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ISA honors automation visionary, legend Dick Morley with scholarship fund

By ISA Press Release

The International Society of Automation (ISA) announced that it has created a named scholarship fund in honor of Dick Morley, a longtime ISA supporter, founder of Modicon (now part of Schneider Electric) and the initial designer of the first Programmable Logic Controller (PLC)—a primary component in modern-day automation. Morley, 84, passed away on Oct. 17. His obituary can be found here.

Morley was an engineer, inventor, entrepreneur, consultant, and author who contributed significantly to a wide range of revolutionary, high-technology advancements over more than four decades. An internationally recognized visionary and expert in computer design, artificial intelligence, automation and factories of the future, Morley held more than 20 US and foreign patents. 

The scholarship fund, named the Richard E. “Dick” Morley Innovation Scholarship, will be funded by ISA with a $50,000 endowment. ISA has also pledged to match the next $50,000 of donations. Click here for more information about the scholarship fund and to donate.

Richard E. Morley

“Dick Morley wasn’t just the inventor of modern-day automation—he was also a mentor and a friend to many of our members and leaders around the world,” said ISA President Steve Pflantz. “He was a one-of-a-kind person, someone you could never forget. His humor and wit, along with his incredibly creative way of looking at life, made him a force for good in our industry, our society, and the world. He will be missed.”

Morley is best known for developing the programmable logic controller (PLC), a breakthrough in the growth and advancement in industrial automation. PLCs are integral to factory automation and industrial processes, controlling a wide array of applications from lighting functions to environmental systems to chemical processing plants.

His initial PLC—which he designed for continuous processing applications—was demonstrated at GM in 1969 as Bedford Associates Modicon 084 solid-state sequential logic solver.

Driven by his inventiveness and ingenuity, Morley founded numerous technology companies. His breakthroughs in research and development blazed a pathway for ongoing discoveries and innovations.

For many years, Morley hosted the annual “Geek Pride Day” festival in New Hampshire, where he lived with his late wife, Shirley. Morley and his wife had three biological children and 27 foster children.

“We know that one of the most important parts of Morley’s life was his work with young people,” said Pflantz. “He was passionate about giving kids a chance to innovate, to redefine their lives, and to make a difference in the world. We intend to make sure that this scholarship fund continues that legacy in some small way.”

ISA will announce more details about the application process for the scholarship fund in the coming weeks. To make an individual or corporate donation, visit the Richard E. “Dick” Morley Innovation Scholarship fund page.

More about Morley’s contributions and honors

Morley was awarded patents on products, such as the parallel interface machine, hand-held terminal and magnetic thin film and storage (floppy disk). He also played an important role in the development of anti-lock brakes, automated vehicle control, building automation and the cool shaft.

His education in physics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology formed the basis for his interest and expertise in computer design, artificial intelligence, automation, and futurism.

For many years, Morley was a contributing columnist to Manufacturing Systems Magazine. He also wrote articles for magazines and journals worldwide, including Manufacturing Automation Magazine and Wired,Control, and inTech magazines.

Morley’s peers acknowledged his outstanding contributions with numerous honors and citations. Morley has been honored by several organizations, such as Inc. magazine, the Franklin Institute, the Society of Manufacturing Engineers and the Engineering Society of Detroit. He also has been inducted into the Manufacturing Hall of Fame. Other awards and recognitions he received include:

  • ISA and SME life member
  • SME Manufacturing Enterprise Council Member
  • Process Automation Hall of Fame (Control magazine)
  • Automation Hall of Fame Prometheus Award
  • SME Fellow
  • Parallel Processor Design — Flavors
  • Howard N. Potts Award
  • Entrepreneur of the Year
  • Gould Science & Engineering Fellow
  • Boeing Technical Excellence Award

Morley previously served as chairman of the board of National Center for Manufacturing Sciences, Inc. (NCMS); director at large for the SME; member of the Manufacturing Advisory Board for Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI); member of Advisory Board at Agilepath Corporation; and director of Memex Inc.

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