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VPS going viral in Thompson

March 27, 2019

On March 6, 10 City of Thompson officials visited our operations in Manitoba to learn about VPS, and and to determine if they could implement some of our methodologies at the government level. Photo: Vale Archive

Sometimes seeing is best done not with the eyes, but with the boots.

On March 6, 10 City of Thompson officials put boots on the ground at our operations in Manitoba to find out what all the fuss is about with this thing called VPS, and more to the point, to determine if they could implement some of our VPS techniques and methodologies to improve processes at the municipal level.

The enthusiasm and morale of your team was infectious, and was made very clear to the City team.

“The best way to show them what we’ve been doing is to get boots on, and give them a tour,” said Luke Kempers, Operational Excellence specialist/mine engineer and 15-year Vale employee, who led the four-hour tour along with Kevin Stadnek and Trevor Parsons, both Operational Excellence specialists.

While VPS, 5s and our agile methodology are still in the early stages, our colleagues in Thompson have nonetheless managed to implement several impressive, cost- and time-saving Kaizens that deserve attention. That these were distinguished guests—the City’s CFO, the City manager and directors of Public Works, Recreation, Fire/Public Safety and more— who can affect community-wide change, made this tour particularly noteworthy.

VPS can be applied virtually anywhere, for the sake of improvements. According to Marcelo Coelho Sousa, manager, Operational Excellence: “VPS is about small improvements that can make a big difference. If we apply VPS to things that can improve people’s lives, we think it’s worth doing.”

Drilling down to specifics around VPS

The tour, which was organized by Tara Ritchie, began in our open-concept Central Engineering building, with an overview presentation by Inge Robinson who explained our agile concept, Hubology and related terms such as: VPS, 5S, CI.

From there, the group made their way to our Shops, Mill and T1 Mine, where they could see some of these employee-driven VPS initiatives in action. At Shops, for example, the group was shown the Drill Bit Carousels by Ed Duscena, machinist T.Q.

The Drill Bit Carousels by Ed Duscena, machinist T.Q, was shown to our distinguished guests from the City as an excellent example of VPS. Photo: Vale Archive

“The bits are like the ones used in handheld drills, but much bigger and heavier, and the carousel is similar to turning racks you might see in a store that hold keys and sunglasses. Before the carousel, bits used to be kept loose and unorganized in a tool box, where they would roll around and get dull. Now, employees can quickly find the bit they need or see what’s missing, and check the condition,” said Luke.

Every area had more and different working examples of VPS initiatives, but the commonality, and what has made VPS such a success, is the inverted pyramid, which was made clear to the visitors.

Problems are opportunities

“We looked at about six improvements in each of the areas, and over and over it was stressed that it’s about people on the floor coming forward,” said Luke, adding, “and about keeping it simple.”

In fact, the brilliance of these Kaizens is just how simple they can be. “It’s not about complicated problem-solving tools or specific training. It’s about getting people engaged and identifying what’s normal and abnormal. Once that’s clear, you can start working on making the problem – which we like to call opportunities – better.”

Speaking of opportunities, this very tour was a great opportunity for our company to help the community in which we operate. “We are living up to our values – Improve Together, Do What is Right, Make it Happen,” said Luke, adding “most of us here at Vale live in Thompson. If we can help the City improve processes, not just provide monetary help, it will have lasting positive effects on the city, and everyone. It’s win-win.”

In an email from Anthony McInnis, City manager, City of Thompson, he wrote: “Thank you for taking the time to introduce us to VPS, what you’ve learned from it and the benefits to your business. The enthusiasm and morale of your team was infectious, and was made very clear to the City team.”

If the City decides to implement their own version of VPS, Luke said our company will have boots on the ground, ready to support.

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