Dick Morley – Remembering an automation industry visionary and challenging thinker

By Bill Lydon, InTech, Chief Editor

Bill Lydon

Automation industry visionary and challenging thinker Dick Morley passed away quietly in his New Hampshire care facility Tuesday, 17 October 2017 at age 84. There has been and will continue to be many things written about Dick Morley, an American electrical engineer who was considered the “father” of the programmable logic controller (PLC) in 1968. He was a giant in the automation industry, freely contributing his thoughts and opinions, and a big supporter of ISA. A number of times I heard Dick Morley encourage automation people to join ISA, emphasizing, “it is the only professional organization dedicated to the automation profession.” Morley worked out of his barn in New Hampshire where he and his wife raised children and provided a home to 40 foster children over the years. He also loved riding Harley-Davison motorcycles.

Morley knew me well enough to recognize me and have a discussion with me, but this was not unique. He was open and enthusiastic about talking to anyone in the automation profession. I was a participant in a roundtable at the 2007 ISA Expo where Morley made a presentation and moderated. In his usual way, he provided thought leadership and asked insightful questions. Trained in physics, he possessed an expansive knowledge from theoretical to down-home practical. He could tear down an engine and overhaul it while talking about physics and atomic fusion.

I asked a couple of people who visited Dick Morley regularly for their thoughts: 

Peter G. Martin, PhD, vice president, business, innovation and marketing, Schneider Electric: “I once asked Dick how innovation worked. He told me that you first identify a problem area and research all aspects of it. Then you think and meditate and consider all the facts. Then, in a flash of inspiration God gives you the answer. The key is to be smart enough not to ignore the answer He gave.” This comment certainly sums up the creative process in a nutshell.

Don Clark, VP global application consulting and Schneider Fellow, Schneider Electric: “This guy was unconventional; he did not march to the beat of any drummer, no sacred cows technically or otherwise. He thought so far out of the box, he didn’t even see the box. He considered everything; nothing escaped his attention. His conversation style was like watching popcorn pop: topic-topic-topic-topic, all completely different; it could be as far-fetched as interplanetary travel, nuclear quantum theory, and a wide range of topics. If you stuck around awhile you saw there was a thread to all these little popcorns, kind of like popcorn strung through your Christmas tree. He was brilliant. The most influential book he ever read—when he was 10 years old—was One Two Three . . . Infinity by George Gamow.”

My final thought . . .

There is a case to be made with industrial automation users and vendors to support and be active in ISA, or be controlled by outside technologists, including IT and associated organizations, associations, and companies. Collaboration and the collective voice of automation professionals is the best way to impact and mold the future with solid industry background, knowledge, and know-how. Times of dramatic change can be dangerous; the only leveling factor is informed people taking action and applying clear logic.

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About the Author

Bill LydonBill Lydon is InTech’s chief editor. He has more than 25 years of industry experience in building, industrial, and process automation, including product design, application engineering, and project management.

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