A Year to Celebrate the Programmable Logic Controller!

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This year is the 50th anniversary of one of the most significant inventions in the history of industrial automation. Fifty years ago, our friend Dick Morley introduced the world’s first programmable logic controller to the industrial marketplace launched by his company – Modicon. This initiated the effective use of digital computer technologies in industrial automation. This triggered a massive transformation to the pervasive use of digital technology to deliver industrial measurements, controls and real-time information management. In fact, today the use of digital technology is so pervasive that new engineers find it almost impossible to imagine and industrial automation world without it.

“We have a long history of digital innovation”, said Schneider Electric CEO Jean-Pascal Tricoire.  “On the 50th anniversary of the invention of the first PLC, it would be hard to imagine where our industry would be today without the PLC system.  It is used in transportation, manufacturing, energy management and so many other industries.  I am proud to have such a legacy be part of Schneider Electric’s DNA,” he added.

Prior to the introduction of the PLC, the level of real-time measurement and control was limited to the most basic levels due to technology constraints. The use of digital technology, triggered by the introduction of the PLC, introduced capability well beyond basic measurement and control to expand control system functionality by utilizing the compute power of the innovative technology. In fact, throughout the fifty years following the invention of the PLC, the capability expansion delivered by automation systems appears only to be limited by human imagination. The results have been the introduction and common use of capabilities and functions that were not previously even considered to be possible, such as advanced process control, process optimization, manufacturing execution systems, inferential measurement systems, safety control, condition management, process historians, workflow control, batch management, real-time accounting, real-time profitability control and so many other.

Industrial automation is a relatively recent technology field which continues to undergo major transitions and advancements. It is exciting to look at new inventions that drive new levels of operational and business value. But it is important to take a step back every occasionally, to remember the past achievements that made our current capabilities possible. This is one of those times.

History provides great lessons for all of us. It is important to look back and see what some of the pioneers of our industry did and how they did it. Studying the contributions Dick Morley made to industry and how he went about it can provide great instruction for current and future innovators. Dick passed away last year. I am happy to say that I got to know Dick toward the latter part of his life and considered him to be a friend. I was amazed at his thought process and approach to science and invention. Once he defined a problem, he put is massive intellect into considering how to solve it without worrying about the technological constraints to building the solution. He believed he could use science and technology to overcome the constraints. And he did.

This is truly a year of celebration for the fiftieth anniversary of the invention of the PLC and of the life of the man who invented it!


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