Differences Between a PLC and an RTU

You may have heard of Programmable Logic Controllers (PLCs) and Remote Terminal Units (RTUs), but what do these devices actually do? And more importantly, which one do you need for your business?

PLCs are used to control machines by reading input signals and executing pre-determined programs in order to achieve a specific output. RTUs, on the other hand, are used to collect data from machines and send it back to a central location for analysis.

Depending on your needs and level of complexity, there is an automation device that can provide you with complete control over your operations while keeping costs low.

Don't worry, we're here to help. In this article, we'll take a closer look at the differences between a PLC and an RTU. Once you've finished reading, you'll be able to confidently choose the right device for your needs.

What is a PLC?

A PLC (programmable logic controller) is a type of industrial computer that controls and monitors industrial processes. They are used extensively in manufacturing and process industries and can be found in a variety of applications, such as water and wastewater, oil and gas, metals and mining, and pharmaceuticals.

A PLC is typically used to control a process or sequence of processes, such as a manufacturing line or an assembly line. They can be programmed to perform a variety of tasks, such as starting and stopping a process, regulating the flow of materials through a process, and detecting faults in a process.

Advantages and Disadvantages of PLC

PLCs offer a number of advantages over RTUs. Firstly, they're scalable. You can add or remove PLCs from your system as needed, without having to reconfigure the entire system. They're also more powerful and can handle more complex tasks than RTUs.

On the downside, they're more expensive than RTUs. They also require more programming and maintenance and can be harder to use for some operators.

What is an RTU?

An RTU, or Remote Terminal Unit, is a type of PLC, or Programmable Logic Controller. It's a compact device that monitors and controls a process at a remote location.

RTUs are often used in industrial settings, where conditions are too harsh or too dangerous for people to be present. They're also used when there's a need to monitor or control a process over a large area.

RTUs can be used to monitor and control everything from temperature and pressure to the speed of a motor. They can also be used to activate or deactivate equipment based on preset conditions.

Advantages and Disadvantages of an RTU

There are both advantages and disadvantages to using an RTU. On the plus side, they offer more flexibility in terms of scalability and programming options. This makes them a good choice when you need to add or modify features as your needs change.

On the downside, an RTU can be expensive to install and maintain. They also tend to rely on aging technology, which means they can be slower than other systems. Additionally, since they are not as capable as PLCs in terms of processing power and data storage, this may limit their usefulness for certain applications.

Differences between PLCs and RTUs

The following table highlights the major differences between PLC and RTU −




Programs and operating systems

PLCs are typically programmed with a computer.

RTUs can be programmed on-site or remotely. RTUs also tend to use proprietary software, making them more expensive than PLCs.


PLCs consist of a processor and multiple input and output devices connected to it.

An RTU can be a standalone device or device networked with multiple distributed controllers.

Power sources

PLCs require lower wattage because they are typically used in industrial settings and only need to operate for short periods of time.

RTUs require higher wattage because they need to remain powered for long periods of time in order to monitor remote locations.

What Scenarios Are Better Suited for PLCs or RTUs?

Now that you have a better understanding of the differences between a PLC and an RTU, it's time to decide which one is the better option for your needs. Here are some scenarios that are better suited for PLCs or RTUs.

When it comes to larger projects, such as controlling electrical power distribution or a factory assembly line, a PLC is typically the better choice. The PLC’s powerful computing capabilities make it ideal for these types of large-scale controls.

On the other hand, when you need to remote control and monitor equipment in more remote locations, such as wind turbines or solar power systems, an RTU is often the better option.

The RTU has added features like data logging and communication protocols that make it more suitable for these types of projects.

Uses of PLCs and RTUs

Now let's dive into the uses of Programmable Logic Controllers (PLCs) and Remote Telemetry Units (RTUs). PLCs are primarily used in industrial settings, while RTUs are more often used in remote monitoring applications.

PLCs serve as the workhorse of any industrial process. They’re used to communicate with the sensors, control valves, motors and other components that make up an automated process. This allows them to control operations like mixing liquids or opening and closing gates, for example. They’re also able to read analog values from sensors like temperature or voltage, helping them to carry out decisions or respond to changing conditions.

On the other hand, RTUs are designed for remote monitoring applications. They're typically used to collect data from devices around a wide area network, such as water pumps and wind turbines. The data collected by the RTU is then sent back to a central location for analysis and monitoring. Additionally, they can be used for alarm notification systems or control of remote actuators like switches or valves when required.


In the industrial world, there are two main types of controllers that are used to manage machines − programmable logic controllers (PLCs) and remote terminal units (RTUs). While both have their own specific functions, many people don’t know the difference between the two.

Well, that depends on your specific needs. If you need to control machines by reading input signals and executing programs, then a PLC is the right choice for you. If you need to collect data from machines and send it back to a central location for analysis, then an RTU is the right choice for you.

Updated on: 17-Jan-2023

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