But there may also be increased recognition of the value basis of refractories. Vert3 stated that “refractories are moving from a commodity bought by the pound to an engineered material that must be designed for every single customer.” And the purchasing efforts likely will become increasingly competitive and global, based on the e-commerce options available for obtaining raw materials and consumable supplies.4 A conference on “The e-Commerce/e-Business Revolution in the Steel Industry” is being offered by Gorham Conferences (207-892-5445, www.goradv.com), October 16-18, 2000, which seemingly could provide useful insights into the future direction of business dealings with the steel industry. And concerning the technology of steelmaking, Simmons has predicted that steel industry changes will be mostly evolutionary and not revolutionary in the next decade, i.e., no blockbuster technologies are looming on the horizon.
Many of the ceramic engineering programs have been eliminated or merged into materials science programs, which involve coverage of a range of subjects (ceramics, metals, polymers). As a result, the number of university students who acquire a knowledge of, or get any laboratory or field experience with, refractories has decreased significantly. Another trend is the employment of graduates from other scientific and non-scientific fields, such as geology, chemistry, history, business, etc., to fulfill technical staffing needs.
Whatever the case, the need for expedited refractory-specific training has increased, and is more commonly being filled by on- or off-site workshops and short courses (introductory and advanced), in-house mentoring, textbooks, videos, CD-ROMs, websites and combinations thereof. But the continued advancement and success of any technical/manufacturing industry requires a supply of energetic, creative, qualified and capable people—the lifeblood of industry. So it is important to take the necessary steps to lobby and employ the best people possible.
Given the success and worldwide attraction of the Unified International Technical Conference on Refractories (UNITECR), the premier refractories congress, the six proceedings provide an excellent resource for learning about and monitoring the state of refractories technology. The next UNITECR meeting, sponsored by ALAFAR, is scheduled for Cancun, Mexico, November 4-8, 2001.