SCADA Red Industrial Light

The World's Simplest SCADA System

The simplest possible SCADA system would be a single circuit that notifies you of one event. Imagine a fabrication machine that produces widgets. Every time the machine finishes a widget, it activates a switch. The switch turns on a light on a panel, which tells a human operator that a widget has been completed.

Obviously, a real SCADA system does more than this simple model. But the principle is the same. A full-scale SCADA system just monitors more stuff over greater distances.
Let's look at what is added to our simple model to create a full-scale SCADA system:

Data Acquisition

First, the systems you need to monitor are much more complex than just one machine with one output. So a real-life SCADA system needs to monitor hundreds or thousands of sensors. Some sensors measure inputs into the system (for example, water flowing into a reservoir), and some sensors measure outputs (like valve pressure as water is released from the reservoir).
Some of those sensors measure simple events that can be detected by a straightforward on/off switch, called a discrete input (or digital input). For example, in our simple model of the widget fabricator, the switch that turns on the light would be a discrete input. In real life, discrete inputs are used to measure simple states, like whether equipment is on or off, or tripwire alarms, like a power failure at a critical facility.

Some sensors measure more complex situations where exact measurement is important. These are analog sensors, which can detect continuous changes in a voltage or current input. Analog sensors are used to track fluid levels in tanks, voltage levels in batteries, temperature and other factors that can be measured in a continuous range of input.

For most analog factors, there is a normal range defined by a bottom and top level. For example, you may want the temperature in a server room to stay between 60 and 85 degrees Fahrenheit. If the temperature goes above or below this range, it will trigger a threshold alarm. In more advanced systems, there are four threshold alarms for analog sensors, defining Major Under, Minor Under, Minor Over and Major Over alarms.