Understanding The Industrial Control Systems Information Technology Essay

Published: Last Edited:

This essay has been submitted by a student. This is not an example of the work written by our professional essay writers.

This paper discusses industrial control system (ICS). These ICS, which include supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) systems, distributed control systems (DCS), and other control system configurations such as skid-mounted Programmable Logic Controllers (PLC) are often found in the industrial control sectors. ICS are typically used in industries such as electric, water and wastewater, oil and natural gas, transportation, chemical, pharmaceutical, pulp and paper, food and beverage, and discrete manufacturing (e.g., automotive, aerospace, and durable goods.)

Industrial control system (ICS) is a general term that encompasses several types of control systems, including supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) systems, distributed control systems (DCS), and other control system configurations such as skid-mounted Programmable Logic Controllers (PLC) often found in the industrial sectors and critical infrastructures. ICSs are typically used in industries such as electrical, water, oil, gas and data. Based on information received from remote stations, automated or operator-driven supervisory commands can be pushed to remote station control devices, which are often referred to as field devices. Field devices control local operations such as opening and closing valves and breakers, collecting data from sensor systems, and monitoring the local environment for alarm conditions. These control systems are critical to the operation of the U.S. critical infrastructures that are often highly interconnected and mutually dependent systems. It is important to note that approximately 90 percent of the nation's critical infrastructures are privately owned and operated. Federal agencies also operate many of the industrial processes mentioned above; other examples include air traffic control and materials handling.

There are three key components of an ICS which are control loop, human-machine interface (HMI) and remote diagnostics and maintenance utilities. A control loop consists of sensors for measurement, controller hardware such as PLCs, actuators such as control valves, breakers, switches and motors, and the communication of variables. Controlled variables are transmitted to the controller from the sensors. The controller interprets the signals and generates corresponding manipulated variables, based on set points, which it transmits to the actuators. Process changes from disturbances result in new sensor signals, identifying the state of the process, to again be transmitted to the controller.

Operators and engineers use HMIs to monitor and configure set points, control algorithms, and adjust and establish parameters in the controller. The HMI also displays process status information and historical information. Diagnostics and maintenance utilities are used to prevent, identify and recover from abnormal operation or failures.

A typical ICS contains a proliferation of control loops, HMIs, and remote diagnostics and maintenance tools built using an array of network protocols on layered network architectures. Sometimes these control loops are nested and/or cascading â€"whereby the set point for one loop is based on the process variable determined by another loop. Supervisory-level loops and lower-level loops operate continuously over the duration of a process with cycle times ranging on the order of milliseconds to minutes.

Basic operation of industrial control system

Control components of industrial control system

The major control components of an ICS are Control Server, SCADA server or Master Terminal Unit (MTU), Remote Terminal Unit (RTU), Programmable Logic Controller (PLC), Intelligent Electronic Devices (IED), Human-Machine Interface (HMI), Data Historian and Input/ Output (IO) Server.

The control server hosts the DCS or PLC supervisory control software that is designed to communicate with lower-level control devices. The control server accesses subordinate control modules over an ICS network and The SCADA Server is the device that acts as the master in a SCADA system. Remote terminal units and PLC devices (as described below) located at remote field sites usually act as slaves. The RTU also called a remote telemetry unit is special purpose data acquisition and control unit designed to support SCADA remote stations. RTUs are field devices often equipped with wireless radio interfaces to support remote situations where wire-based communications are unavailable. Sometimes PLCs are implemented as field devices to serve as RTUs; in this case, the PLC is often referred to as an RTU.

The PLC is a small industrial computer originally designed to perform the logic functions executed by electrical hardware (relays, switches, and mechanical timer/counters). PLCs have evolved into controllers with the capability of controlling complex processes, and they are used substantially in SCADA systems and DCS. Other controllers used at the field level are process controllers and RTUs; they provide the same control as PLCs but are designed for specific control applications. In SCADA environments, PLCs are often used as field devices because they are more economical, versatile, flexible, and configurable than special-purpose RTUs.

An IED is a “smart” sensor/actuator containing the intelligence required to acquire data, communicate to other devices, and perform local processing and control. An IED could combine an analog input sensor, analog output, low-level control capabilities, a communication system, and program memory in one device. The use of IEDs in SCADA and DCS systems allows for automatic control at the local level.

The HMI is software and hardware that allows human operators to monitor the state of a process under control, modify control settings to change the control objective, and manually override automatic control operations in the event of an emergency. The HMI also allows a control engineer or operator to configure set points or control algorithms and parameters in the controller. The HMI also displays process status information, historical information, reports, and other information to operators, administrators, managers, business partners, and other authorized users. The location, platform, and interface may vary a great deal. For example, an HMI could be a dedicated platform in the control center, a laptop on a wireless LAN, or a browser on any system connected to the Internet.

The data historian is a centralized database for logging all process information within an ICS. Information stored in this database can be accessed to support various analyses, from statistical process control to enterprise level planning. However, The IO server is a control component responsible for collecting, buffering and providing access to process information from control sub-components such as PLCs, RTUs and IEDs. An IO server can reside on the control server or on a separate computer platform. IO servers are also used for interfacing third-party control components, such as an HMI and a control server.

Network of industrial control system

There are different network characteristics for each layer within a control system hierarchy. Network topologies across different ICS implementations vary with modern systems using Internet-based IT and enterprise integration strategies. Control networks have merged with corporate networks to allow control engineers to monitor and control systems from outside of the control system network. The connection may also allow enterprise-level decision-makers to obtain access to process data. The following is a list of the major components of an ICS network, regardless of the network topologies in use Fieldbus Network, Control Network, Communications Routers, Firewall, Modem and Remote Access Points.

The fieldbus network links sensors and other devices to a PLC or other controller. Use of fieldbus technologies eliminates the need for point-to-point wiring between the controller and each device. The sensors communicate with the fieldbus controller using a specific protocol. The messages sent between the sensors and the controller uniquely identify each of the sensors. Therefore, The control network connects the supervisory control level to lower-level control modules.

Communication router is a communications device that transfers messages between two networks. Common uses for routers include connecting a LAN to a WAN, and connecting MTUs and RTUs to a long-distance network medium for SCADA communication. Besides that, a firewall protects devices on a network by monitoring and controlling communication packets using predefined filtering policies. Firewalls are also useful in managing ICS network segregation strategies.

Modem is a device used to convert between serial digital data and a signal suitable for transmission over a telephone line to allow devices to communicate. Modems are often used in SCADA systems to enable long-distance serial communications between MTUs and remote field devices. They are also used in SCADA systems, DCS and PLCs for gaining remote access for operational and maintenance functions such as entering commands or modifying parameters, and diagnostic purposes.

Remote access points are distinct devices, areas and locations of a control network for remotely configuring control systems and accessing process data. Examples include using a personal digital assistant (PDA) to access data over a LAN through a wireless access point, and using a laptop and modem connection to remotely access an ICS system.

Supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) system

SCADA stands for supervisory control and data acquisition. It generally refers to industrial control systems: computer systems that monitor and control industrial, infrastructure, or facility-based processes. In the industrial processes include those of manufacturing, production, power generation, fabrication, and refining, and may run in continuous, batch, repetitive, or discrete modes. However, Infrastructure processes may be public or private, and include water treatment and distribution, wastewater collection and treatment, oil and gas pipelines, electrical power transmission and distribution, Wind Farms, civil defense siren systems, and large communication systems. In addition, Facility processes occur both in public facilities and private ones, including buildings, airports, ships, and space stations. They monitor and control HVAC, access, and energy consumption.

SCADA systems are used to control dispersed assets where centralized data acquisition is as important as control. These systems are used in distribution systems such as water distribution and wastewater collection systems, oil and natural gas pipelines, electrical utility transmission and distribution systems, and rail and other public transportation systems. SCADA systems integrate data acquisition systems with data transmission systems and HMI software to provide a centralized monitoring and control system for numerous process inputs and outputs. SCADA systems are designed to collect field information, transfer it to a central computer facility, and display the information to the operator graphically or textually, thereby allowing the operator to monitor or control an entire system from a central location in real time. Based on the sophistication and setup of the individual system, control of any individual system, operation, or task can be automatic, or it can be performed by operator commands.

SCADA systems consist of both hardware and software. Typical hardware includes an MTU placed at a control center, communications equipment and one or more geographically distributed field sites consisting of either an RTU or a PLC, which controls actuators and/or monitors sensors. The MTU stores and processes the information from RTU inputs and outputs, while the RTU or PLC controls the local process. The communications hardware allows the transfer of information and data back and forth between the MTU and the RTUs or PLCs. The software is programmed to tell the system what and when to monitor, what parameter ranges are acceptable, and what response to initiate when parameters change outside acceptable values. An IED, such as a protective relay, may communicate directly to the SCADA Server, or a local RTU may poll the IEDs to collect the data and pass it to the SCADA Server. IEDs provide a direct interface to control and monitor equipment and sensors. IEDs may be directly polled and controlled by the SCADA Server and in most cases have local programming that allows for the IED to act without direct instructions from the SCADA control center. SCADA systems are usually designed to be fault-tolerant systems with significant redundancy built into the system architecture.

The control center houses a SCADA Server (MTU) and the communications routers. Other control center components include the HMI, engineering workstations, and the data historian, which are all connected by a LAN. The control center collects and logs information gathered by the field sites, displays information to the HMI, and may generate actions based upon detected events. The control center is also responsible for centralized alarming, trend analyses, and reporting. The field site performs local control of actuators and monitors sensors. Field sites are often equipped with a remote access capability to allow field operators to perform remote diagnostics and repairs usually over a separate dial up modem or WAN connection. Standard and proprietary communication protocols running over serial communications are used to transport information between the control center and field sites using telemetry techniques such as telephone line, cable, fiber, and radio frequency such as broadcast, microwave and satellite. The SCADA system general layout as below:

Distributed control system (DCS)

DCS are used to control industrial processes such as electric power generation, oil refineries, water and wastewater treatment, and chemical, food, and automotive production. DCS are integrated as a control architecture containing a supervisory level of control overseeing multiple, integrated sub-systems that are responsible for controlling the details of a localized process. Product and process control are usually achieved by deploying feed back or feed forward control loops whereby key product and/or process conditions are automatically maintained around a desired set point. To accomplish the desired product and/or process tolerance around a specified set point, specific PLCs are employed in the field and proportional, integral, and/or derivative settings on the PLC are tuned to provide the desired tolerance as well as the rate of self-correction during process upsets. DCS are used extensively in process-based industries.

A DCS typically uses custom designed processors as controllers and uses both proprietary interconnections and communications protocol for communication. Input and output modules form component parts of the DCS. The processor receives information from input modules and sends information to output modules. The input modules receive information from input instruments in the process and transmit instructions to the output instruments in the field. Computer buses or electrical buses connect the processor and modules through multiplexer. Buses also connect the distributed controllers with the central controller and finally to the Human-Machine Interface (HMI) or control consoles.

Application of distributed control system

Distributed Control Systems (DCSs) are dedicated systems used to control manufacturing processes that are continuous or batch-oriented, such as petrochemicals, cement production, central station power generation, pharmaceuticals, oil refining, food & beverage manufacturing, steelmaking, and papermaking. DCSs are connected to sensors and actuators and use set point control to control the flow of material through the plant. The most common example is a set point control loop consisting of a pressure sensor, controller, and control valve. Pressure or flow measurements are transmitted to the controller, usually through the aid of a signal conditioning Input/ Output (I/O) device. When the measured variable reaches a certain point, the controller instructs a valve or actuation device to open or close until the fluidic flow process reaches the desired set point. Large oil refineries have many thousands of I/O points and employ very large DCSs. Processes are not limited to fluidic flow through pipes, however, and can also include things like paper machines and their associated variable speed drives and motor control centers, cement kilns, mining operations, ore processing facilities, and many others.

A typical DCS consists of functionally and/or geographically distributed digital controllers capable of executing from 1 to 256 or more regulatory control loops in one control box. The input/output devices (I/O) can be integral with the controller or located remotely via a field network. Today’s controllers have extensive computational capabilities and, in addition to proportional, integral, and derivative (PID) control, can generally perform logic and sequential control.

DCSs may employ one or several workstations and can be configured at the workstation or by an off-line personal computer. Local communication is handled by a control network with transmission over twisted pair, coaxial, or fiber optic cable. A server and/or applications processor may be included in the system for extra computational, data collection, and reporting capability.

Programmable logic controllers (PLC)

A programmable logic controller (PLC) or programmable controller is a digital computer used for automation of electromechanical processes, such as control of machinery on factory assembly lines, amusement rides, or lighting fixtures. PLCs are used in many industries and machines. Unlike general-purpose computers, the PLC is designed for multiple inputs and output arrangements, extended temperature ranges, immunity to electrical noise, and resistance to vibration and impact. Programs to control machine operation are typically stored in battery-backed or non-volatile memory. A PLC is an example of a real time system since output results must be produced in response to input conditions within a bounded time, otherwise unintended operation will result.

PLCs are used in both SCADA and DCS systems as the control components of an overall hierarchical system to provide local management of processes through feedback control as described in the sections above. In the case of SCADA systems, they provide the same functionality of RTUs. When used in DCS, PLCs are implemented as local controllers within a supervisory control scheme. PLCs are also implemented as the primary components in smaller control system configurations. PLCs have a user-programmable memory for storing instructions for the purpose of implementing specific functions such as I/O control, logic, timing, counting, three mode proportional-integral-derivative (PID) control, communication, arithmetic, and data and file processing.

Functionality of programmable logic controllers

The functionality of the PLC has evolved over the years to include sequential relay control, motion control, process control, distributed control systems and networking. The data handling, storage, processing power and communication capabilities of some modern PLCs are approximately equivalent to desktop computers. PLC-like programming combined with remote I/O hardware, allow a general-purpose desktop computer to overlap some PLCs in certain applications. Regarding the practicality of these desktop computer based logic controllers, it is important to note that they have not been generally accepted in heavy industry because the desktop computers run on less stable operating systems than do PLCs, and because the desktop computer hardware is typically not designed to the same levels of tolerance to temperature, humidity, vibration, and longevity as the processors used in PLCs.

In addition to the hardware limitations of desktop based logic, operating systems such as Windows do not lend themselves to deterministic logic execution, with the result that the logic may not always respond to changes in logic state or input status with the extreme consistency in timing as is expected from PLCs. Still, such desktop logic applications find use in less critical situations, such as laboratory automation and use in small facilities where the application is less demanding and critical, because they are generally much less expensive than PLCs.

In more recent years, small products called PLRs (programmable logic relays), and also by similar names, have become more common and accepted. These are very much like PLCs, and are used in light industry where only a few points of I/O (i.e. a few signals coming in from the real world and a few going out) are involved, and low cost is desired. These small devices are typically made in a common physical size and shape by several manufacturers, and branded by the makers of larger PLCs to fill out their low end product range. Popular names include PICO Controller, NANO PLC, and other names implying very small controllers. Most of these have between 8 and 12 digital inputs, 4 and 8 digital outputs, and up to 2 analog inputs. Size is usually about 4" wide, 3" high, and 3" deep.

Most such devices include a tiny postage stamp sized LCD screen for viewing simplified ladder logic (only a very small portion of the program being visible at a given time) and status of I/O points, and typically these screens are accompanied by a 4-way rocker push-button plus four more separate push-buttons, similar to the key buttons on a VCR remote control, and used to navigate and edit the logic. Most have a small plug for connecting via RS-232 or RS-485 to a personal computer so that programmers can use simple Windows applications for programming instead of being forced to use the tiny LCD and push-button set for this purpose. Unlike regular PLCs that are usually modular and greatly expandable, the PLRs are usually not modular or expandable, but their price can be two orders of magnitude less than a PLC and they still offer robust design and deterministic execution of the logic.

PLC Control System Implementation Example

Safety instrumented system (SIS)

A Safety Instrumented System (SIS) is a form of process control usually implemented in industrial processes, such as those of a factory or an oil refinery. The SIS performs specified functions to achieve or maintain a safe state of the process when unacceptable or dangerous process conditions are detected. Safety instrumented systems are separate and independent from regular control systems but are composed of similar elements, including sensors, logic solvers, actuators and support systems.

The specified functions, or safety instrumented functions (SIF) are implemented as part of an overall risk reduction strategy which is intended to reduce the likelihood of identified hazardous events involving a catastrophic release. The safe state is a state of the process operation where the hazardous event cannot occur. The safe state should be achieved within one-half of the process safety time. Most SIF are focused on preventing catastrophic incidents.

The correct operation of an SIS requires a series of equipment to function properly. It must have sensors capable of detecting abnormal operating conditions, such as high flow, low level, or incorrect valve positioning. A logic solver is required to receive the sensor input signal, make appropriate decisions based on the nature of the signal, and change its outputs according to user-defined logic. The logic solver may use electrical, electronic or programmable electronic equipment, such as relays, trip amplifiers, or programmable logic controllers. Next, the change of the logic solver output results in the final element taking action on the process to bring it to a safe state. Support systems, such as power, instrument air, and communications, are generally required for SIS operation. The support systems should be designed to provide the required integrity and reliability.

International standard IEC 61511 was published in 2003 to provide guidance to end-users on the application of Safety Instrumented Systems in the process industries. This standard is based on IEC 61508, a generic standard for design, construction, and operation of electrical/electronic/programmable electronic systems. Other industry sectors may also have standards that are based on IEC 61508, such as IEC 62061 (machinery systems), IEC 62425 (for railway signaling systems), IEC 61513 (for nuclear systems), and ISO 26262 (for road vehicles, currently a draft international standard).

Industrial safety system

Industrial safety systems are crucial in any hazardous plants such as oil and gas plants and nuclear plants. They are used to protect human, plant, and environment in case the process goes beyond the control margins. As the name suggests, these systems are not intended for controlling the process itself but rather protection. Process control is performed by means of process control systems (PCS) and is interlocked by the safety systems so that immediate actions are taken should the process control systems fail.

Process control and safety systems are usually merged under one system, called Integrated Control and Safety System (ICSS). Industrial safety systems typically use dedicated systems that are SIL 2 certified at minimum; whereas control systems can start with SIL 1. SIL applies to both hardware and software requirements such as cards, processors redundancy and voting functions.

Types of industrial safety systems

There are three main types of industrial safety systems in process industry are Process Safety System or Process Shutdown System (PSS), Safety Shutdown System (SSS, includes Emergency Shutdown-(ESD) and Emergency Depressurization-(EDP) Systems) and Fire and Gas System (FGS).

The safety shutdown system shall shutdown the facilities to a safe state in case of an emergency situation, thus protecting personnel, the environment and the asset. Safety Shutdown System shall manage all inputs and outputs relative to Emergency Shut Down (ESD) functions (environment & personnel protection). This system might also be fed by signals from the main fire and gas system.


Automation is the use of control systems and information technologies to reduce the need for human work in the production of goods and services. In the scope of industrialization, automation is a step beyond mechanization. Whereas mechanization provided human operators with machinery to assist them with the muscular requirements of work, automation greatly decreases the need for human sensory and mental requirements as well. Automation plays an increasingly important role in the world economy and in daily experience.

Automation has had a notable impact in a wide range of highly visible industries beyond manufacturing. Once-ubiquitous telephone operators have been replaced largely by automated telephone switchboards and answering machines. Medical processes such as primary screening in electrocardiography or radiography and laboratory analysis of human genes, sera, cells, and tissues are carried out at much greater speed and accuracy by automated systems. Automated teller machines have reduced the need for bank visits to obtain cash and carry out transactions. In general, automation has been responsible for the shift in the world economy from industrial jobs to service jobs in the 20th and 21st centuries.

Advantages and Disadvantages of Automation

Advantages of automation are replacing human operators in tasks that involve hard physical or monotonous work, replacing humans in tasks done in dangerous environments, performing tasks that are beyond human capabilities of size, weight, speed or endurance and economy improvement. Besides that, automation may improve in economy of enterprises, society or most of humankind. However, disadvantages of automation are technology limits, unpredictable development costs and high initial cost.


In conclusion, industrial control system benefits an organization a lot. It is important to secure ICS to enable the system function smoothly. The most successful method for securing an ICS is to gather industry recommended practices and engage in a proactive, collaborative effort between management, the controls engineer and operator, the IT organization, and a trusted automation advisor. This team should draw upon the wealth of information available from ongoing federal government, industry groups, vendor and standards organizational activities.