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PLCs vs. Microcontrollers: What Is the Difference?

PLCs vs. Microcontrollers: What Is the Difference?

Computers are everywhere in our modern world. They’re in our phones, our TVs, and even our refrigerators. This proliferation has paved the way for more responsive technology capable of performing more tasks than we ever thought possible.

But not every computer is the same, especially the computers you find inside other devices. When it comes to embedded computer systems, you usually have to pick between PLCs vs. microcontrollers. What is the difference? Read on to find out.

What Are Microcontrollers?

A microcontroller’s nature is right there in its name. It’s a small computer device that helps control a larger machine. Each circuit has a central processing unit equipped with a Program Memory and Data Memory. It also has input and output peripherals.

When data comes in through the I/O peripherals, the Data Memory stores the commands. From there, the CPU communicates commands to the rest of the device.

What Are PLCs?

There is a reason people often mix up microcontrollers and programmable logic controllers (PLCs). Technically, a PLC is a type of microcontroller. They also consist of a CPU with I/O peripherals and memory.

PLCs also typically have a human interface device of some type, allowing users to program settings and more complex instructions into the system. Furthermore, PLCs are much larger and more durable than the average microcontroller.

Key Differences Between Them

Now that you know what microcontrollers and PLCs are, you should know some of the key distinguishing factors that set them apart. Here are some to be aware of.


The main difference between PLCs and microcontrollers is what they can accomplish. Microcontrollers can typically only perform one pre-programmed function. On the other hand, PLCs can perform a wider variety of functions due to their larger size and greater processing power.


As mentioned, a microcontroller typically performs one task at a time. So we often have multiple microcontrollers at work within appliances we use daily, each one controlling a different function. For instance, a washing machine may have microcontrollers controlling the front panel, the water measurement system, and the motion control.

The power and capability of the PLCs make them better for industrial purposes than home applications. That’s why they’re often at the heart of CNC machinery. They control the movements of the CNC system and adjust them based on feedback from the system’s encoders.

Computers are everywhere in the world today. And if your business uses a PLC, you may need to repair it from time to time. Industrial Automation Co. has the PLC spare parts you need to keep your computers running. Contact us today.

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