCADA projects like this one. The legacy of DPS Telecom's NetGuardians and T/Mon is quite long, reaching back to the 1990s.

With their track record in the industry, both of these products align with the robustness and reliability that this bid seeks. Their deployment in thousands of worldwide projects makes it easy to "check the box' for experience in this type of bidding context.

Alarm Monitoring Remote Telemetry Units (RTUs)

The bid lays out specific requirements for the RTUs, including the need for eight digital and two analog alarms. These are general-purpose inputs that can cover various items like pump status, wet well levels, power phases, temperature, backup floats, and motor overload conditions.

RTUs serve as the front line of your SCADA system, constantly monitoring and ensuring everything is functioning optimally. NetGuardians, with their multipronged monitoring capabilities, can cater to these specific alarms.

Virtually all NetGuardians have at least the 8 digital/discrete contact closures and 2 analog inputs demanded here. Analog inputs can be configured for either voltage (ex. 0-5 VDC) or current (4-20 mA) operation. Some have 32 or 80 or even more discrete inputs for high-density applications.

The ability of NetGuardians to monitor diverse alarm types ensures seamless tracking of the vital operational metrics listed in this bid.

Additional Technical Details

The bid spec ends with some additional details at a fairly granular level:

  • a requirement for cellular system communications
  • battery backups for 24 hours
  • lightning protection
  • real-time notifications
  • external antennas
  • 24/7 technical support
  • warranties

The emphasis on the RTU's ability to withstand adverse weather conditions and a polling time of a minimum of 5 minutes underscores the demand for robustness and reasonable responsiveness.

Both NetGuardians and T/Mon are designed with these considerations in mind.

Although we once built NetGuardians with built-in cellular modems, we found that we outlive the generations (2G, 3G, 4G, 5G, etc.) of the wireless networks. As a result, we now commonly quote MultiTech cellular modems along with our RTUs.

Most NetGuardian deployments go to telecom sites with protected battery plant for UPS purposes. Still, there are some that include a dedicated battery backup.

Lightning protection is massive in the NetGuardian world. All of our RTUs have opto-isolation to minimize damage from incoming surges. We also have external protection shelves that shunt surges to ground, sometimes sacrificing themselves to protect your more expensive RTU.

DPS also includes 7x24 emergency technical support (and normal tech support from 7AM-6PM Pacific Time, Mon-Fri) with any RTU purchase.

Cloud-Based Monitoring Website

The bid touches upon a user-friendly website, emphasizing password-based access, with features to display alarms, notifications, and a map of the pumping station sites.

T/Mon, known for its centralized management capabilities, aligns with this requirement in a particular way. Everything about T/Mon's web interface includes a clear alarm display and user-level access rights as described.

The unique aspect of T/Mon when compared with this bid's assumptions is that the web interface is hosted on T/Mon. This bid describes what is seemingly a cloud application.

The cloud can be great for convenience and remote access, but it often clashes with my clients' security policies. As a result, T/Mon's architecture as "on-premises" is often required. This is even more of a certainty if you have a "closed OT network" with no internet access supplied to your SCADA system.

Get Help With Your SCADA Project

This SCADA bid document lays out a comprehensive framework for what's expected in many modern SCADA/monitoring systems.

Products like NetGuardians and T/Mon from DPS Telecom are one option you have that can meet these requirements.

As you navigate the evolving SCADA landscape, you will likely have questions. You can call me anytime to discuss what you're trying to accomplish. I'll offer you guidance based on my 17 years in the industry. If I get stumped, I have a variety of engineers and even company co-founders at my disposal to get you the answers you need.

To ask any SCADA question you have, call DPS at 1-800-693-0351 or email sales@dpstele.com

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Andrew Erickson

Andrew Erickson

Andrew Erickson is an Application Engineer at DPS Telecom, a manufacturer of semi-custom remote alarm monitoring systems based in Fresno, California. Andrew brings more than 17 years of experience building site monitoring solutions, developing intuitive user interfaces and documentation, and opt...