SCADA market moves toward open systems

The SCADA systems equipment market is experiencing a driving force not necessarily welcomed by end-users, namely the emergence of the Windows NT 4.0 operating system as the de-facto standard. End-users are disquieted by the speed with which a business operating system is being promoted for use in control activities, some of them mission critical.

Many engineers, while bowing to the inevitable, feel the pace of introduction is too rapid for an operating system that is known to crash frequently in the office environment. While this may just result in a revenue loss when a human-machine graphics interface crashes, the consequences could be far more severe when the Windows operating system is used to run a control computer, such as the new range of soft programmable logic controller (PLC) available on the market.

One of the most dominant changes to occur in the industry is the move to open systems-systems that can communicate with other manufacturer`s software and equipment hardware. Part of this is an inevitable consequence of software that can run under “universal” operating systems such as UNIX and the Microsoft systems, and part is the very real demand by customers for interchangeability and true system integration at all hardware levels.

The total SCADA systems equipment market in Europe demonstrated sudden growth between the years 1994 and 1997 as projects that had been delayed by recessionary forces were fulfilled. The total 1997 market amounted to $731.4 million, according to Frost & Sullivan`s “The European SCADA Systems Equipment Markets” report.

Although recessionary pressures have lifted in its consumer market, many purchasers of SCADA systems equipment are large government owned utilities and there has been a dampening of infrastructure spending across Europe. However, new technologies appearing on the market are forecast to lead to further growth in revenues around the years 2000 and 2001, and total revenues are expected to reach $1.12 billion in 2004. A compound annual growth rate of 6.3 percent is forecast for the market between 1997 and 2004.

The graphics workstations sector is exhibiting the fastest growth, expected to rise from its 1997 revenue share of 22.9 percent to reach 28 percent by the end of the forecast period in the year 2004. The main factor behind this growth is the continued move to SCADA applications using software running under the Windows NT 4.0 operating system, rather than under UNIX operating systems. This change will allow cheaper PC workstations to be used for many smaller SCADA applications.

This move towards PCs will have an adverse effect on the computer hosts sector, and this sector is showing the lowest growth rate as a direct result. The growing use of fieldbus communications is expected to boost sales of lower priced data acquisition devices, and PLCs for use in SCADA are forecast to have steady growth as they replace certain remote terminal units and even computer hosts.

The market for PLCs for SCADA use has held the largest share of overall revenues in the SCADA systems equipment market, accounting for a 31.9 percent share. Revenue growth, however, has been affected by strong price competition, which is anticipated to continue in future years. PLC manufacturers are now offering open standards in a bid to make the product more attractive to customers and fight competition from alternatives, for example personal computers with open standards.

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