Microcontrollers as process devices

Microcontrollers provide functionality and give intelligence to products and systems. From mobile phones to washing machines, many everyday products are controlled by these devices.

Purpose of process devices

Process devices take the signal from the input stage of a system and act on it by changing it in some way - for example, introducing a time delay, counting the number of times something happens or making decisions. Programmable components, such as microcontrollers, are often used for this purpose.

Microcontrollers

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A microcontroller is an example of a SBC (single board computer) and is manufactured as an integrated circuit (IC). It can be programmed to perform different processing functions.

Microcontrollers come in different sizes with varying numbers of pins for the connection of input and output devices - for example, 8 pin, 14 pin and 18 pin. A programmable interface controller (PIC) is an example of a microcontroller that is widely used.

A collection of black microcontrollers of varying sizes and length of pins.
Microcontrollers in different sizes with varying numbers of pins

Advantages and disadvantages of using microcontrollers

Advantages

  • The size of a circuit can be significantly reduced. This is because programming replaces physical components.
  • They can be reprogrammed many times. This allows changes to be made without replacing actual components.
  • They have pins for connecting several input and output devices, adding to flexibility.

Disadvantages

  • They often cost more than traditional integrated circuits. They are therefore not always the best option for simple systems.
  • Programming software and hardware is required. This can be expensive to buy.
  • The language of the system must be learned and this adds to training costs.