A microcontroller is small, integrated circuit created for the purpose of governing a specific operation within a control system. These embedded computers have processor, memory, and input/output control contained within a single unit.
On the other hand, PLCs are essentially larger-scale microcontrollers that offer a plethora of more benefits when compared to microcontrollers.
With that said, below are our top seven reasons to choose a PLC vs. a microcontroller:
1. Ease of use and programming
User-friendliness is certainly a top quality to look for when it comes to just about any technological device on the market - and fortunately with PLCs, the learning curve is very short and thus very easy for anyone to start programming and using with ease.
Microcontrollers just don’t offer this same advantage, and there’s a lot more you need to know in order to use them. PLCs simply require that you know the basics, the various devices, how to program and connect them. Plus, they come with detailed user manuals that feature all the information you need to know.
2. Scalability allows for system expansion with quicker installation
With the modular design of the Modular PLC, the various modules are plugged in, allowing for a “plug and play” that will make expanding or upgrading your system very quick and easy should you ever need to do so. With microcontrollers, there tends to be a limitation on the amount of input/output units, which there aren’t many of.
3. Robust design means lower maintenance
PLCs are designed to withstand the most extreme conditions and disturbances like some of the highest of temperatures for extended time periods, power fluctuations and noise. The same just cannot be said for microcontrollers - which can easily become destroyed when faced with such conditions due to their lack of shielding.
4. Lower maintenance costs makes a larger upfront cost insignificant
Sure, the cost of a PLC upfront may be considerably higher than that of a microcontroller - but the generous savings in maintenance costs over time essentially makes upfront cost a non-issue. PLCs are robust, quality devices built to last - resulting in far less collective downtime compared to what is typically experienced with microcontrollers.
5. They have a proven track record
PLCs do not fall short when it comes to both reliability and compatibility. In fact, they’ve been successfully employed for many years in applications. PLCs were a breakthrough in solving the significant obstacle of control via the Relays, and have been through years of development and refinement in order to accommodate businesses that manage a vast number of controlled devices. And with that being said, even newer equipment for PLCs are still compatible with older ones that had been manufactured years back.
6. PLCs are standardized
Businesses today place heavy value on standardization in order to avoid any confusion when it comes to programming or troubleshooting, which can lead to considerable issues. Fortunately, PLC systems are standardized with the help of IEC61131 standard - which simplifies everything for everyone through its guideline.
7. They feature all industrial communications standard, presenting no limitations
PLCs come with industrial communications that are fully supported in a PLC platform, compared to that of a microcontroller, which would have limitations. For example, a PLC would have industrial comms - Ethernet, DeviseNet, ProfiNet, EtherCat, etc. - whereas a microcontroller may contain just one of these -such as Serial, Modbus, and if more advanced, Ethernet IP/TCP only.
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