Will IoT/IIoT Replace SCADA and PLC Systems?


As the world connects via smartphones and internet cloud technologies, it is only a matter of time before internet-based technologies replace traditional forms of energy infrastructure control systems. System Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA) and Programmable Logic Controllers (PLCs) could soon be supplanted by Internet of Things (IoT) and Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) systems.

Ease of installation, reduced cost, increased data accuracy and data volume, as well as worldwide remote control and monitoring at your fingertips, will be the hallmarks for these new internet-based technologies.
Internet of Things (IoT) is designed for temperature-controlled environments like your home or office.
Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) will do the heavy lifting in hot, dirty and wet indoor and outdoor environments. These environments require sensors and electronics designed for places like desert installations, oil and gas field or ocean rigs, industrial manufacturing plants, and outdoor NEMA-rated enclosures. Industrial devices include high-grade components and offer conformal coating to further protect the internal components from the rigors of industrial environments.

IoT/IIoT devices are small, inexpensive and easy to deploy. Data is consolidated to dashboards and displayed where it is convenient for the user, whether it is on a smartphone, tablet or an office computer. This allows for immediate action through automated processes or remote user interaction. With the assistance of cameras, microphones and speakers, two-way conversations can accompany the data flow. In the case of pipelines, drones equipped with cameras and microphones can visually inspect a problematic area that may not be accessible to personnel. The audio/visual information gathered by the drone allows onsite or remote personnel to efficiently and accurately assess the situation.

To maintain data flow reliability, the user must protect the field location as well as the monitoring site with clean, reliable power provided by an online Uninterruptible Power Supply (UPS). For many oil, gas and pipeline applications, it is critical to use an online, industrial UPS that can handle the temperatures of -20 C to 55 C (-4 F to 131 F).

Changes Taking Place with SCADA and PLC Systems

SCADA control system

While SCADA gives a top-level overview of the processes, it depends on PLCs and actuators physically connected to the machines to make changes. They can also be susceptible to cyber-attacks.

SCADA is now an out-of-date computer architecture that did not have security features implemented when it was designed. Cyber-attacks were unheard of when SCADA began, and minimal security features have been added over the years. The basis of SCADA is to allow many manufacturers’ systems to work together. However, this cobbling together of technologies creates an insecure system. SCADA is also not as accurate as modern-day computer systems.

While SCADA gives a top-level overview of the processes, it depends on PLCs and actuators physically connected to the machines to make changes. Sensors provide the measurements of movement, position, temperature, flow, voltage and current.

The operator sets point values to effect control (think of a thermostat). Once the field sensors are read and compared to the set point values, control commands are passed to the PLC controlling the actuators attached to the machines.

There are small and large SCADA systems deployed. Large SCADA systems control large-scale processes at multiple sites and over long distances. Even though it is the most common of industrial control systems, there are valid concerns about SCADA systems being vulnerable to cyber-attacks.

A PLC is a specialized computer with simple programming to operate relays, contactors, motors and take feedback from an array of sensors. Most PLC programming can be thought of as ladder logic with branch operations. In other words, PLC devices step through their processes one step after another (ladder logic) and only branch (move out on a tree limb) based on certain conditions being met.

In manufacturing processes, PLCs are used on assembly lines, robotic devices or any activity that requires high reliability control and ease of programming.

Advantages of IoT and IIoT

IoT/IIoT brings modern 32- and 64-bit computing to the machine level interface. Whereas previously, 32- and 64-bit computing power was limited to supercomputers and then recently desktops, it is now cheap enough and available in volumes to justify deployment at the machine level. The precision of measurement, the speed of execution and the ease of deployment all drive IoT/IIoT as replacements for SCADA and PLCs.
Security from a cyber-attack is a major concern for SCADA and PLC systems. Oil and gas pipelines, as well as electrical substations, use SCADA and PLC systems, making them an easy target for cyber-attacks. This presents an elevated level of risk to national and global security. When the industry moves to IoT/IIoT, the communications standards will be the most recent. Each person or computer using the system is authenticated and encryption of the data used both at rest and in flight provides a higher level of security protecting against cyberattacks.

Falcon SSG Industrial UPS

To maintain data flow reliability, the user must protect the field location as well as the monitoring site with clean, reliable power provided by an online Uninterruptible Power Supply (UPS), such as the Falcon SSG Industrial UPS.

Ease of use will increase as costs for installing, maintaining and replacement will be less expensive using IoT/IIoT devices. In-depth, accurate, timely information will seek users wherever they venture in the world and allow deeper levels of control than were present with SCADA and PLCs. One can see and control the IoT/IIoT system from anywhere in the world and not have to travel to work to sit in front of a computer or control panel.

The critical necessity of having clean reliable power will increase with IoT/IIoT devices as the precision of measurement and control levels increase. These devices will require battery backup during power outages, as well as protection from electrical noise, spikes and fluctuations in voltage or frequency, and therefore require UPS power protection.

The Role of Uninterruptible Power Supplies (UPSs)

Complex oil and gas pipeline operations demand constant, reliable system-wide control. The remote sensors are in some of the toughest environments and many are responsible for the monitoring and control of critical functions. A reliable online, industrial UPS is an essential element to ensure a pipeline system’s reliability. When the utility power fails, batteries in the UPS keep operations flowing smoothly. Without the safety net of a UPS, the devices controlling valves, pipelines and bio-chemical processes could cause costly hazardous spills or outages.

Power protection is best when provided by true online double-conversion UPS technology. Online UPS technology provides the highest level of power conditioning and protection by continuously regenerating AC power and providing precise voltage and frequency regulation whether running on utility or battery power. Further, in many industrial pipeline applications, an online, industrial UPS is essential since it is specifically designed with high-grade components, plastics and batteries for rigorous environments involving high and low temperatures, low power quality, as well as moisture and dirt. Such UPS systems are certified to operate from -20 C to 55 C (-4 F to 131 F).

When looking for UPS products, it is best for the UPS specifications to exceed the specifications of the area where the UPS will be used. In an air-conditioned office environment, the requirements are easy to meet. Yet, in pipeline applications out in the field, the requirements of temperature, humidity and battery life are critical measurements, and most UPS manufacturers do not provide equipment rated for those environments. To be on the safe side, look for safety agency certification from institutions like Underwriters Laboratories (UL), cUL, and CE. The safety agencies test to rigid standards, and if the UPS is certified, then you know the product is safe and reliable for operation.

Due to the largest part of the UPS market demand being for products rated for use in temperature-controlled environments, most online UPS manufacturers design their products to operate in the standard 0 C to 40 C (32 F to 104 F) temperature environment and submit them to the safety agency for evaluation over the same operational temperature range. Some manufacturers offer online, industrial-grade UPSs that operate at wider temperature ranges.

For pipeline applications in high or low temperatures, make sure the online UPS is agency-certified to operate at such temperatures. Otherwise, at high temperatures, the plastics, components and battery cases used in a standard UPS’s construction can become deformed or cracked. Internal components operating outside their rated temperature range can reduce a UPS’s reliability and service life — and result in outright failures. High outdoor temperatures such as those in Arizona that can exceed 48.8 C (120 F) can kill car batteries and will do the same to UPS batteries. Conversely, low temperatures in northern areas like Canada can be below -30 C (-22 F). Low temperatures slow the batteries’ chemical reactions and lower their current capacity. In some cases, the capacity decreases more than 50 percent. The battery electrolyte can also freeze and possibly lead to splitting the battery case, allowing hazardous material to be released.

NEMA-Rated UPS System Installations

Just installing a UPS in a NEMA enclosure or closed closet inside a building can raise the temperatures to exceed the manufacturer’s ratings. This will cause the UPS or batteries to fail before their expected life, and reduce the reliability before failure. Users should only install a NEMA-rated enclosure with an agency-certified online, industrial UPS and batteries to ensure reliable pipeline operations. Long runtime batteries should also be strongly considered.


When installing IoT/IIoT as a new installation or in replacement of SCADA and PLCs, consider the power quality first and build on top of that foundation. Selecting a high-temperature rated and UL certified industrial-grade UPS assures the application will be protected against a wide range of low power quality conditions and environments.

Michael D. Williams is the vice president of engineering for Falcon Electric Inc., based in Irwindale, California.


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