More efficient turnarounds: a new spin on tried-and-true technology

Published: Jul 28, 2021

If you’re passing by Nutrien’s Redwater, Alberta Nitrogen plant and see a bunch of people lining up at vending machines, they’re not filling up on snacks, they’re loading up on Personal Protective Equipment (PPE).

As the procurement manager at Nutrien’s Redwater and Fort Saskatchewan Nitrogen facilities, Mitchell McHale is always on the hunt for new and better ways to supply employees with the PPE they need to complete their work safely, efficiently and at a good total value. Sometimes, the best solution is a new spin on an everyday technology that many of us take for granted.

When you think of vending machines, images of grabbing a soft drink or a bag of chips probably come to mind. At the Redwater Nitrogen facility – as well as others across our Nitrogen, Phosphate and Potash operations – they’re using vending machines to access PPE, tools and supplies more quickly, efficiently and safely than can be done using standard practices.

Faster service

Brightly lit vending machine compartments display the PPE and tools in clear view. If it’s what the employee is looking for, he or she need only scan their card to access it. Transactions are automatically recorded through an automated inventory system that ensures the site does not run out of the most sought-after items while maintaining real-time tracking and cost information.

“This solution is a simple but effective example of how strategic procurement can use technology and innovation to add value through efficiency, automation, and total cost of ownership, which is the future of procurement,” says Mitchell. “Our team no longer needs to set up a request for supplies and then wait for another person to go and get it for them. This solution brings new resilience and agility to our people in the face of the dynamic needs of a turnaround (regularly scheduled plant maintenance shutdowns). The vending machines are at the forefront of the work and are a one-stop shop for us.”

That’s great news for the Redwater team – as it avoids line ups for PPE, tools and supplies.

“Employees appreciate the efficiency and automation of the vending machines because it enables them to get back to their work faster and ultimately be more productive. They’re looking forward to using the machines at the site’s turnaround in July,” says Mitchell.

Safer operations, lower costs

The system also reduces the risk of COVID exposure, a top priority at all Nutrien sites.

“Easier and quicker access to personal protective equipment for our employees is the most important aspect from my perspective,” says site General Manager Ron Jennings. “Reducing traffic to our equipment facilities and less hand-to-hand contact when using the vending machines are additional bonuses.”

Not only are there less person-hours of work required with the self-sufficient, automated system, but the infrastructure is supplied through the site’s collaboration with Fastenal Canada vending solutions. The machines are brought to site on a trailer, a 60-by-12-foot mobile store is set up, and Nutrien is provided with the tracking software. The site only pays for what employees use, minimizing the need for excess inventory while also reducing the need for onsite storage space. Then, after the turnaround, they take it all away.

Collaboration is key

Dmitriy Lipes, Fastenal’s District Manager for Northern Alberta, Saskatoon Strategic Branch, is thrilled with the results of their collaboration with Nutrien. “Our 24/7 access trailer, filled with vending machines and automated dispense lockers, provides Nutrien with the best of both worlds – constant product availability paired with security of access and accountability for each dispensed part. We’d like to thank the Redwater team for the fantastic collaboration on this project. I’m confident that Fastenal’s industrial vending solutions will continue to bring value to Nutrien for years to come.”

So, what are the most popular vending machine items? “It’s all about the face shields and disinfectant wipes,” says Mitchell. “And that’s a good thing for all of us.”

Vending Machine