Who are the great women in the world of steel? In this series, we ask them to step into the limelight. The steel industry may long have been a bit more on the conservative side, but this is changing fast. These days, it is only right that Metals Magazine reflect the global trend toward an even more diverse and powerful workforce in steel production.
How did you get started in the metals industry?
Giselle Confort de Vasconcelos: I studied chemical engineering at the University of Rio de Janeiro and came to Primetals Technologies 15 years ago as a trainee. In my eighth year of working at the nickel plating facility, I was invited to join the development team tasked with improving the nickel plating processes. The project was a success. We were able to increase the quality of the treated plates quite considerably.
What were the specifics of this early project?
De Vasconcelos: I was given one month to determine why some of the copper parts we were treating were showing porosity. I compared the ideal scenario for nickel plating with the operational procedures at the time. It soon became clear that several improvements could be made. The chemical composition of the solution used for the nickel bath was not always optimal.
How did you go about finding a solution?
De Vasconcelos: I created smaller versions of the nickel plating tank to conduct experiments and got great results. We then changed one of the production tanks, and the results were equally good. From there, step by step, the entire facility was upgraded. We also changed many procedures we had in place—filter cleaning, carbon treatment, checking the pH levels, and more. Finally, I instructed my colleagues on how to execute nickel plating so that the new approach would be consistently and properly implemented.
What’s your current role at Primetals Technologies?
De Vasconcelos: I oversee all technological aspects of the workshop at the company’s Santa Cruz location and was made a Key Expert for copper repair in July 2022.
What is your most recent innovation?
De Vasconcelos: In terms of the nickel plating facility, we are currently working on developing measuring equipment that can determine the thickness of the nickel layer during the coating process—while the copper parts are in the nickel bath. I have visited nickel plating facilities in the U.S.A. and Germany to study this side of the process in greater detail and have the impression that everyone would like to use the kind of device we are working on. We have now completed the drawings and expect to build the first round of prototypes soon.
As my career developed, my personality became even more relevant. These days, it is crucial for me to keep learning and to be open to exploring new things.”
How important was your training in terms of enabling you to create new solutions?
De Vasconcelos: It is a mixture of personality and training. If the team is facing a problem, we work together toward finding a solution. Our management lets us take ownership and run the necessary experiments. This is how we pioneer new technologies and processes. Having said that, my training was instrumental at the beginning of my career because I needed to apply that specific expertise. As my career developed, my personality became more relevant since I learned more and more about areas that were new to me at the time. Being open to exploring new things is now really crucial.
Do you work systematically toward new ideas, or do they just come to you “out of the blue?”
De Vasconcelos: New solutions do not come out of nowhere. When I was confronted with the early issues around nickel plating at Primetals Technologies, it was very obvious what had to be done. With the new kind of measuring device mentioned earlier, I had this idea but needed to collaborate with my colleagues to find out how we could design and build such a tool. I would say that both principles are true and should ideally be combined to come up with something that works well.
Are there any “tricks” you use to promote creativity and inventiveness?
De Vasconcelos: Having good relationships with your colleagues and project partners is important. When everyone is in a good mood and wants to share new ideas, the outcome is usually better. An encouraging environment can be a powerful enabler of innovation.
In your view, is creativity something you are born with, or something acquired by training?
De Vasconcelos: I think that some people are born creative and then—for instance—become artists. Most regular people also have a creative side but need to hone their skills, branch out, and learn new things. This is especially true when complex processes are involved. Metals production, of course, is full of complexity.
Having good relationships with your colleagues and project partners is important. When everyone is in a good mood and wants to share new ideas, the outcome is usually better.”
What is the main source of inspiration for your work?
De Vasconcelos: I think I was born with the desire to make things better—promoting change comes naturally to me. But I also like to surround myself with people who are driven to improve the reality we live in.
Do you see innovation as the result of the work done by certain outstanding individuals or by a larger
De Vasconcelos: The larger group. There is nothing more impactful than the combined experience and knowledge of a group of exceptional people. Complicated problems are almost always too big for any one person to resolve on their own.
Is there any new technological area—outside of metals production—that you are fascinated by?
De Vasconcelos: Yes, the field of medicine. A lot of progress is currently being made with medical equipment, especially related to surgery. Operations can now be performed from hundreds of kilometers away. Also, the development of the Covid vaccines—especially the speed with which they were created—is incredible.
Can you name any inventor, scientist, or entrepreneur that you admire?
De Vasconcelos: There are so many! Albert Einstein of course—he is a great one—but also Nils Bohr, Marie Curie, Earnest Rutherford, …. the list goes on!
What’s next for you, and what are the projects you are currently working on?
De Vasconcelos: There are two major welding-related projects concerning caster equipment. We want to automate our welding operations even more. Currently, there is still a substantial amount of manual labor involved. Our aim is to automate almost every aspect of the welding process and to achieve ever higher levels of product quality for our customers and partners.
Where it all started…
Giselle Confort de Vasconcelos’ first steps into the metals industry began at college, where a teacher explained to her the inner workings of a steel plant. She immediately found metallurgy fascinating and began to think about a career working with blast furnaces. However, in her last year of studying chemical engineering, she heard that Primetals Technologies was operating a nickel plating facility in Rio de Janeiro’s Santa Cruz area and got in contact with the company. The rest is history: de Vasconcelos dramatically improved the way the location’s nickel plating tanks were run, making a major contribution to the quality of the metallurgical services provided by the Santa Cruz workshop.
Having made a name for herself in the field of nickel plating, de Vasconcelos was given the opportunity to branch out and take responsibility for additional aspects of the processes executed at the Santa Cruz workshop. She saw the development as a chance to continue learning new things and to make additional improvements to processes and workflows—something she cares deeply about. The photo to the right shows de Vasconcelos standing next to a new welding machine she was instrumental in acquiring and integrating into existing workshop procedures. The machine is called the “T-800,” and the team likes to joke that the “T” stands for “Terminator.” It’s a powerful device.
Improving the Workshop
The projects that de Vasconcelos executed in her first 15 years at Primetals Technologies were so successful that she was promoted to “Key Expert” for copper repair in July 2022. Nickel plating remains close to her heart, but these days, her responsibilities go far beyond the field of nickel plating alone. In fact, she is currently in charge of all technological aspects of the workshop. De Vasconcelos oversees all of the workshop’s processes, ensures that new solutions are implemented swiftly and properly, and keeps pushing the limits in terms of the overall capabilities of the workshop. It is a busy life that she leads, but her track record clearly shows she would not have it any other way.