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Remembering a Manufacturing Legend, Dick Morley

Pat Waurzyniak
By Patrick Waurzyniak Contributing Editor, SME Media
Richard E. Morley

The manufacturing industry has lost another of its giants, with the news that Dick Morley, considered the “Father of the PLC,” an SME Fellow and former SME board member, passed away on Oct. 17 in New Hampshire at the age of 84.

Richard “Dick” E. Morley is credited with dreaming up one of the greatest innovations in the history of factory automation, creating the architecture for the programmable logic controller (PLC) in 1968. His early design led to later versions made at Modicon Corp., named for MODular DIgital CONtroller, used to automate factories at General Motors and other major manufacturers.

“An inventor, machinist, author, consultant, engineer, angel investor, Harley enthusiast and provider for 40 foster children, Dick Morley was a globally respected and admired manufacturing futurist,” said Ralph L. Resnick, FSME, president and executive director for the National Center for Defense Manufacturing and Machining (NCDMM; Blairsville, PA).

“Dick will assuredly be remembered for being the ‘father’ of the Programmable Logic Controller [PLC], but many will also fondly recall his early Internet-controlled backhoe and his ‘Geekfests’ at his ‘Barn’ in New Hampshire, where he also incubated aspiring entrepreneurs,” said Resnick, a current SME Board member. “Personally, I will always treasure the late night, mind-stretching discussions I had with Dick, his sincere and kind appreciation of all people and his zeal for life. Dick Morley was a unique and delightful character and I am a better person for knowing him.”

“Dick was one of the country’s most brilliant technology minds and entrepreneurs and I am proud to have had him as my friend,” said Rick Jarman, president and CEO of the National Center for Manufacturing Sciences (NCMS; Ann Arbor, MI). “As Chairman of our Board he helped to lead the NCMS reinvention and the next generation of manufacturing.”

Morley’s list accomplishments in manufacturing are quite lengthy. He authored two books, including The Technology Machine: How Manufacturing Will Work in the Year 2020, written with co-author Patricia E. Moody, and Out of the Barn, a collection of his articles and columns as a manufacturing futurist.

Dick Morley, on his Harley, next to his Web-enabled “JavaHoe” backhoe.

Morley got his start studying physics with the class of 1954 at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT; Cambridge, MA). Born in Clinton, MA, on Dec. 1, 1932, Morley founded his own company, Bedford and Associates, and was instrumental in technology startups as an angel investor and technology leader. A member of the SME board, Morley was named an SME Fellow in 1995. He won numerous awards in manufacturing and held about 20 patents, including the PLC, hand-held terminals, building control units, and magnetic thin-film technology.

While writing a three-part series on e-manufacturing in 2001, and later again to profile Morley for our “Masters of Manufacturing” feature in 2003, I got a chance to visit with Morley in person at The Barn, which was an old barn in the New Hampshire woods that he turned into a modern office. His enthusiasm for technology and manufacturing was infectious, as he graciously recounted the many milestones in his career in manufacturing and factory automation. Morley proudly showed me his Web-enabled backhoe, “JavaHoe,” that he wrote Java interface for to prove how easy it would be to link machine tools on the factory floor to the internet.

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