The global refractories industry is in urgent need of skilled
professionals and innovative momentum, delegates at the
14th UNITECR held in the Austrian capital, Vienna,
heard in September.
Addressing industry representatives from more than 50
countries on the topic of securing the refractories
sector’s future, professor Anja Geigenmuller, head
of marketing at Ilmenau Technical University in Germany, said
that the industry is desperately in need of skills and
"Companies cannot conduct research during their day-to-day
operations," she said and called on companies to allocate time,
resources and personnel to R&D.
"We also need to bring the results of research into the
industry community, so we can discuss outcomes and learn for
the future," she said.
On recruitment, Geigenmuller stressed that the sector is not
just in need of engineers. "We want people from a range of
professional backgrounds," she said, pointing out that there
are many opportunities in refractories and that the industry
will benefit from having access to a wide skill set.
Institutions like the Ilmenau Technical University are using
a range of initiatives to attract people into the refractories
business, from social media campaigns to working with other
independent organisations to spread knowledge and understanding
about the sector.
One such body, the Federation for International Refractory
Research and Education (FIRE), acknowledged that there are
barriers to bringing people into the industry.
Speaking on behalf of FIRE, Chris Parr, vice president for
product development at calcium aluminate specialist Kerneos
Inc., said that one of the main challenges is finding people
who are ready for an international career.
The refractories industry operates on a worldwide basis, he
said, and explained that FIRE runs a number of programmes
designed to encourage research into refractories technologies
while offering a global perspective on the sector.
Another issue facing refractories companies seeking to
deepen or refresh their skills pools is the seemingly uncertain
future of the industry.
Sue Shaw, an analyst at UK-based Roskill Information
Services, said that owing to its maturity and a drop off in
demand from iron and steel makers, refractories consumption is
only likely to grow at a rate of about 1% per annum until
"This isn’t what people necessarily want to
hear when they are looking for a secure career," one chemical
engineer, who works for a global refractories business but
preferred not to be named, told IM.
"When they see other opportunities in sectors like
nanotechnology and pharmaceuticals, many of which pay better
than refractories, it is hard to sell it to students with big
ambitions and big debts."
They added that advances in technology were less of a
concern, however, owing to the accessibility of more
sophisticated equipment and a rich store of research.
"In the end, what advances are made might come down to
questions such as raw materials availability and recycling,
rather than the performance objectives researchers originally
set out to achieve," they said.