How the father of the PLC lives on

"Dick Morley's openness to possibility, characterized by a seemingly endless stream of big ideas, and his personable humility make him stand apart from other innovators across all industries," writes Control editor Jim Montague

By Jim Montague

I'm always slavishly grateful to people who can explain to me how things really work because I usually can't figure them out on my own. A few years ago, I was trying to research "industrial computers," but it was devilishly difficult because they'd begun to morph and take on almost any form. How could I cover them if I couldn't define them?

Luckily, it was at about the same time that I met briefly with the legendary Dick Morley at one of the many tradeshows we all attend, and I asked, "Isn't the PLC really just a computer, too?"

And, without missing a beat and with no hint of ego or psychological investment—which might easily be expected from someone at the root of that device's invention—he told me, "Well, yes, it is a computer, but we had to put it in an enclosure and make it look industrial so engineers and other people on the plant floor would use it."  

Perfect. For me, this was a rare and completely unselfconscious answer, which led me to focus on where the calculations are actually occurring as my definition of "industrial computer," and not remain tangled up in the increasingly shifting forms they take. As you might guess, this perspective has been helpful in approaching and framing many stories since then, and I've continued to appreciate Dick and the little Ninja star of insight he provided way back when.

As a result, like so many other folks, I was deeply saddened to hear about Dick's death on Oct. 17 at the age of 84 after a long illness. I really only interacted with him for a few minutes, but of course, he profoundly impacted the lives of thousands of family members, friends and associates over his long life and career. Not surprisingly, most have been consoling each other with a deluge of stories since his passing.