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Good controls come in small packagesGood controls come in small packages

Pan Demetrakakes

May 9, 2018

4 Min Read
Good controls come in small packages
New microcontrollers enable packaging machines to perform more functions and network more easily.

The history of information technology is in large part the story of computers getting smaller but more powerful. Industrial computing is no different. Microprocessors are fitting more functionality and connectivity into smaller frames, making packaging machine design more versatile and letting controls do more.

The Allen-Bradley division of Rockwell Automation recently rolled out the Micro870 PLC, a new flagship for its Micro800 family. It can accommodate up to 304 I/O points, 280 KB of memory and 20,000 program instructions.

Yeow Keng Teh, Rockwell Automation’s product manager for microcontrollers, spoke with Packaging Digest about the Micro870’s advantages in packaging machinery.

What kinds of packaging machines can use the Micro870?

Yeow: Vertical and horizontal form-fill-seal (VFFS) machines, labelers, sleeving machines, blister applications, cartoners and many more.

Generally speaking, why are microcontrollers especially suitable for packaging machinery? Their small size?

Yeow: Microcontrollers are especially suitable for packaging machinery because of their compact size, flexibility in adding functionality to the controller, ease of programming and reliability.  

What is it about the Micro870 that makes it so versatile and able to do so much? Does it have enhanced memory or computing power?

Yeow: One of the unique aspects of the Micro870 controller is its flexibility to customize with up to three Micro800 plug-in modules and up to eight expansion I/O modules to achieve just the right mix of I/O counts, meeting application requirements in a compact size.

The enhanced memory in Micro870 controllers provides more programming freedom, resulting in a reduced need to optimize memory consumption. It also decreases machine development time by enabling more modular programming with user-defined function blocks (UDFBs) and user-defined functions (UDFs).

Another benefit of having more memory is to enable machine builders to maintain one large program for all machine models and configurations.

The Micro870 controller has the versatility to integrate all key functions in a typical packaging machine. Key functions like discrete control, temperature control, motion control, weighing function and network connectivity can be integrated into one controller to deliver a more cost-effective and easy-to-maintain control solution.

Your press release says, “A new conversion tool in version 11 makes it easier for MicroLogix customers to upgrade to the Micro800 controller family.” What would they typically upgrade from, and what are the advantages to using the Micro800 family?

Yeow: Upgrade would be from any MicroLogix controller to Micro800 controllers.

The MicroLogix controllers have served our customers well in the past 20 years. Looking forward, the Micro800 controller family is more suited to meet the demands of smart manufacturing.

Micro800 controllers enable common tag names and data structure across the plant network, and enhance security and IP protection with password protection and hard-run mode switch. The Micro800 controller is part of our product portfolio that enables the connected enterprise.

To help machine builders improve productivity, user-defined function blocks (UDFBs) and user-defined functions (UDFs) allow more efficient reuse of code.

To implement motion control in packaging machines, the Micro800 controllers provide a cost-effective solution using PLCopen motion instructions. [Editor’s note: PLCopen is an independent organization providing efficiency in industrial automation based on the needs of users, according to Wikipedia.]

The Connected Components Workbench software provides a single design environment for programming Micro800 controllers, configuring Allen-Bradley PanelView 800 graphic terminals, PowerFlex AC drives, Kinetix component servo drives, GuardShield light curtains and Guardmaster software configurable safety relays. This feature can save engineers time and cost instead of using additional programming tools for each device in a single system.

What kinds of third-party companies make up the Rockwell Automation PartnerNetwork? In other words, what kinds of equipment/components are typically available from companies in that network?

Yeow: Spectrum Controls Inc. offers a range of digital and analog I/O modules to complement the Micro800 I/O module portfolio from Rockwell Automation.

Hardy Process Solutions Inc. and Helm Instrument Co. offer weigh scale modules for the Micro800 control platform that are ideal for integrating weighing functions in a packaging machine.


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