An embedded system or circuit is a combination of hardware and software (either fixed or programmable) that is specifically designed for a particular function. Modern embedded systems are usually based on Microcontroller (a CPU with integrated memory and peripherals), Digital Signal Processor (DSP), or Field Programmable Gate Array (FPGA) devices.
Since an embedded system is custom designed for a particular application with defined functionality, its complexity can be kept to the minimum. This gives a power efficient, size optimised, and reliable solution.
A Programmable Logic Controller (PLC) is an industrial digital computer which has been ruggedised and adapted for process control, such as those commonly used in manufacturing, assembly lines, robotic devices, or any activity that requires high reliability control and ease of programming and process fault diagnosis.
In contrast to an embedded design, PLC modules are designed to be useful for a variety of applications, and as such have many functions built in which may not be required. A bank of PLC modules will in most cases take up more space, and consume more power than an embedded contoller which has been designed specifically for the same task.
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