Manufacturing AUTOMATION

ScrewTurn Wiki: Collaboration for the plant floor

September 20, 2010
By Jeremy Pollard

Imagine that you have a number of worker bees on the floor using PC-based HMIs or thin clients, and they run into a situation that they haven’t seen before. They fire up the maintenance website and search for the machine name, for example. There they find that three weeks ago, "Joe" ran into the same issue, and described how he fixed it.

That’s the power of a Wiki – a website that allows users to collaboratively create and edit web pages using a web browser.

ScrewTurn is a free Wiki server that can be loaded onto a network so that many people can connect, view, post, edit and add to the collaboration efforts of the plant.

A knowledge management system. Very cool.

Once downloaded, the install can take two directions. The first is a client server setup that allows you to install the Wiki as a server, giving many remote machines the ability to log on. This install supports Active Directory. The other option is a desktop version that runs locally. This is the version I installed.

In the desktop version, clients attach to the Wiki using a standard web browser. Once the system installs, you can log in as the "admin" using a default password, and begin setting up the Wiki page.

As the admin, you are able to set up user names and passwords, and configure their abilities (page changes, editing capabilities, user security settings, etc.). Once a user has been set up, the fun begins.

The Wiki is really about relaying information. The administrator controls some content, appearance, options, themes and plug-ins for the users, and there can be more than one admin.

The main areas of concern are the ability to create users, pages for knowledge capture, user editing and search capabilities. A small word of caution, though: the admin privileges allow you to alter the complete Wiki, so some purposeful programming is required.

Step one is to change the default password by editing the web.config file located in the main Wiki directory. Restart the Wiki engine, and log in as the admin. Clicking the Administration link on the sidebar opens the admin options. Learning about namespaces and categories is useful for grouping like items together. These would be machine names, processes or departments. Pages and content can be linked to these items. This is the most important step in the Wiki creation. Once the line items and connections have been made, the page content can be created, which can be started by the admin but maintained and added to by users.

Users can edit an existing page, create a new one and/or start a discussion associated with a page. The connection is really between the page and a function or device on the plant floor.

A page for definitions or functions can be created, and then linked in a page to give additional guidance with a procedure, or linked to an external file or image.

The discussion feature is very cool – very similar to a newsgroup or user board for comments and conversations.

As the admin, you have the option not to allow users to change the content of a given page, and only allow discussions. This is a helpful feature if the data on the page is critical for the process. Once the user creates the page, the admin person can lock it so that no further edits can be made.

Historical edits are logged by the Wiki engine, so it is best to have individual logins rather than one global login. The management may be a pain, but worth it in the end. The user will request an account, and as the admin you allow it. Then the user is on his own.

The system navigation is created by the page links, so it can get a bit unwieldy if there are many pages and links. This can lead to user fatigue in trying to get to what they want or need. Constant monitoring and adjustment may be required, but the ability to gather plant floor knowledge and data is priceless.

It is worth the effort to be sure that the knowledge from the plant floor doesn’t walk out the door when the grey hairs retire! Happy Wikiing!

Jeremy Pollard has been in the industrial automation industry for more than 25 years. He has worked as a systems integrator, consultant and educator in the field. You can reach him at

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