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Remember the days of snail-mail, card catalog searches in libraries, slide rules, graphs made with Leroy lettering sets, rapidograph pens, lantern slides, mimeographed (blue) copies, IBM correcting typewriters, Western Union cablegrams, and all of those other standard operating procedures that were the norm several decades ago? How times have changed as people in the technical world now function comparatively at “light” speed. Today, it is possible to accomplish many tasks instantaneously—anywhere in the world—through the magic of cyberspace. And as the speed, capacity, resolution and other features of the systems continue to improve, the future capabilities will no doubt be even better.
Likewise, the refractories industry has changed significantly, with consolidation, imposed mandates, legal liabilities, domestic and global competition, and changing purchasing practices by customers (including demands for guarantees and reduced prices), to name but a few. The continuing “cyber revolution” is also having a major positive impact because of the many opportunities it offers for the refractories industry. It provides benefits that now affect every aspect of the business and technology on a daily basis.
Searching for RefractoriesIn the April 2000 issue of CI, I discussed “Refractories in Cyberspace.” Because of the many changes and improvements since then, it is worth revisiting the subject to provide an update. In the year 2000, searches for the word “refractory” on Altavista, MSN and Lycos yielded 42,850, 26,993 and 14,604 hits, respectively. Today, those same searches yield 184,998, 149,806 and 556,304 hits, respectively, indicating there has been a significant increase in the amount of refractories information available online.
Recent searches on Google, another popular search engine, yielded 313,000 hits for “refractory,” 234,000 for “alumina,” 8890 for “fused alumina” and 15,100 for “alumina refractory.” Using these and other search engines, it is clear that it is now possible to quickly obtain a wide diversity of general and specific refractory information, whether in the comfort of your office or with a laptop while traveling. The efficiency and capabilities of refractory technologists, technicians, sales people, managers, executives and others have been greatly enhanced.
Refractory SitesMany websites are dedicated specifically to the refractories industry. The website of the Refractories Institute, located at http://www.refractoriesinstitute.org, promotes the interests of the refractories community, provides service and support to the industry, and offers the option of contacting the organization online for further information.
Refractories information is also available at http://www.usa-ros.com, which offers refractory selling and purchasing options to provide a method for locating needed products and/or selling un-needed, stockpiled materials. Another site, http://www.worldrefractories.com, is an independent portal for the refractories and allied industries that is intended to facilitate the confluence of buyers and sellers worldwide. This site offers commercial information and opportunities, current technical and marketing news, a calendar of events, and the opportunity to have questions answered by refractory experts.
A host of refractory-related links can also be found on the Ceramic Industry website. The sites of many of the companies listed on the Refractories Review page include product information, data sheets, company news and online ordering capabilities.
Government SitesVarious branches of the U.S. government maintain sites that also offer information useful to those in the refractories industry. Annual U.S. refractory production statistics can be found at the Department of Census website, http://www.census.gov/cir/www/327/ma327c.html; the most recent data are for 2001. While the www.patents.ibm.com site is no longer available, another option for searching U.S. patents is the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office site at http://www.uspto.gov. Text is available for review for patents granted since 1976. Searching this site revealed that the word “refractory” has appeared in 49,911 patents granted since 1790.
Despite ongoing changes, many of the basic principles for the industry have remained the same through the years, including the need to (a) earn a profit, (b) improve the properties and reduce the cost of refractory formulations, (c) optimize manufacturing and installation, (d) develop new products, (e) maintain good communications and (f) maintain excellent quality control and customer service, to name a few. But certainly the options are unlimited for maintaining and growing business efficiently, whether in limited markets or globally, with the broad capabilities provided by the electronic technologies of today.