Virtual Refractories Roundtable
Ceramic Industry LinkedIn group members share their thoughts on issues affecting the worldwide refractories industry.
Virtual, online communications are becoming increasingly necessary in our global industry. It can be a challenge to schedule meetings or even conference calls with various people located in different time zones around the world. Luckily, various available technologies such as social media platforms can help facilitate far-reaching communication. Case in point: I recently posed a serious of refractories-related questions to our Ceramic Industry group on LinkedIn (over 15,000 members strong), and I’m pleased to share some of the group members’ responses with you here.
How is the refractories industry affected by the global economy?
Philip Walls, Managing Director, Hitech Materials Pty. Ltd.: Being an enabling technology, refractory materials development and production are closely tied to how well end user industries are performing in their respective global markets (e.g., iron and steel, minerals, cement, glass, chemicals, molten metals, waste incineration, etc.). Such a wide portfolio reduces risk to some degree, but other factors, such as competition, mergers and increased production in developing countries, constantly change the manufacturing landscape.
The constant improvement in refractory properties has led to longer campaign life and reduced consumption over time. Fortunately, there is also a trend toward processing materials at higher temperatures, or in more corrosive atmospheres, so there are still opportunities for high-value-add advanced refractories in these markets.
Barbara Cashman, Owner, GlasTile Inc.: I could reply to this on the basis of responding to the “global community” rather than the global economy, although one drives the other. The focus on safety and environmental impact, for us, has carried more weight than price. Our product line consists of a non-carcinogenic refractory fiber blanket, for example. It is more costly, but more globally friendly. We see the trend toward safe refractories as the future of our industry, on many levels and across many markets.
Amrik Singh, Owner, RGC Consultants: The global economy has been in turmoil last few years, which has affected steel, glass and other consuming industries. Moreover, rigorous pollution control in most countries has increased the cost of the refractories and refractories raw materials, severely impacting their capacity utilization. The improved refractories being developed have significantly lowered the unit consumption of all the refractories, further shrinking the production capacity. One ray of bright hope is developing countries, where the cost of manufacture of all refractories is still under control.
Valmy Oliveira, Independent Consultant: Steel and cement are still the major markets for refractories and should continue to be so for the foreseeable future. The global economy in its cycles will be adjusting the size and needs of those markets as it has done in previous situations.
The current installed overcapacity is likely to continue for a number of years, and that situation points to some trends in the refractories industry. First was the shift toward low-cost materials and the associated lower performance focus. The overcapacity means that the pressure to extend the life of equipment in operation is no longer the main focus of most clients. That led to a diminishing interest in most investments in the area and the consequent lower demand for refractory materials. Mergers and acquisitions are just a consequence for the refractory sector, which is still not as consolidated as the steel and cement sector already are.
Manoj Chitre, Production, Lloyd Insulations India Ltd.: Competition of low-cost supplies and modified practices is adding fuel to the slowdown of the refractories industry. For example, there is significant population of CCM in this part of India. There is a change in the lining practice of steel ladles. Previously, they were being lined with alumina bricks. To reduce cost, they are being lined with silica ramming mass, thereby reducing alumina refractory consumption while increasing silica ramming mass. Steel manufacturing costs/MT are reduced, but this is impacting refractories manufacturers.
Daniel Kanosky, President, PRC USA: From the position of my company, PC Korea, we were very negatively impacted when China acted to control the production of magnesite. Being a smaller, family company, we were not able stockpile fused MgO and were forced to stop production. In this case, China, as part of the global economy, was able to influence an entire industry.
We are now just recovering after a year of very serious effort by the owners to find the financing to continue. The global economy will be forced to absorb much higher production costs as a result of this action by the world’s major supplier of raw materials.
What technological innovation(s) are providing benefits for today’s refractories manufacturers?
Christoph Duwe, UltraTest GmbH: Ultrasonic pulse velocity measurement can result in benefits for refractories manufacturers. Applications include the 100% non-destructive testing (NDT) of refractories products and strength development measurements of fresh material.
Ivo Schram, Senior Process Technologist, Ovens and Dryers, Wienerberger: 3D printing of silicon carbide (SiC) material offers great opportunity concerning burner nozzles compared to casted pieces. Dimensions are far more exact, and small changes can be done in the short term. We achieved nice results in temperature uniformity in a roof tile tunnel kiln.
What is one key trend that will influence the refractories industry in the next few years?
Cashman: I still believe that the future of refractories relies on the responsibility of refractory manufacturers to protect the user and the environment by focusing on non- or less-hazardous materials, especially in under-developed countries where natural resources are particularly susceptible to contamination.
To learn more about the Ceramic Industry group on LinkedIn, visit www.linkedin.com/groups/1939109.
Editor’s note: Thank you to everyone who participated in this virtual roundtable! If you would like to take part in future similar opportunities, please contact me at (248) 786-1704 or firstname.lastname@example.org.