Ceramic Industry

A Century of Alumina

January 1, 2011
Almatis recently celebrated the 100th anniversary of its specialty alumina business. CEO Remco de Jong discusses the company's first sale and what the future holds for the company and the alumina market.



de Jong

Almatis' specialty alumina business began in 1910 when its predecessor, Alcoa, made the first sales of calcined alumina products for non-aluminum applications. This was the beginning of the alumina chemicals business. One hundred years later, Almatis has become a global producer of premium alumina, with nine plants and a diverse product portfolio serving its target markets in the refractories, ceramic, polishing, and carpet industries around the world.

"The prime reason for our success was and still is the close working relationship we established with our customers," says Remco de Jong, CEO. "Let me take the opportunity to thank all of our customers, who continue to rely/count on us for reliable delivery of quality products and superior technical support."

The Almatis success story and the company's leading position in the industry is distinguished by 10 decades of research and development in commercializing new uses of alumina, as well as continued investments in process and product innovations.

"The specialty alumina business is rebounding from the recession and has a bright future," asserts de Jong. "Almatis will continue our legacy of providing customers with premium alumina products."

What was the initial main application for alumina, and how has this changed over time?

The year 1910 is considered the beginning of Alcoa's alumina chemicals business, when Alcoa made its first sale of alumina for non-aluminum use, some 24 years after the aluminum industry was founded. The product was calcined alumina, which was used by the customer for production of fused alumina abrasives. Since then, many new technologies have been developed to produce a variety of synthetic high-alumina products such as tabular and reactive aluminas, spinels, high-alumina cements, and specialty calcined aluminas that are used in the refractories, ceramics, polishing, paper, and plastic industries in numerous applications. Proudly, Almatis can say that we were on the forefront of developing these specialty products that are abundantly used in so many industries today.

What are the main uses for the company's alumina today?

The majority of our alumina is sold for multiple applications within the refractories industry. The remainder of our sales are within ceramics and polishing, as well as some other specialty industries. The ceramics and polishing market is the most diverse, with dozens of end-use applications ranging from advanced engineering and electronic ceramics to very standard ceramic applications like whitewares, tiles and glazes.

Where did the Almatis name come from?

It is an acronym for "Alumina Materials, Innovative Solutions." Over the years, our alumina expertise has enabled us to find innovative product solutions for our customers' applications. We wanted our new name to combine all the meaningful elements of what the company symbolizes, so the name Almatis was formed.

How is Almatis different from other supplier companies?

Our expertise lies in the production of a broad portfolio of synthetic high- alumina materials such as tabular, reactive and calcined aluminas; spinels; and high-alumina cements. We develop new products to provide our customer base with opportunities to further upgrade their product portfolio and stay ahead of their competition. Our technical support and application knowledge sets us apart from our competitors, particularly in the developing regions of the world. We share our expertise with our customers in an effort to help them better understand the product technology we offer and how it can help enhance their own products.

What is the corporate philosophy?

Our corporate slogan is "Think alumina, think Almatis." Since we were the pioneer for specialty alumina materials, when the industry thinks of alumina, we want them to think of Almatis. We continue to provide cost-effective premium aluminas to the market, along with our technical support and expertise. We proactively work to develop the next generation of alumina materials that will improve the performance of our customers' products. Our philosophy is simple: satisfying our customers by meeting or exceeding their requirements is our number-one priority. This enables the company to achieve growth in existing as well as new businesses.

You have attributed Almatis' success to its close relationship with its customers. What do you do to form these strong bonds with your customers?

Relationships are built over time. We have worked closely with many of our customers for years to understand how our solutions can enhance their businesses with higher performance products. Customers are able to work directly with our technical experts in our labs to develop new products to suit new applications. This process is not a one-time event; it is an ongoing partnership of working together to learn from each other and apply these discoveries to the benefit of the ultimate end users. The results are alumina-based materials that benefit us, our customers, and their end users.

What is the current status of the company's Chapter 11 filing? What progress has been made thus far?

We are happy to report that Almatis emerged from Chapter 11 on September 30, 2010. We came out of this process as a stronger company with significantly reduced debt and a very robust business operation. With this sound financial footing, we are able to invest in and pursue growth opportunities for the business. We were really appreciative of our customers, suppliers and business partners who supported us throughout the process. With this behind us, our full attention is now devoted to positioning the company for growth in all regions of the world.

How did the global recession affect the specialty alumina business? Has your company seen improvements?

The global economic recession hit our company toward the end of 2008 in all regions of the world. By the second half of 2009, we saw a strong recovery in most of Asia and, by early 2010, we saw a strong recovery in the other parts of the globe. Frankly, the recovery happened faster than anyone originally anticipated. This created some challenges for our business in ensuring that production, feedstock requirements and inventories were aligned to provide the type of service customers have come to expect. We had some hiccups, as did many of our customers and competitors, but we were able to ramp up production to meet the demand. We see ourselves well-positioned to meet the forecasted demand for 2011.

How did the company celebrate its 100-year anniversary?

We celebrated this special occasion with an around-the-world party throughout the company that started in Japan and ended in the U.S. Each Almatis location held an employee "We are Almatis" celebration with regional food specialties, tributes, commemorative gifts and sharing of stories about our experiences throughout the years. This event will continue to remind us of our team spirit, the responsibility we carry and the working culture within our company. Our people are the cornerstones of our success and we wanted to recognize them and include them in celebrating this significant achievement of 100 years in the alumina business.

What is the future for Almatis?

We are pleased to share with you that we have broken ground on a new calcined alumina plant in China. The calcined alumina plant is the next step of our expansion in Asia and will bring more of our production capacity closer to our customers.

Besides our expansion in Asia, we are working on some exciting new products. We will, for instance, expand our aggregate portfolio in Europe with a new and unique aggregate that can be used in a range of refractories applications. The increasing global focus on energy conservation is a strong driver for our super-lightweight aggregate based on calcium hexaluminate. We further believe that the quality of our latest top-of-the-line calcined aluminas is the benchmark for the ceramic industry. New product developments are not only occurring in our traditionally strong refractories and ceramic markets, but we have also recently introduced some interesting aluminas for polishing applications.

We want to continue to be the global market leader for specialty aluminas and be recognized for innovation, premium quality and reliability.

For more information, visit www.almatis.com.

Links