Refractories are key production components that are integral to the recovery of America’s manufacturing sector. In the short term, the $2.6 billion refractory industry will face significant challenges as its largest market, iron and steel production, slows. In the US, sales of refractories used in iron and steel production will be weakened by the decline in the production of fracking-related steel pipe, while on a global scale, refractory suppliers will experience more limited sales opportunities as China idles 100-150 million tons of steel capacity by 2020 — an amount larger than the entire US output. To combat these issues, refractory manufacturers are adopting new strategies.
One strategy is product optimization. Refractory manufacturers are employing advanced materials to improve the durability and lifespan of refractories, making them more attractive, safer long-term investments for iron and steel producers. In addition, manufacturers are improving their installation techniques to reduce downtime, allowing producers to be more flexible with their product mix.
Refractory producers are also diversifying their market base and targeting producers of materials other than iron and steel. Nonmetallics such as cement, mineral, and lime have attracted considerable attention, with cement in particular expected to drive future refractory sales. Both cement manufacturers and refractory producers are anticipating an increase in infrastructure spending. This past December, President Obama signed the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation Act, or FAST Act, into law. This is the first long-term infrastructure spending bill in over a decade, and is expected to be the first of several. The FAST Act will offer cement producers, and by extension refractory manufacturers, a stable business environment through 2020, when the law is scheduled to expire.
Interested to Learn More?
Download my presentation Examining Next Generation Refractories from the 2016 Ceramics Expo. This presentation provides additional information on the macroeconomic environment, historical performance, and future market opportunities for refractory producers.
About the Author
Kyle Peters is an Industry Analyst at the Freedonia Group, a division of MarketResearch.com, and the author of the comprehensive study Refractories. He recently moderated the panel on refractory materials at the Ceramics Expo.