A dive into the industrial software industry

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This article serves to provide a decent overview of the industrial software industry. This industry is the gate to the intelligent solutions that drive the success of industrial operations in factories, plants, pipelines, electrical grids, and similar facilities. Let’s start the journey by covering SCADA which is the main component of any industrial software.

What is scada?

A SCADA (Supervisory Control And Data Acquisition) system simply refers to the layers of software and infrastructure that sit between a digital screen, and any control or measuring device. SCADA is used to issue control commands to remote devices like valves or pumps, read values from those devices, and analyze device data when needed. SCADA systems can be small in order to manage field devices that are in close proximity inside a single facility , or expand to handle devices that are spread across vast geographical areas (like sensors on oil pipes). SCADA exists almost everywhere in this day and age.

SCADA SYSTEM SCREEN (Courtesy of iconics.com)

Real world examples for SCADA:

In an oil rig, SCADA is what allows the operators and engineers to control temperatures and pressures of the oil pipes by interfacing with measuring and control devices on these pipes.

In a power generation facility, SCADA is what allows the operators to control and monitor the voltage and the power that get generated.


HMI (Human Machine Interface) is the user graphical interface software that shows the information retrieved from the SCADA layer to the user. It also allows users to send commands to those devices , analyze the data , or issue alarms when needed. Since an HMI acts as the face for SCADA systems, it is usually termed SCADA HMI. Almost all HMI solutions come packaged with drivers and tools to assist in the monitoring and control operations.  Notable market players are Wonderware Intouch, Inductive Automation Ignition, ICONICS among others.


Process historians:

Process historians are specialized databases that are used to collect and store field data. Process historians are key to analyzing performance and efficiency of field systems, because they can provide a realistic image of their data across snapshots of time. The main difference between process historians and HMIs is the fact that HMI systems won’t typically keep the data for long , however, a process historian can keep the data for years.  They can be considered more close in principle to NoSQL databases as opposed to traditional relational databases, modern process historians also support cloud storage. Similar to HMIs, most process historians come with their own SCADA like layers to collect data from the field. Notable market players are OSISoft PI and Aspentech IP21 among others.


OPC is a vital, yet relatively small component in a SCADA system. This is because OPC is typically responsible for the software communication aspect, which can’t be ignored. OPC is popular because it is an open standard that any certified vendor can implement in their software solution. OPC is best described as a shared “language” between the different software vendors and device drivers. OPC is not the only way for software to communicate in SCADA systems, however it is quite popular because it affords not being locked to a single vendor. There are currently two main flavors of OPC: Classical OPC which is the original OPC, and OPC UA which is the next generation OPC. Classic OPC is still by far the most widely used. Notable market players are MatrikonOPC and Kepware. OPC as a standard is managed by the OPC foundation.


DCS is short for distributed control systems. It is typically a sophisticated distributed system of software and hardware with multiple components spread across numerous locations.  The separate components are intelligent and can provide powerful control and monitoring of process plants and similar facilities. Notable market players are Honeywell Experion PKS , Emerson DeltaV and Foxboro DCS among others.


MES (Manufacturing Execution Systems) are software artifacts responsible for managing a manufacturing process. They basically help users control a production facility or an assembly line. They alert of deviations in production processes , and send status updates to tablets and mobile devices when needed


RTU (remote terminal unit) refers to a field device that is remote and is accessed by the SCADA system in regular basis. Typically, a bunch of RTUs would connect to an MTU (remote master unit) which then communicates with the rest of the SCADA system.


A PLC (Programmable Logic Controller) is a control device that is smart and can be programmed to make sophisticated decisions. PLCs are very popular because of their intelligence, they typically connect to the SCADA software to allow monitoring and control. Notable market players are Rockwell’s Allen Bradley PLCs and Siemens SIMATIC PLCs among others

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