Micro800 Standalone Machine Controller

  • November 21, 2011
  • Feature
November 2011
By Bill Lydon, Editor
Rockwell Automation introduced the new low cost Micro800 PLC product line that is part of Rockwell Automation’s Connected Components and classified under Rockwell Automation’s Micro & Nano Control Systems.
Rockwell Automation Industry View
The introduction of the Micro800, in my opinion, reflects Rockwell Automation’s understanding and philosophy of automation technology. Rockwell Automation spokespeople describe two distinct control and automation product lines, Logix and Connected Components. Connected Components are not designed work with Rockwell’s Integrated Architecture and Logix software.
The Micro800 is a completely new architecture and NOT based on or compatible with the Rockwell Logix and Integrated Architecture. The Micro800 communicates using serial Modbus RTU with EtherNet/IP being added to highest level controller in 2013.
New Architecture & Platform
The role of the Micro800 is described in the company’s press release, “Ideally suited for standalone machine applications with fewer than 48 I/O, the initial launch consists of two controllers – the Allen-Bradley Micro810 and Micro830 controllers – and Connected Components Workbench software.” Another spokesman for the company characterized it as a product line that gives machine builders the functionality of a micro controller, but at the price of a smart relay for standalone machine applications. In the June 2, 2011 press release announcing the first phase of Mico800, Paul Gieschen, Market Development Director, quoted, “Machine builders need economical, convenient control solutions they can customize to suit their customers’ specific application needs.” “With this new line, Rockwell Automation is delivering the functionality and flexibility of a micro programmable logic controller for the price of a smart relay.” The Micro810 and Micro830 controllers are available now. Additional plug-in capabilities for the controllers will be available later this year.
                   Mirco810                                                Micro830
Micro800 Product Manager Interview
In June I had a discussion with Tok Kiang Ling, North American Regional Product Manager, Small Controller Business at Rockwell Automation. Ling works with MicroLogix, Micro800, and PanelView component products. Ling was on the development team for the Micro 800 controller.   He has relocated from Singapore, where the product line was developed and manufactured, to Rockwell Automation headquarters in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Ling characterized the Micro800 product in our discussion as, “A new platform that offers just enough control and flexibility for the user and customer to pay for what they need.” “It is convenient because it has a single software programming package, and easy programming capability with a USB interface and the third point is we think it is competitively priced.” He was also clear that the Micro800 is for standalone machine control.
Connected Components Workbench Software
The Mico800 uses a completely new software architecture built on Microsoft Visual Studio and ISaGRAF (A Rockwell Automation Company, www.isagraf.com).  The Micro800 product line software follows the established IEC-61131 standards and conforms to the PLCopen Motion standard.  Control programming and configuration is done with the Connected Components Workbench software. The software allows the user to program Micro800 controllers and configure I/O and other devices in the system, including PowerFlex drives and PanelView component HMI products. The new software provides controller programming, device configuration and data sharing with the PanelView HMI editor.  In addition, the software supports three standard IEC programming languages: ladder diagram, function block diagram and structured text. It is important to emphasize that only PanelView hardware HMI is supported for operator displays. The software supports all Micro800 controllers, PowerFlex 4-class drives, and PanelView Component graphic terminals.
Connected Components Workbench Software Supports 3 of the 5 IEC 61131 Languages - Ladder, Function Block, and Structured Text
The Standard Edition is free for download but has no debugging capabilities. The Developer Edition is $395 which includes debugging features, controller simulation and run-time download capability. 
Micro800 PLCs are configured with the Connected Components Workbench
PLCopen Motion
The Micro800 supports PLCopen Motion instructions.  Ling explained, “We want to use the established standards for the motion instruction so that is why we chose to adopt the PLCopen for the motion instructions.” I asked if they plan to adopt other PLCopen standards, to which Ling responded, “At this moment we are only looking at the motion portion of it.” 
The Micro800 product line has a number of processors and options with processor prices ranging from $85 to $489 list price and include base I/O. Memory varies depending on controller model.
The Micro810 supports 2K programming steps (or instructions) and 4K bytes of user data with the 12 point unit and 4K programming steps (or instructions) and 8K bytes of user data with 20 and 26 point units. 
The Micro830 supports 4K programming steps (or instructions) and 8K bytes of user data for the 10 and 16 point units while the 24 & 48 point units support 10K programming steps (or instructions) and 20K bytes of user data (Same for Micro850). All program and user data can be interchangeable as long as the total memory is not exceeded. 
The easiest way to understand the options is to use the Micro800 Programmable Controllers Bulletin 2080 Selection Guide
Motion Control
The motion control interfaces for the Micro800 controllers are Modbus and hardwiring to Rockwell Kinetix 3 drives for indexing functions. Ling discussed motion control interfaces noting, “In this target market segment we believe that hardwire is the way to go and most efficient way to do it as opposed to over the network.” “That’s our choice of connection.”  In Asia, Ling sees a large opportunity for very simple PLC control with two axis motion.
Specialty Modules
The Micro800 product line has some specialty modules that can be used to extend its functionality. The modules do not work with all the processors so the selection guide noted above should be consulted for appropriate application.
New applications are made possible with Micro800 controllers with plug-in technology. Focus will be on new plug-ins available from Rockwell Automation and Encompass Partners. Notable plugins from partners include:
Scale Interface
The Hardy EASY 8 module for the Mico800 is a single channel plug-in module that reads, conditions, and digitizes load cell sensor and strain gage signals commonly found in process weighing applications.   The module features vibration immunity based on Hardy’s WAVERSAVER® technology eliminating the effects of unwanted machine and system vibration noise on the weighing system, drastically reducing scale settling-time typically required to output stable Gross, Net, and Tare data. The Modules list prices for $300-$400 significantly more economical than Hardys’ CompactLogix modules.
Analog Input
Spectrum Controls introduced a 4 channel universal analog input module for the Micro800 product line with a list price of $175.
Limited Communications
Rockwell Automation representatives are clear that the Micro800 product line is focused on standalone machine control and this is reflected in its limited communications capability.   There are options for isolated serial port RS-232 and RS-485 communications that support Modbus RTU and ASCII protocols.   Ling told me there are plans to add EtherNet/IP and DeviceNet communications in 2013.
The Connected Components Workbench software provides an easy to use configuration for PanelView graphic terminals to work with Micro800 controllers. In keeping with being the controller for standalone machines, there is no interface defined for software HMIs.   PC-based HMIs can be interfaced through Modbus RTU communications.
MicroLogix Replacement?
Is the Micro800 a MicroLogix replacement? Rockwell Automation provided a Frequently Asked Questions document that answered this:
No. Micro800 and MicroLogix 1100 and MicroLogix 1400 are complementary in that customers who value RSLogix500 and the wide selection of RTU and Allen-Bradley communications protocols should buy MicroLogix. Customers who want Micro800 features such as motion planner, IEC programming, etc. should buy Micro800. MicroLogix 1100, MicroLogix 1400 and MicroLogix 1500 support more expansion I/O than Micro850, which is limited to 132 digital I/O.
No Logix Architecture Compatibility
I asked if there are interfaces to FactoryTalk Historian & FactoryTalk View and other Rockwell software for Micro800 controllers. Ling explained, “There is no support for that, this product is meant for machines that are standalone, those software packages are meant for plant wide implementations so we don’t support with this range of products.” “We have seen machines in big plants that are not closely connected to the manufacturing process, like packaging areas.” This product is clearly meant for applications that have no communications requirements for reporting, OEE (Overall Equipment Effectiveness), production data, or other information. 
Thoughts & Observations
The Micro800 may be competitive for what it offers to standalone machine builders. I personally find the Micro800 product introduction perplexing based on my experience and knowledge of other automation products in the industry.
The Connected Components Workbench is a nicely designed integrated design environment conforming to IEC-61131 standards. This is not surprising because ISaGRAF involved in the design and they are long time IEC 61131 professionals and experts.   This is an intuitive easy-to-use editor based on the IEC 61131-3 worldwide standard. This looks like the first Rockwell Automation configuration software that really conforms to the worldwide IEC 61131-3 standard. The $395 Developer Edition is well worth the investment since the free edition has no debugging features.
A major reason cited for the Micro800 product line is to meet the needs of machine builders in developing countries that only need standalone controllers. In my discussions and interviews with control engineers from around the world, I’ve learned engineers are leveraging advanced automation and connected technology to gain a competitive edge. 
I have discussed the Micro800 with various people at Rockwell Automation - from engineers to a Vice President. I do not share their vision and enthusiasm that there is a large need for standalone machine controllers. Manufacturing and the entire world is becoming connected with IP (Internet Protocol) to the edge. The Micro800 is a 180 degree turn for Rockwell Automation that has been an early visionary for the connected plant to increase productivity, reduce operation costs, and improve quality with Logix and Integrated Architectures. Rockwell Automation representative have repeatedly told me their market analysis indicates a large market for these controllers and my logic may be wrong about this.
Rockwell Automation is a large company that has a history of supplying a wide range of programmable controller products. If you are looking for a standalone machine controller, include the Micro800 on your evaluation list and let me know how it stacks up.

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