There are many parts of a working SCADA system. A SCADA system usually includes signal hardware (input and output), controllers, networks, user interface (HMI), communications equipment and software. All together, the term SCADA refers to the entire central system. The central system usually monitors data from various sensors that are either in close proximity or off site (sometimes miles away).
For the most part, the brains of a SCADA system are performed by the Remote Terminal Units (sometimes referred to as the RTU). The Remote Terminal Units consists of a programmable logic converter. The RTU are usually set to specific requirements, however, most RTU allow human intervention, for instance, in a factory setting, the RTU might control the setting of a conveyer belt, and the speed can be changed or overridden at any time by human intervention. In addition, any changes or errors are usually automatically logged for and/or displayed. Most often, a SCADA system will monitor and make slight changes to function optimally; SCADA systems are considered closed loop systems and run with relatively little human intervention.
One of key processes of SCADA is the ability to monitor an entire system in real time. This is facilitated by data acquisitions including meter reading, checking statuses of sensors, etc that are communicated at regular intervals depending on the system. Besides the data being used by the RTU, it is also displayed to a human that is able to interface with the system to override settings or make changes when necessary.
SCADA can be seen as a system with many data elements called points. Usually each point is a monitor or sensor. Usually points can be either hard or soft. A hard data point can be an actual monitor; a soft point can be seen as an application or software calculation. Data elements from hard and soft points are usually always recorded and logged to create a time stamp or history.
HMI's are an easy way to standardize the facilitation of monitoring multiple RTU's or PLC's (programmable logic controllers). Usually RTU's or PLC's will run a pre programmed process, but monitoring each of them individually can be difficult, usually because they are spread out over the system. Because RTU's and PLC's historically had no standardized method to display or present data to an operator, the SCADA system communicates with PLC's throughout the system network and processes information that is easily disseminated by the HMI.
HMI's can also be linked to a database, which can use data gathered from PLC's or RTU's to provide graphs on trends, logistic info, schematics for a specific sensor or machine or even make troubleshooting guides accessible. In the last decade, practically all SCADA systems include an integrated HMI and PLC device making it extremely easy to run and monitor a SCADA system.