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Karol Oponowicz
Co-Founder
Product Design
28.02.2023 | 6 min

The instrumental role of interfaces in modern SCADA systems

SCADA systems are bulky, outdated, and difficult to use. At least most of them. But it doesn’t have to be that way. In this article, we’ll explain how well-designed SCADA systems revolutionize processes in modern companies.

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Table of Contents
  • The instrumental role of interfaces in modern SCADA systems
  • What is a SCADA system?
  • An excellent SCADA system doesn’t exist without an equally great interface
  • What are the benefits that a good SCADA system interface brings?
  • What are the key elements and characteristics of a perfect SCADA system interface?
  • How to build a modern SCADA system?

The instrumental role of interfaces in modern SCADA systems

The role of UX/UI design in modern software development has grown significantly over the last decade. The success or failure of a mobile app is often decided by how it looks and how easy it is to use. App developers know it very well.

Unfortunately, the same can’t be said about systems for more industrial or production purposes, SCADA (supervisory control and data acquisition) systems in particular.

However, as vocal advocates of good design, we want to change the discourse and preach about the role of interfaces in a well-functioning SCADA system.

In the next few paragraphs, we’ll discuss the following:

  • Why should there be more focus on the interface in SCADA systems?
  • What are the key features and characteristics of a good SCADA interface?
  • What are the benefits of having a good interface in a SCADA system?

What is a SCADA system?

Supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) is a type of system primarily used in factories and industrial facilities. Its role is to collect, process, analyze, and present data from different machines, devices, and sensors across the facility. It provides both real-time and historical data to allow companies to monitor and optimize processes all across the board.

Depending on the case, they can have some of the following capabilities:

  1. Detecting and alarming about possible risks, errors, and malfunctions.
  2. Monitoring wear of parts and components and allowing predictive maintenance.
  3. Remote controlling of various machines and processes.

That, of course, can mean very different things for each case because SCADA systems are used pretty much everywhere, from toothpaste factories to power plants.

It’s fair to say that a large percentage of SCADA systems that are currently still widely used are outdated. And even if their hardware part is still sufficient for a given purpose, interfaces look and behave like they have been created in the Windows 95 era. And it’s not that unlikely that they actually were.

An excellent SCADA system doesn’t exist without an equally great interface

Interface in a SCADA system is like adding pecorino and black pepper to finish a perfect carbonara. It’s that flashy part which makes the whole dish what it’s supposed to be.

Let’s say we plan to build a highly advanced production line that utilizes all the newest solutions, including IoT systems, digital twins, and augmented reality. On top of that, all of those solutions work thanks to a rapid 5G network.

Ideally, all those elements and technologies work in perfect symbiosis and can be analyzed and controlled with a SCADA system. And for that to be possible, the system requires a perfectly designed and easy-to-use interface. In that sense, we can’t forget that, in the end, that system will be used by people.

So, to develop a perfect SCADA system, the process requires comprehensive research and consultation with as many end-users as possible. The interface should give them all the tools they need to do their job in the most efficient way.

What are the benefits that a good SCADA system interface brings?

Enough evangelizing. Let’s talk about the specifics of what such a system can provide.

Improved maintenance and crisis management

Detecting potential problems before they unfold is a goal every company tries to achieve. SCADA systems can be crucial in achieving that goal.

Instead of a spreadsheet and a series of colored numbers, as in the olden days, an excellent modern interface can visually show every crucial part of a given facility. For example, in our project for KYOTO, we implemented elements of augmented reality in a camera view to present essential data in a perfectly understandable way.

Needless to say, with such tools, analysts and maintenance crew have a much easier job and can react to potential problems much faster.

Easier adaptation for users

With massive systems like SCADA, there’s always some pushback from… everyone. Users are used to the old ways, so the adaptation can be a painful process. The risk here is significant, and it’s not hard to find cases in history where poorly designed products were scrapped because they were simply not fit for purpose.

That’s why the proper design process in such systems involves a lot of consultation with everyone who will use them because the end product must answer their actual needs. It’s supposed to make processes more efficient and the workspace safer. And I don’t think we have to explain how big of a role a good interface plays here.

Significantly better marketability

A well-designed SCADA interface makes the product significantly easier to sell. It single handedly gives sales teams a bunch of new selling points, most of which we’ve just covered. However, there’s also an undervalued aspect of the first impression. A good interface is eye-catching. It can impress with its features and easily outrun the competition, which, as we’ve explained, usually isn’t that impressive in that area.

What are the key elements and characteristics of a perfect SCADA system interface?

Due to a wide range of possible use cases, it’s difficult to talk about specifics, but there are a few universal elements and characteristics that should be included in every system.

Easy customization

SCADA software is rarely used by one department or role. More often than not, there will be elements in the system that are crucial only to a few people. So, depending on a specialist or purpose, a SCADA interface should be easily customizable to provide users with exactly the type of information that they need without the overload of unnecessary data.

The ability to present and analyze historical data

The analytical capabilities of SCADA systems are one of their key values. Thanks to them, companies can reduce costs, detect and eliminate bottlenecks and make much better decisions.

Of course, as long as the system interface provides them with sufficient tools to analyze and present the data.

Scalability

The fact that a SCADA interface is easily customizable makes it significantly easy to expand. As the facility grows, more devices and sensors will be connected, and more users will need the system to work according to their needs.

Accessibility

Modern SCADA systems can be built as web apps, which can be launched on different devices, including mobile phones and tablets.

Legibility

Reaction speed matters in environments that use Scada systems. That’s why the operator must be able to interpret every type of data and the status of components & devices in a split second.

No distractions (focus)

The interface is usually displayed 24/7 in the control room, so there is no need for animations and other distractors that are dragging your attention from essential things (real-time data).

Conservative pallet of colors & icons

Colors are usually standardized & associated with statuses, so the interface scheme shouldn't interfere with that. Icons are often taken from the documentation or industrial standard (like symbols in electrical circuits).

Simple to the bone

Micro-interactions, animations, detailed illustrations & renders - usually all eye-pleasers are secondary when setting a budget for the SCADA interface. But sometimes, using those elements can be justified, especially when it serves the user story (or some operator routine), or when you sell the system to the customer.

Schematic

A good SCADA should picture the real estate layout of devices and sensors in the system, so the operator can know exactly where the error occurred.

How to build a modern SCADA system?

Although there certainly are elements or characteristics that every SCADA system should have, there is no universal way of creating them. A good SCADA system, first and foremost, should be built individually and based on the specific requirements of a particular facility and its users.

So, if you’re interested in creating such a system, arrange a call with us, and we’ll help you find the best solution.

Build a modern SCADA system with us!
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