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  • Eric Compton, P.E.

Automation Fair 2016 - Year of the Machine

In the middle of a whirlwind week of Project Support I was able to drive over to Atlanta for 2 days and check out Rockwell's Automation Fair. I know everyone's probably saying "Rockwell?? Why would you want to go to that? It's overpriced, you have to pay for licenses..." It's a common response I get when I discuss their hardware with customers and other folks in the industry. However, in my 16 years in the field I've had very good luck with their products and their customer support and field guys are second to none. That's ultimately the reason I keep going back and suggesting Rockwell solutions. It's been a few years since I had been able to break away and go to Automation Fair so it was nice to be able to check out Rockwell's latest and greatest. I called this blog post "Year of the Machine" due to the fact that a lot of the Integrated Architecture (IA) items were definitely geared towards the OEM/Machine Builder market. Don't get me wrong - there were some pretty cool new process topics/tools there too and I'll cover those as well, but here is my rundown covering all of the cool new stuff from Automation Fair 2016. Thoughts are here - titles are links (where available) if you want more info or want to go check it out.


The new CompactLogix series is definitely geared and marketed to OEM's. It has the same processor as the new L8 CLX processors, but is the Compact version. Some cool features:

  • 2 Ethernet ports - can be setup for DLR (Device Level Ring) or with (2) separate IPs. This is an awesome feature - I can't tell you how many systems I've had to add a NAT device or switch to because the customer didn't want all of the I/O floating out on the larger plant network.

  • Memory - sizes up to 4 MB, but planned up to 10 MB according to the product specialist I was talking to. This will be an awesome alternate solution for a system that would have forced you to go to CLX in the past.

  • Gigabit Ethernet - just like the L8 the Ethernet ports are Gigabit ports. As such, the motion guys are now saying you can get micro-second response for motion and other high speed applications that just wasn't possible before this. I'm curious to see how this will perform against Beckoff as their Ethercat solution was hard to beat for update speed in the past.

  • 5480 - The 5480 is expected to release in January 2017. It has a real-time controller running Windows 10 IOT. This beast also has a MiniDP port to hook to monitors, etc. I will be very curious to see what custom applications are developed to either mine data or do custom data manipulation, etc at very high speeds on this core. I can imagine any number of custom applications from Robo-Controller replacement, advanced kinimatics - you name it. It's an empty canvas waiting for your masterpiece.

Overall, I was very impressed with both products. The only downside I can see currently for the 5380 is the fact that V29 of Logix is required!! Holy cow - I still have customers as far back as V16 for older machines. This made me go talk to the Studio 5000 guys to see what the development status and schedule looks like running forward. V29 has been out since the summer. As such, it's pretty stable - but he suggested waiting for V30 coming out 12/16. V30 is intended to be the next "around for a while version" which will also be the next release for redundancy summer of 2017. So - if you have time to wait - I would suggest going with V30 as I'm sure it will be around for a while as the "standards" much like V24 and V28 are today.


Motion Updates

Just a few updates to the Motion Line:

  • IA Drives - 5500/5700 - These will definitely be the workhorses of the Motion line over the next few years. They've done a lot of work to shrink/narrow the drives and try to optimize panel space.

  • VPC Motor Line for Higher Output - 4kW up to 30kW. These are definitely geared towards large coordinated motion applications with winders, rewinders, etc. Put's another permanent magnet option out there rather than having to go with an induction motor on a drive with motion capbility.

  • Ethernet Encoder Output - this was the one that jazzed me the most. How many machines have you worked on where you have coordinated motion over multiple unit ops/areas of control - or needed to coordinate an AB system with Bosch, etc. Rockwell is finally releasing an Ethernet I/P encoder module that can source (2) pulsetrains to external equipment. The neatest part is it can be ANY axis in the controller - physical or virtual. So now you can broadcast a Master Virtual axis for the whole machine for outside equipment to use.


I'll have to say I'm a big fan of the Powerflex series of drives. You can't beat the cost/functionality of the PF525. I usually only get to see the 750 series on larger installs with higher HP motors or MCC's, but was excited to hear about the new PF755T. The T stands for TotalFORCE - the new firmware that Rockwell is trying to standardize on - eventually across all product series. Not only do they have newer firmware with added diagnostics and maintenance mitigation solutions, they also have options for either harmonic mitigation, regeneration, and common DC bus. While these are usually only issues for larger motors - and this is reflected in the initial offering of 250 - 3000 HP, this line will be expanded down to 1 HP and up to 6000 HP to have a common architecture drive solution across a large range. Watch the two sales videos - the sales team did a decent job and they're not too cheesy.


FactoryTalk Batch has been around for a while. However, with V13 coming out, there are some new features that are pretty cool!

  • Batching Options - in the past there were two options to choose from within the suite - LBSM and full up Server Based Batch. If you just had a small system - and wanted recipe control, etc. you could accomplish this with LBSM. It had some drawbacks though - no loopbacks, only simple functions, hard to do parallel operations, etc. With the new version of Batch and the newer versions of Logix - you now have the option of doing Sequence Manager. It provides controller level sequence management and operation. All editable with Logix - and viewable with ViewSE. If you've ever had a quick batching function that a server based batch system wasn't quick enough - this should give you the speed and flexibility that you were looking for. I'm excited to play with this and see what I can dream up.

  • Batch Viewer - Rockwell is also releasing a mobile version of Batch Viewer that will now have the same interface regardless if you are mobile on a tablet/phone or if you are at a standard HMI on a ViewSE client. The operator can even select the resolution during Runtime and the display will resize/structure based on selected resolution. It's a pretty slick combo.


Overall, it was a great show and an opportunity to catch up with old friends and learn some new things. If you've never been before, I highly suggest it. Automation Fair 2017 is in Houston - so it will be super convenient for all us in town.

If you have any questions - or if you would like help implementing any of these solutions, just contact me - I would love to help.

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