Welcome to a very festive Steel Times International, courtesy of MTAG of Switzerland.
This month's issue carries coverage of the 48th World Steel Conference, which was held this year in Moscow and offered Peter Marcus, managing partner of US-based World Steel Dynamics, the perfect platform to lay some good news on delegates – the good news being that, where automotive is concerned, the aluminium industry's giggles will soon turn to grimaces. Why? Because what Marcus called the 'soft panache' surrounding the marketing of the F-150 truck has concealed the inherent price and cost sensitivities of the 'miracle metal'.
Where automotive is concerned, the steel industry should win through, argues Marcus, thanks to the development of advanced high strength steels and the fact that weight savings do not mean major MPG savings and let's not forget – aluminium is not cheap.
While not covered in the print edition, readers will find Hans Jurgen Kerkhoff's report – entitled Low growth and high volatility – on this very website under the features section. Kerkhoff claims that low growth might be the 'new normal' until the emerging economies pick up.
STI's World Steel conference coverage is rounded off with an exclusive interview. Axel Eggert is EUROFER's new director-general following the departure of Gordon Moffat. According to Eggert, the EU needs to make the right decisions now if it wants the steel industry to further invest in Europe.
Hans Mueller reports from New Orleans where he attended the 2nd DRI and Minimill Conference, organised by Metal Bulletin. According to Mueller, DRI (Direct Reduced Iron) is of special interest in parts of North America where new drilling methods have led to increased extraction, and a sharp drop in the price of natural gas, which is a major cost element in the production of DRI.
Dr. Tim Smith, former editor of Steel Times International, took a trip to Spain recently to meet with Siderex (The Spanish Association of Steelworks Exporters). In his report, he says that, prior to the 2008 recession, Spain's equipment manufacturers had largely switched from domestic supply to exports. Where processing equipment is concerned, 80 to 90% of output is now exported and only 10 to 20% destined for domestic sales – the reverse of the pre-2008 era. Today, the main markets are Asia, the Middle East, Turkey and Russia – not Europe.
Myra Pinkham, one of our USA correspondents, interviews John Correnti, CEO of Big River Steel who prefers to call his EAF facility in Osceola, Arkansas a flexi-mill, not a minimill.
Also in the November/December issue, Martin McVicar, managing director of Combilift, says that steel will always have a place in automotive manufacturing. "The only way to get strength into a compact vehicle is by using steel," he argues, adding that Combilift plans to purchase 15,000 tonnes of steel to construct its own vehicles.
The R&D Centre for Iron & Steel at Steel Authority of India Ltd (SAIL) offers an interesting article entitled Simulation studies in Hot Dip Process Simulator on Al-Si Coatings.
We also have two regional updates this month from China and India.
And finally we conclude with Dr. Tim Smith's excellent History Page article on transporter bridges. It's heartening to note that transporter bridges are still very much with us.
US steel companies are expected to do well this year, according to a report by Steel Times International's USA correspondent who talks about an 'American steel rennaissance' linked to the controversial practice of fracking. The American Midwest is said to be enjoying an economic boom as well as a rebound in construction spending – and it looks as if the steel industry as a whole is taking a head-on approach towards the issue of aluminium versus steel in the automotive industry.
US steel companies are aggressively courting and forming partnerships with automobile companies in response to attempts by the aluminium industry to project the light metal as a substitute for steel in automobile manufacturing.
In this month's Q&A interview (with Oerlikon's Uwe Zollig) Mr Zollig says 'we will continue to see steel in cars for some time' even if he does believe that the amount of steel used per car will decrease as manufacturers favour aluminium and composite materials.
Myra Pinkham, in her article on steel markets, argues that the success of the US domestic steel market depends upon infrastructure development. She reports, however, that US infrastructure investment as a percentage of GDP is at its lowest level in more than 20 years.
In an article about steel service centres in the USA, Pinkham argues that they are offering more value-added services instead of being solely dependent upon their inventories and are managing potential risks and broadening the scope of the products they offer.
A report from Latin America highlights 'a good macro-economic performance' in Columbia where 'things are looking good' as a 'new wave of investment' enables domestic producers to reduce market share currently dominated by imports.
There are some interesting technical features in this issue starting with an article by ThyssenKrupp's head of coke oven development, Ralf Neuwirth. Mr Neuwirth argues that high capacity coke ovens offer many advantages including reduced emissions, less coal towers, less quench systems and less oven machines, not forgetting lower personnel requirements and an extended operational lifetime.
Another article on ironmaking – this time from Hatch – examines how steelmakers can extend the campaign life of their blast furnace. Hatch argues that the opportunity of extend blast furnace life and increase output at low cost led to the widespread introduction of copper staves. Unfortunately, their reliability is questionable following premature failures caused by abrasive wear of the hot face occuring during the first 10 years of operation. The solution might lie in the development, by Hatch, of an online accretion measurement tool.
Where stainless steels are concerned, Sandvik Materials Technology's Eduardo Perea, the company's global technical and marketing manager, argues that research and development delivers increased corrosion resistance.
Lastly, the issue carries an abstract of an article by Oerlikon that looks into the explosion risk of vacuum degassing. The full article can be found on the Steel Times International website.
In this month's Q&A we hear from Uwe Zollig, head of global market segment process at Oerlikon, who argues that automotive steel will remain competitive in the face of stiff competition from aluminium and composite materials.
Last but not least, Harry Hodson writes about Victorian ironware for this month's History page.
The main focus of this month's edition of Steel Times International is Mexico. To quote a few paragraphs from my September leader article, ' the image of Mexico – generated largely by the media – as a dusty old place full of sleepy men in sombreros answering mañana to any request made of them is, today, far removed from reality.'
Mexico is said to be moving out of the doldrums thanks to structural reforms to strategic segments of its economy and renewed levels of dynamism. That big names in the global automotive industry, such as Audi, Daimler-Nissan and BMW, have established a foothold in Mexico, can only be good news for the country's developing steel industry.
Mexico has long been a signatory to the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and is well-placed geographically in relation to North America, South America and Canada.
This month's issue of Steel Times International contains a 29-page special supplement on Mexico covering all aspects of the country's business environment in relation to steel production.
Outside of Mexico, we are covering the International Stainless Steel Forum's 18th annual conference and carry an interesting article by Outokumpo on its recently completed 100 million Euro equipment upgrade at its stainless steel plate mill in Degerfors, Sweden. The investment, claims the company, will deliver both cost savings and a wide range of benefits for stainless steel plate customers.
There are also two interesting articles on the subject of rolling. First, there is an article by Steel Authority of India Ltd's Research & Development Centre for Iron and Steel on the company's Durgapur merchant mill. There is also an article by Russula's Jens P Nylander on how new technology can increase production capacity.
Manik Mehta reports on the Success Steel Strategies XXIX conference, attended by, among others, ArcelorMittal's Lakshmi Mittal who rather eloquently described steel as 'the fabric of life'.
The subject of this month's Perspectives Q&A is Kevin Guay, senior sales engineer (research and development) of USA-based Plattco who claims he is very optimistic about the progress being made by the steel industry to address the challenge of complying with new and more stringent environmental regulations.
Dr. Tim Smith, Steel Times' consultant editor, writes about Ireland's early blast furnaces for this month's History page and, as usual, we have a number of news update features on the USA, Latin America, China and Japan.