How the Modicon 084 PLC Literally Changed the World

Dick Morley was walking off a hangover when a concept that would literally change the world hit him.

Morley spent January 1, 1968 drafting a 12-page memo outlining his thinking a revolutionary device, the Modicon 084 programmable logic controller (PLC).

The Modicon 084 facilitated the automation of complex manufacturing processes that previously relied on manual operation or rigid, hard-wired relay systems.

According to a 2015 piece in Automation.com, Morley was annoyed with the amount of programming and debugging time required to launch minicomputer-controlled systems. Morley envisioned a more intuitive, programmable unit that would streamline the setup process. Morley’s control systems engineering firm, Bedford Associates, developed a prototype by March 1968.

The operational prototype was demonstrated at Landis Machine. Nicknamed: “Stupid.” Just months later, General Motors commissioned Bedford to develop the Modicon 084 to streamline automotive manufacturing.

Just some of the many ways the PLC shook up manufacturing:

Industrial Automation: Raising the bar for flexibility, efficiency, and reliability in manufacturing automation processes, programmable logic controllers laid the foundation for digital transformation of manufacturing processes.

Flexibility: With PLCs, changes in production processes could be done quickly through software updates rather than changing hardware.

Quality: Automation allowed for more consistent, and less prone to error, manufacturing processes, enabling quality management at scale.

The Fourth Industrial Revolution: The industrial automation concepts the Modicon 084 introduced evolved to form the backbone for Industry 4.0. PLCs are crucial to the implementation of Industry 4.0 technologies in manufacturing, connecting physical and digital systems and enabling integrations with advanced technologies.

Schneider Electric acquired Modicon in 1996, bolstering its positioning in the industrial automation space. Morley, who died in 2017, is remembered as the father of PLC.