Can SCADA become an enabler for IT/OT connectivity?

Within manufacturing organisations, demand is growing for improved IT/OT connectivity. Operational technology (OT) and information technology (IT) functions have long coexisted and cooperated. The focus for IT being on front-end business systems, information processing, and communications. For OT, it was on the operation and control of the manufacturing processes, machinery workflows and productivity.

Life was simpler then. Much of the OT side ran using controllers (PLCs and process controllers) that were sometimes connected through a Fieldbus. For the most part, there was a clear separation of IT and OT functions, with each having different skills sets. They may have rubbed shoulders, but they operated in isolation.

They have also moved closer together, for example, with Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) systems. ERP improves business resource handling, from raw materials for manufacturing to human resources.

Recently, more IT systems have found their way into manufacturing, accelerated by the growing popularity of IIoT. Industrial Ethernet and similar communication technologies are connecting to more shopfloor devices, machines and even sensors. Connectivity is essential for adopting AI, data mining, augmented reality and advanced diagnostics. Digital transformation is the future for manufacturing, but will not deliver real benefits if OT and IT remain as silos.

IT/OT connectivity

According to Christian Nomine of Mitsubishi Electric, current SCADA applications are becoming an important element for IT/OT connectivity. He believes “SCADA is moving from managing plants and processes to become part of a business’s digital make-up.”

For many, the primary barrier to digital transformation is the lack of transparent network paths between OT and IT systems. Business success depends upon OT and IT connectivity, with staff having timely access to relevant data for efficient plant operation and management decisions.

The question is how to bridge these specialisms and deal with both new and legacy technologies on the plant floor. Moreover, how will they interface with a range of database technologies and management software platforms such as MES and ERP? Also, how will it interface with the Cloud to enable remote plant monitoring and data analysis?

Production engineers have long grappled with the need to connect disparate equipment and various data sources from different manufacturers. SCADA systems have long offered the ability to interact with new and legacy software systems and hardware components.

Using new communication technologies like OPC UA as the preferred connectivity protocol between the separate OT and IT addresses this. But IIoT is gathering growing volumes of data and needs a gateway to manage the flow or risk overwhelming it. Using OPC UA, SCADA provides IT/OT connectivity, aggregating production data, filtering and sending it to the next level system.

Benefits of SCADA

SCADA systems use libraries of connectivity tools to interface new and legacy components, third party automation controllers and associated systems. Furthermore, its data translation capabilities enable seamless communication between the plant floor and the wider enterprise. SCADA provides the means to contextualise data, adding meaning to the raw information. It transforms data into a clear graphical representation, enabling users to enjoy improved visualisation and enhanced productivity. Hosting SCADA in the Cloud supports web services plus MQTT, and IT connectivity such as SNMP or ICMP to track IT assets.

Cybersecurity

Expanding IT/OT connectivity also increases exposure to cyber risk. SCADA secure remote connectivity helps enable system developers to build a robust defence strategy against cyber-attack. Achieving this is a natural part of the design process without compromising usability. The resulting SCADA becomes the platform for creating advanced, integrated and secure solutions that deliver real value to the business.

Mitsubishi Electric’s proven MAPS 4 SCADA platform reflects these trends to deliver a viable foundation for digital transformation. Built on a strong Service Oriented Architecture (SOA), it enables users to develop sophisticated visualisation applications more, while providing optimised features to support IT/OT connectivity.

 

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