While SCADA Industrial Control Systems (Supervisory Control And Data Acquisition) and DCS (Distributed Control Systems) originally began as separate systems they have partially merged together as bandwidth has broadened, thus making localized decisions at every node unnecessary. SCADA, then, includes both “control” and “data acquisition,” while DCS includes only “control.”
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The 20th Century Differences between SCADA and DCS
The difference existed more clearly years ago when computer networks were either nonexistent or had very low amounts of bandwidth. The SCADA system served as the top-tier controller for lower-level agents existing within the system. DCS systems performed most of the technical work and reported back to the SCADA system.
SCADA was the optimal technology for monitoring processes and events across a very large geographic region. It’s distributed intelligence allows control and monitoring to continue when communication within the central hub has been disconnected or lost.
A DCS system is part of a manufacturing system. DCS’s are often used in civil and industrial engineering applications to remotely monitor, analyze, and control distributed equipment with human intervention. A DCS system focused on local events would not have been able to operate in such a geographically large region. DCS maintains a heavy localized focus and lacked an ability to endure communication outages of any kind.
The 21st Century Differences between SCADA and DCS
In modern computing and networking, there is no need for the two to remain separate. Networks are so fast that the separation is unneeded. In many cases, they are now a single monitoring and control system.
Today, DCS solutions do not require operator intervention for day-to-day. However, the line between SCADA and DCS is becoming more blended as technology advances and bandwidth grows. Systems making claims of offering DCS may even today permit an operator interaction via SCADA card.
Systems and features that once were separate now come together as the era of multi-functional applications changes our computing world. The former use of an application or device included staying apart from other apps or devices. Today, versatility, flexibility, and collaboration are the key to apps being developed. SCADA and DCS have also become more alike than different in this era. Whatever the future brings, it appears that you may not have to choose between one or the other for much longer.