The PLC was invented in response to the needs of the American automotive manufacturing industry. Programmable logic controllers were initially adopted by the automotive industry where software revision replaced the re-wiring of hard-wired control panels when production models changed.
Before the PLC, control, sequencing, and safety interlock logic for manufacturing automobiles was accomplished using hundreds or thousands of relays, cam timers, and drum sequencers and dedicated closed-loop controllers. The process for updating such facilities for the yearly model change-over was very time consuming and expensive, as electricians needed to individually rewire each and every relay.
In 1968 GM Hydramatic (the automatic transmission division of General Motors) issued a request for proposal for an electronic replacement for hard-wired relay systems. The winning proposal came from Bedford Associates of Bedford, Massachusetts. The first PLC, designated the 084 because it was Bedford Associates' eighty-fourth project, was the result. Bedford Associates started a new company dedicated to developing, manufacturing, selling, and servicing this new product: Modicon, which stood for MOdular DIgital CONtroller. One of the people who worked on that project was Dick Morley, who is considered to be the "father" of the PLC. The Modicon brand was sold in 1977 to Gould Electronics, and later acquired by German Company AEG and then by French Schneider Electric, the current owner.
One of the very first 084 models built is now on display at Modicon's headquarters in North Andover, Massachusetts. It was presented to Modicon by GM, when the unit was retired after nearly twenty years of uninterrupted service. Modicon used the 84 moniker at the end of its product range until the 984 made its appearance.
The automotive industry is still one of the largest users of PLCs.