The Difference Between Microcontrollers and PLCs

Look in almost any automated factory today and you’re bound to see machinery running on PLCs (programmable logic controllers). Their rugged durability has made them prime assets on production floors. Another contender, microcontrollers, carry very similar functionality to PLCs—and also have their uses. 

But while this small, single-chip computing device has an edge on PLCs in price, it’s still behind PLC in the raw, reliable staying power demanded by industrial environments. These environments are notorious for exposing tech to brutal conditions, including noise, corrosive materials, extreme temps, and more. 

What are Microcontrollers?

As one would think, microcontrollers’ name offers insight into their defining characteristics. Microcontrollers are tiny devices on a single chip that have one or more processors. They harbor memory mechanisms, along with programmable input and output ports (I/O) on shared real estate. 

Microcontrollers are known to inhabit everyday appliances, such as a car or TV, to perform specific, repetitive functions. Due to construction, nature, and size, microcontrollers are typically not standalone devices, a design downfall in more rugged environments. 

To perform functions, microcontrollers receive inputs from the I/O, temporarily transfer that to stored memory, analyze data through the processor’s pre-programmed instructions, then deliver a response through I/O to turn out a function. 

PLCs perform in a similar way to microcontrollers—by managing inputs and outputs to produce logic-sourced functions. But PLCs are durable computers, and have become an industrial automation mainstay. 

The Differences

While functionality shows similarities between the two, microcontrollers and PLCs do have significant differences. For one, microcontrollers lack display interfaces and built-in switches like their more robust PLC counterparts, which can prove much less effective on the industrial floor. 

Second, as mentioned earlier, PLCs are highly durable—built to bear the operational demands of an industrial environment. This includes extreme temperature changes, corrosive components, high noise levels, intense vibration, and more. On the same token as durability, PLCs also offer long equipment life, with some PLCs remaining fixtures in production facilities for north of a decade. 

PLCs, in another turn from microcontrollers, enjoy ample support and service opportunities. This eases the search for replacement parts and servicing. Plus, there are more support opportunities for discontinued models, offering easier modes for modernization in tech. Microcontrollers, on the other hand, observe a higher frequency of new model roll-outs, which can cause significant disruption due to needed system programming redos. 

Revere’s Expertise

PLCs are highly valuable in modern facilities, with enough technology smarts to streamline workflow and enough rugged attributes to stay working. Their benefits outweigh other alternatives’—to the tune of both increased production and profits. 

Revere Control Systems specializes in PLC development, design, installation, and implementation for full-service automation for your facility. To fully automate yours with best-in-class systems, get in touch today with our experts at Revere Control Systems. Plus, you can check out everything else we’re well-equipped to do!