Markets, Minerals, and Technology
Published: Wednesday, 03 August 2016
The past decade has presented some interesting challenges for mineral-dependent industries like ceramics and refractories. Demand has varied substantially for all industries, and this has had a huge impact on the consumption of key minerals needed for steel production as well as of mineral-based products like refractories.
Wide fluctuation in mineral demand leads to wide swings in
mineral indexes. This past decade has seen consolidation of
mineral suppliers and more efforts by companies and
governments to adjust available supply to demand. The
advantage of consolidated supply is to enable the industry to
adjust supply up or down in response to demand, with the goal
of insuring a more stable price of the commodity mineral.
This was not always the result, however.
While opening and closing capacity to adjust for demand
may seem like a simple process, it becomes much harder when
the markets creating the demand change at the same pace.
Rather than being a stabilizing influence, consolidation can
lead to volatility. So how do industries that use minerals
adapt? The short answer is technology. When price exceeds
value, consumers react by supporting initiatives that reduce
their demand. A great example is the way the automobile
industry has evolved in response to rising crude oil prices.
While this type of evolution is not always so straightforward
in many industrial applications, the same dynamics are at
Though science and technology are the clear solution,
it’s also true that technology programs are a
finite asset. When they are used in reaction to short-term
price fluctuations, they are less available for other
critical long-term needs, like making better, safer, more
environmentally friendly products or developing novel
solutions to industry problems. This may well mean that
technology has not advanced as much in the past ten years as
would have been expected. Instead, industries have been
forced to direct their efforts toward demands caused by
unstable and unreliable commodity and mineral
These challenges have underscored the importance of
industry collaboration to ensure that innovations advance in
line with each other. Having the flexibility to adjust
quickly to short-term market dynamics is also key. With these
new realities in mind, HarbisonWalker International is
reigniting innovation and new product development. With an
influx of new technology solutions and a commitment to new
technologies in its labs and engineering centers,
HarbisonWalker International will be amply prepared to serve
its customers through the next wild swing.