General or specific knowledge?


Thread Starter

Johan Bengtsson

Hi folks
I would like to know if you prefer a new person to have a higher general knowlege of automation or rather specialised knowlege about the PLC/DCS/etc. used at “your” company.
What I mean is: when a person is educated in the areas of automation there is some specific time availiable. The general basic knowlege is of couse expected, but after that what is most desired, more general knowlege or specific knowlege about the brand you are using?
When someone have been in the field for a while what type of knowlege (general or specific) are the most needed? is it hard or easy to get?
I would like you all to consider this from the perspective of “what do we want of a new person at the company” as well as from your own perspective.

Al Pawlowski

It depends on what the person’s job is going to be.
A person with specific knowledge on your equipment would be best for maintenance or the only think you expect that person to work on is more of the same. On the other hand, a person doing more design, evaluation of competing products or investigating alternate technologies would do well having more general knowledge.
IMO, neither person can have too much application experience. IMO, this is the biggest asset a control guy can have besides general smarts and some solid background education in engineering, electronics, control theory etc.

Mike Boudreaux

In my opinion, both general and specific knowledge is important. If I were interviewing two candidates and they both had the same experience level, but one had experience with our specific plant control system, I would pick the one with the specific experience almost every time. But if his competitor had more general automation knowledge, I might choose differently.
Based on my experiences, automation knowledge is pretty transportable from one system to the next. Going from one DCS vendor to another is a matter of finding out how the specific functions are carried out in the new system. I think a general knowledge of the concepts will make it easy to learn a new system pretty quickly.
To me, there are a set of core concepts that must be understood by a control system engineer, with any system:
Basic regulatory control configuration
HMI configuration
Advanced control configuration (sequencing, interlocking, etc.)
Batch management and control (recipes, scripting)
Communication (PLC-DCS, HMI-DCS, HMI-PLC, etc.)
I/O Hardware
Instrumentation basics (Valves, transmitters, etc.)
SIS Design/Maintenance
Basic computer knowledge (can go a long way)

Not all may apply, and in some cases other concepts may be important (and I may have forgotton some). If I were interviewing a person who had experience with our specific brand of control system, but didn’t have a good understanding of the above concepts, he probably would not have a good chance of getting hired.
Also, general hiring guidelines are important here as well. When you hire someone, you’re getting the whole package. Personality, communication skills, etc. are all just as important as technical experience/knowledge. I wouldn’t recommend hiring someone who I couldn’t see myself getting along with, either. I’ve seen where the decision came down to personality over technical ability - personality won.
Hi Johan,

I think that what matters is the ability to learn and to adapt. This is acquired via a broader knowledge and some practical application.
Pierre Kohn
ABB Body-in-White s.a.
Beauchamp, France
You’ve left out the most important - an understanding of the process to be controlled or automated!


Luiz Antonio Dourado Goncalves

Being affraid of giving a too simple answer, it would depend more on the need of the moment rather than a preference.
For a new project, in its very beggining, I would prefer a generalist, with broader view and knowledge of market tendences, new technologies and so on. Obviously, in case we need experienced people, it is desired to see hands on experience also, but without asking for a specific maker or brand, just the experience.
For a replacement of an vacant position, the closer the profile of the new person is to that of the person that left the company is better. In this case I believe I would ask for specific experience in brands and makers, more focused on the kind of tasks he/she will have.
I hope it is what you expected.