Not too long ago, someone at the office was talking about SCUBA and asked if anyone knew what it stood for. One person insisted it didn’t stand for anything, it’s just what it was called—it’s just SCUBA. Obviously, he was wrong (“Self-Contained Underwater Breathing Apparatus”), but that shows just how much SCUBA is part of our culture. It’s just a word.
Well, the same can be said for SCADA.
SCADA stands for Supervisory Control And Data Acquisition, and it is a way for businesses, utilities, and others to monitor and quickly react to events at all their locations. It’s becoming absolutely crucial for anyone with remote stations to stay connected and to understand what is going on at their locations.
Businesses depend on it. Economies depend on it. And, the public relies on it. That’s why, if you have any remote substations, you need a SCADA system you can depend on.
Developing the best substation SCADA system means figuring out your needs, assessing your budget, analyzing the technology, and finding the right vendors.
When you do that, you’ll be able to enact a SCADA system that works for you. And, when you have control over your entire operation, it’ll be like coming up for air.
Tips for Developing the Best Substation SCADA System
A great SCADA system for your substation doesn’t happen overnight. It takes a lot of planning. You want to make sure of a few things when planning it out.
- The equipment you get can monitor everything that needs to be monitored.
- You have a method of routing the information in a logical way that helps facilitate efficient responses.
- The equipment must communicate with your legacy equipment so that you don’t have to replace everything all at once.
- You don’t buy too much equipment, busting your budget and your storage areas.
- The system you buy can withstand the conditions at your remote stations.
To boil that down to the basics…you want it to work. Here’s how:
Write Out What You Want Your SCADA to Accomplish
You’re going to have to take time to explore the technology. Inventory your substations, equipment, systems, and conditions that need to be monitored and reported on. This involves:
- A comprehensive accounting of all your substations.
- A full inventory of all the equipment inside them.
- A thorough breakdown of all the processes that need monitoring.
- A breakdown of everything that needs to be monitored, including environmental, mechanical, electrical, and security issues.
- A plan for how you will route alarms and prioritize information.
So this isn’t a pie-in-the-sky plan consisting of you just writing “Information” on a 3×5 card. It’s the blueprint for your entire SCADA system.
Know What to Monitor
There are a huge number of items in any substation, no matter the industry. There is an incredible amount of processes that allow a system to work right. For these, you can have Remote Telemetry Units (RTUs) that are used to monitor discrete events. Here’s just a partial list of things SCADA can monitor:
- Water flow
- Current flow
- Parts inventory
- Automated processes
- Rail systems
- Traffic signals
That doesn’t even begin to include the component parts of these processes, all of which require precise operational consistency. Basically, anything that is mission-critical needs to be monitored.
What does that mean exactly? It means an action or event that will cause a slow or sudden failure. It could mean knowing that a core temperature has gotten above 90 degrees – if going over 100 will lead to a breakdown. And, it could mean being alerted when there is system overload. Or, it could mean being alerted when a security door is open for no reason.
Whatever it is, you need to know. Once you figure that out, you should think about what will happen with the information – whether it is reported to a human or used by another automated system.
Understand How to Process the Information
If you have a large enough system (usually more than 10 stations), it is generally best to have alerts and notifications from the RTUs routed to an alarm master. This has the benefit of collecting all your information and putting it on one screen and one dashboard. It gives you the ability to monitor everything at once, bringing your remote stations very close (at least it will feel that way).
Of course, if you have fewer than 10, you may choose to have notifications sent directly to your phone through email or text. This is great, but can also be a bit overwhelming. So you’ll have to think about the best ways to route information to the right people at the right times. Otherwise, you’re monitoring for no reason.
Think About Automation
You can also choose how the processes will be automated. There will be alarms in which you want to have people notified right away. This can be done by having the system relay an email or a text to the right person (or alert first responders). That way, for things that need immediate attention, you don’t need to have someone monitoring at all times.
There are also ways to automate responses directly in your system. It is possible to have automatic shutdowns if an event is triggered, or other actions. This is more sophisticated, but can also save a lot of time.
Audit Your Technology and Plan Your Budget
Chances are you have some form of communication with your remote stations. This means you may have some legacy equipment. That’s expensive to replace, which is why it is important to try to find an alarm master and network of RTUs that can communicate across protocols. That way, you won’t be spending half your immediate budget upgrading old equipment and still getting no closer to implementation.
A lot of this comes down to budget. How much do you have to spend now? What is your projected future budget looking like? Balance that out with:
- What needs to be fixed now
- What can wait to be fixed
- The potential costs of something going wrong
Evaluate your needs and your technology. At this point, though, it is probably the right time to talk to a vendor.
Find a Provider Who is Right For You
Right now, everyone reading this has different plans. It’s not just that water utilities, telecoms, and mass transit authorities have wildly varied systems, it is that the water utility for Bakersfield, CA has different needs than one in Butler, NJ. Everyone has different needs, budgets, and requirements.
That’s why you need a SCADA provider who has a few important qualifications. Obviously, they need to offer the right technology. They need durable RTUs and smart alarm masters. They need a system that can connect your different protocols. But the most important thing?
You need a provider who can adjust their custom designs to suit your requirements.
It does absolutely no good to have a provider who will say, “We sell a system of X RTUs.” If X is too many, you’re wasting money. If it’s too few, you’re cutting back on what you need. You want a provider who will tailor a system based on all the specifications you outlined above.
Even better, you want someone who can help you refine your plans because they know your industry. They know what it takes, and can get you the equipment you need. They might see things that you missed, or find solutions to problems you imagined were impossible to solve.
In short, you want a substation SCADA system provider who doesn’t just know what SCADA stands for. You want someone for whom SCADA is part of their lives. You want someone who knows how to make it a vital, cost-saving, worry-erasing, and uptime-guaranteeing part of yours.
DPS Telecom has the experience and expertise to help companies monitor what matters most—including developing the best SCADA system. Our technicians can work with you to install RTUs with easy-to-use interfaces for more automatic responses. Reach out and get a quote today!
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