Where is the SCADA market heading?

The supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) market is set to continue growing in Australia and overseas due to an increasing number of applications, and a growing need for safety and asset control. A report has predicts the global SCADA market will grow by more than US$40 billion by 2023. Here we take a look at the opportunities for SCADA and what factors could hold it back.

Where is the SCADA market heading?

SCADA is becoming an increasingly integral part of operations across a number of industries as asset owners look for ways to maintain and improve efficiency, reduce costs, prevent downtime, and process data for informed decision making from a single supervisory interface.

What is driving growth in SCADA?

The Research and Markets report, SCADA (2017-2023), found that the unprecedented growth in SCADA is due to a growing need for safety, and control of distribution and transmission loss, as well as steadily growing end user applications.

In the past, assets had to be checked manually with employees and personnel who work with or around the asset potentially putting themselves in danger to perform routine checks or diagnose issues as they arise.

This no longer needs to be the case as SCADA allows operators to remotely access data collected by the system in real time to provide them with up-to-date information on how the asset is performing. The SCADA system can be used to preemptively detect and notify the operator of potential issues allowing the operator to remotely control certain functions to avoid a potential failure. While the SCADA can alert an operator in the immediate vicinity using the built in alarming function, these alerts may also be distributed via email, SMS and voice notifications where the facility is in a remote location or is not staffed 24 hours a day.

For instance, operators working on an electrical distribution system can monitor and interact with equipment at the substation or distribution pole level from a safe distance. This means that risks such as arc flash can be avoided and the chances of personnel being injured is decreased.

This is only one example, but the potential for SCADA to help asset owners meet work health and safety responsibilities and ensure personnel return home safely is valid for all industry sectors including water and wastewater, mining, and food and beverage.

Another area where there is predicted growth in the market is the control of distribution and transmission loss.

SCADA has a wide range of applications for electricity utilities as it can be used to monitor, in real time, the readings of various and potentially widespread assets such as feeders and substation from one centralised command centre. This allows operators to identify potential outages before they become a problem, and reduces the amount of travel required to check these assets as well as the time it takes to respond to incidents in the network as operators can respond to alarms when thresholds are exceeded. It can also be used to compare both upstream and downstream substations, computing real-time losses for the line and substation.

The security dilemma

While the report found that the growing number of cases of cyber attack is one of the main growth inhibitors for the SCADA market there are steps clients can take to limit the opportunities for people to hack their SCADA system.

Security is a key consideration when choosing to install a SCADA system, especially for critical infrastructure which, if compromised, could have wider reaching impacts such as pipelines releasing their contents, wide-scale blackouts due to electricity grid failure, or loss of control of a system.

However, there are steps that people can take to ensure the chances of this occurring are reduced.

For example, it is imperative that clients select an experienced control systems engineer who is experienced with new automation and cyber security technology, trends and standards. In particular, standards such as IEC62443 are important to follow as they make it harder for hackers to access the system.

Because of this, Automation IT keeps its staff up to date on what is happening in the industry regarding cyber security by regularly attending briefings from global manufacturers and experts in the field. It also has engineers who are in the process of obtaining tertiary qualifications in cyber security while also working full time, so the company is better placed to keeping our customers protected.

It is also recommended that clients utilise demilitarised zones (DMZ) to create a buffer between a trusted SCADA network and the business network or internet. By implementing the additional firewalls and routers that make up the DMZ, an extra layer of security against cyber attacks.

There are also simple things clients can do once a system is up and running, including disabling spare ports on network switches, disabling email and physically isolating USB ports on SCADA computers. Knowing what applications are secure will also help. For example, using a VPN does not necessarily mean that a remote connection is secure, and there is a possibility that a hacker could still use the connection to attack. Training staff how to properly use the computer and what they shouldn’t be doing is also important.

These all help to increase system security and limit the chances that a hacker will be able to access the system and cause disruptions.

If these are followed and people are aware of the do’s and don’ts of SCADA security, there is an opportunity for the fear of cyber attacks reducing and further SCADA market growth.

Looking to the future

The growing complexity of industrial processes and utility infrastructure, as well as a need for more efficient and productive operations over recent decades have impacted on the growing uptake of SCADA systems.

The need to simplify and optimise increasingly complex systems will continue to push the growth of SCADA. The market is starting to see the applications of SCADA growing, with projects being undertaken in areas relating to the Internet of Things and embedded design.

Part of keeping the growth in the market will be ensuring engineers are aware of the latest best practises and standards to ensure clients are receiving a well designed system that provides the best outcomes, and is as secure against cyber security threats as it can be.