Dick Morley in epilogue

Father of the PLC passes, as industrial automation looks to memorialize the man and the legend

By Mike Bacidore, chief editor

He was visibly pleased to invite us inside and show us around the brilliant brain that he called home.

Dick Morley was more than just the father of the PLC. He was father to an incomprehensible number of biological and foster children. He was the father and founder of Modicon, which now exists as a Schneider Electric brand. And he was a father figure to countless individuals, whose lives and careers he touched and helped to shape. Dick Morley died on October 17, 2017, quietly, in the New Hampshire care facility where he’d spent the past few years because of physical limitations.

Mentally, intellectually, he was a giant, walking among mere mortals, grinning like the Cheshire Cat and stretching our minds like a taffy pulling machine. Nothing was beyond the grasp of his intelligence, and he was visibly pleased to invite us inside and show us around the brilliant brain that he called home.

“Pull up a chair,” he would request. “Let’s talk string theory.”

The number of rooms in the mind of Morley was limitless. “I will always think of Dick as one of the great creative minds of industrial automation,” recalls Mark Lochhaas, manager, application engineering IIoT group North America, Advantech. “There was an instance where Dick partnered with Advantech to create JavaHOE. This was Dick’s creative approach to illustrating how the Internet might be used in industrial automation.” The basic hydraulic functions of the backhoe on his farm could be controlled by wireless connection to the ADAM-5000 through an Internet connection, which he demonstrated at the ISA show in 2000, live with video feed and control through the Internet, long before anyone had even heard of the IIoT.

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“Most know him for what he did, not for who he was,” explains friend Jeremy Pollard. “‘Did I tell you this one?’ he would ask. He would spin a yarn of huge proportions, always interesting and entertaining, but my head always hurt afterward. He already knew the answer, but he was always challenging your mind.”

Like so many others, longtime friend Ken Ball was saddened by the news of Morley’s passing. “Over the years, I wrote several articles covering the early history of the PLC,” recalls Ball. “Although Dick was given due credit, there was no way to relate the broad scope of his activities or his unique leadership as a pioneer in improving manufacturing productivity. The PLC evolved over the 1968–1970 years, with 1969 being the best anniversary base. This was the year that GM Hydra-Matic installed prototype PLCs from three different companies. The 50th anniversary year of PLCs would then be 2019.”

A gofundme page exists to raise money for a fitting granite memorial, as well as an ongoing scholarship fund to aid the next generation of like-minded free thinkers. And there’s talk of a tribute being arranged to coincide with Geek Pride Day this spring. Spread the word. A legend’s final chapter has closed. Now it’s our turn to begin writing an epilogue that is deserving of a father like Dick Morley.