What does 16-bit resolution mean in PLC?

In the context of Programmable Logic Controllers (PLCs), “16-bit resolution” refers to the data representation capability of the analog input module used to interface with sensors, such as process signal transmitters. A 16-bit resolution means that the analog input module can convert the analog signal from the process flow transmitters into a digital value with a precision of 16 bits. This level of resolution allows PLCs to accurately measure and process the flow rate of a fluid in various industrial applications.

Let’s go deeper into the concept of 16-bit resolution with an example utilizing a flow transmitter in a water treatment facility.

Flow Transmitter and Analog Signal

  • In the water treatment plant, the flow transmitter is a sensor responsible for measuring the flow rate of water in a pipe.
  • The flow transmitter generates an analog signal, typically in the form of a current (4-20mA) or voltage (0-10V) proportional to the flow rate.
  • The actual flow rate can vary depending on factors like pipe diameter, pump speed, and valve position.

Analog-to-Digital Conversion (ADC)

  • Before the PLC can process the flow rate data, the analog signal from the flow transmitter must be converted into a digital value.
  • This conversion is performed by the analog input module of the PLC, which has a 16-bit ADC.

Resolution and Digital Value

  • A 16-bit resolution means that the ADC can divide the analog signal’s range into 216 (65,536) discrete levels. In the case of a current signal (4-20mA), the ADC maps the current range (4mA to 20mA) to these 65,536 levels.
  • Each level corresponds to a unique digital value. For example, if the flow transmitter is outputting 12mA, the ADC will convert it to a specific digital value, say 32,768.

Flow Rate Measurement

  • The PLC receives the digital value from the analog input module and performs further calculations to interpret the flow rate.
  • The PLC knows the calibration settings of the flow transmitter, which helps it convert the digital value into an actual flow rate in liters per minute (LPM), gallons per minute (GPM), or any other applicable unit.

Control Logic and Decision Making

  • The flow rate data obtained from the flow transmitter can be used by the PLC’s control logic to make decisions and perform specific actions.
  • For instance, if the flow rate exceeds a predetermined threshold, the PLC may trigger a valve to adjust the flow, activate an alarm, or stop a pump to maintain a safe and controlled flow in the water treatment process.

Advantages of 16-Bit Resolution

  • Having a 16-bit resolution in the analog input module ensures high precision in measuring the flow rate.
  • The PLC can detect even small changes in the flow rate due to the fine gradation provided by the 16-bit ADC.
  • This accuracy is crucial in critical industrial processes where precise flow control is essential for maintaining product quality, process efficiency, and safety.


  • While 16-bit resolution is generally sufficient for most industrial applications, there may be situations where higher resolution is required.
  • For extremely precise flow measurements, applications with small flow rates, or systems with wide-ranging flow rates, PLCs with higher resolution (e.g., 24-bit) might be preferred.

The 16-bit resolution in the analog input module of a PLC allows for accurate and precise measurement of analog signals from sensors like flow transmitters. In the water treatment plant example, this level of resolution ensures the PLC can reliably monitor the flow rate of water and make informed decisions based on the data received. Understanding the resolution capability of PLCs is vital for selecting the appropriate equipment to meet specific industrial automation needs, especially in applications where precise flow control is crucial for efficient and safe operations.