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How Do SCADA Systems Work?

Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA) is a system that aims to monitor and control field devices at your remote sites. SCADA systems are critical as it helps maintain efficiency by collecting and processing real-time data.

SCADA is a centralized system that monitors and controls the entire area. This supervisory system gathers data on the process and sends the commands control to the process.

The main goal of this supervisory system is to monitor and control equipment in the industrial processes for companies in the public and private sectors. As a matter of fact, in today's world, there are SCADA systems almost everywhere. This includes industrial plants, manufacturing, transportation, oil and gas, power distribution, water control and etc.

Let's dive deeper into SCADA functions and the components that make SCADA operations possible.

SCADA systems

SCADA Diagram Example System with Main Components

Four SCADA Functions

SCADA systems perform several functions that allow for proper management of remote facilities. The following are the core functions of a SCADA system.

Data Acquisition

The collection of SCADA data frequently involves some kind of analog to digital conversion. Temperature is converted to degrees Celsius. Transmit signal strength is converted to dBm. Channel quality is measured in errored seconds.

Networked Data Communication

The collected data is transmitted either spontaneously or in response to a request for data to some kind of upstream consolidator or master. The communication channel can be analog (T202, POTS) or digital (RS485, TCP/IP). SCADA network topology typically also includes some kind of transport validation independent of any content validation.

Data Presentation

The collected data is processed, organized and presented for system operators to make appropriate response and control decisions. The presentation can vary from tabular presentation of logged events to graphical presentation against mapping or image backgrounds.


If control decisions are warranted and the system supports output, appropriate commands can be dispatched to affect specific operational or configuration changes. Most control actions are performed by RTUs and PLCs.

The Four Main Components Of SCADA

If you plan to deploy a SCADA system, then you need to know and understand the four important system components that present in every SCADA network. Yours might be tailored to your specific requirements, but it will need the following basic components.


Inputs (either digital or analog) and output relays or electrical signals that directly interface with managed elements in the remote sites. That's where the SCADA functions start.
These sensors and control relays perform the data acquisition but can't interpret communication protocols on their own. But your SCADA system still needs a way to collect this data and report it to you in a meaningful way. That's where RTUs come into play.

Remote Telemetry Units (RTUs)

Just like Programmable Logic Controllers (PLC), RTUs are small computerized units deployed in the field at specific sites and locations. Remote telemetry unit, also known as a remote terminal unit (RTU), serves as local collection points for gathering reports from sensors and delivering commands to control relays.

Human Machine Interface (HMI) SCADA

HMI software is a computer master station system that processes data and allows a human operator to manage and control the system. HMIs provide the human operator with information gathered from multiple RTUs. This information is displayed in the master unit's user interface that should be understandable and actionable since quick response actions to alarms are usually required. The best HMI SCADA software will present the data as an intuitive graphical representation based on maps.

Communications Network

The communications network is what connects telemetry and SCADA at your remote sites. Today, one of the most common communications technology is Ethernet.

Download the Complete SCADA White Paper Now (PDF)

Having a SCADA system in place is critical to help maintain efficiency, process network data for informed decisions, and to address problems before they affect network uptime.

However, designing and implementing a SCADA network or telemetry system that can handle the needs of your unique network sometimes isn't that simple. It's common to overspend on software and hardware that you'll never use - this might result in wasted opportunities to improve your network efficiency and wasted budget.

You probably can't stop all your daily tasks to focus only on your SCADA deployment. So it can be difficult to learn all the details that make an efficient SCADA system.

If that's your case, then we have the solution for you. Our Fast Introduction to SCADA Fundamentals and Implementation white paper is a quick, 12-page introduction to SCADA. This guide shows how you can use SCADA effectively and profitably. Concrete applications and examples are included as illustrations and to reinforce best practices.

Start planning your perfect-fit SCADA solution. Download your free PDF copy of the Fast Introduction to SCADA Fundamentals and Implementation.

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