There are plenty of jokes online that follow that tried and tested formula of delivering the bad news followed by the good. Like the joke about the man who visits his doctor for a physical and is told he has cancer and Alzheimer's. "Well, at least I don't have cancer," the man replies. Or the man in hospital who is told that both his legs must be removed, the good news being that the man in the next bed wants to buy his trainers.
The global steel industry at present suffers from a goodnews/bad news ailment. There are snippets of good news floating around, but the doom and gloom of overcapacity and plant closures persist and things start to resemble a huge pair of scales or a see-saw dipping one way and then the other. Life, as they say, has its ups and downs. You must take the rough with the smooth or, to quote the late Lemmy Kilmister from Motörhead, "You win some, you lose some, it's all the same to me."
In Brazil, the steel industry is being described as an 'endless nightmare' with the Brazilian Steel Institute's executive president telling delegates at ACO Brazil's 27th annual conference that 74 facilities were temporarily or permanently idled in 2014 and 2015, including five blast furnaces, eight steel shops, 14 rolling mills, one coke oven battery and one sintering plant. An additional 23 closures were planned for H1 2016, writes Germano Mendes de Paula in this issue.
The good news for Brazil is that 2018 will mark the start of a sustainable recovery.
While delegates at Steel Success Strategies XXXI in the USA were relieved to discover that the conference was not 'all about China', the saga of China's steel dumping continues despite political and legal steps taken by US steelmakers to curb unwanted Chinese steel. And the good news? The AISI reports that US steel mill shipments in September were up 2.6%.
As Jimmy Cricket, the 1970s Irish comedian, used to say, "there's more". In fact, the bad news for the British Steel industry was Tata Steel's decision, earlier in the year, to pull out of the UK.
The good news? British Steel, which rose out of the ashes of Tata Steel UK's long products division, recently announced massive investment and a return to profit for the year ending March 2017. Here's hoping for more good news as we head towards 2017.
Global steel conferences. I've been to a few in my time and they have all been very inspiring in so many ways. As a magazine editor, the big steel events, such as this month's annual World Steel Association Conference in Dubai, and the CRU World Steel Conference, held every March, are two crucial events for any self-respecting journalist wishing to gain a broad understanding of the current state of the steel industry. There are, of course, many others... and now there's one more.
Steel Times International is to run its own conference, but it's not going to tread on the hallowed ground of the aforementioned established events – perish the thought! Rather than focus on the broader issues tackled by many conferences – China springs to mind – we will focus upon technology, and not 'technology' in the wider sense of casting and rolling, but something known as Industry 4.0, or 'smart manufacturing' as they call it in the USA.
Industry 4.0 might sound like a software package you can pick up from a PC store (life's not that easy) but it's much more than that; in fact, it is best described as a philosophy embracing a variety of different aspects of digitalisation, which, when joined together, form a digital manufacturing platform that brings with it greater control and greater efficiencies. In short, we're talking about the fourth industrial revolution. Industry 4.0 is the next stage in the evolution of industrialisation.
How well the global steel industry has embraced the technologies behind Industry 4.0 depends a great deal on who you talk to; some say not enough, while others state that steel, more so than any other manufacturing sector, is well-positioned and clued up to make the most out of the elements involved (big data, the internet of things, cyber security and so on); it's all a matter of 'connectivity' – another important buzzword associated with Industry 4.0.
But there is a need for discussion and that's why we have decided to run the Future Steel Forum in Warsaw, Poland, 14-15 June 2017. I am developing the conference programme and I want to hear from anybody keen on presenting a paper.
Email me today for more details.
Editor, Steel Times International
I worry about our so-called ‘political elite’ and its ability to ‘do the right thing’. Like a lot of people I was disappointed with the result of the UK’s EU referendum.
While it’s good to see ‘democracy at work’, the decision to leave the EU appears to be because there are many people living in the UK whose needs and concerns are simply ignored by those in positions of power. June 23 was payback time.
Turning the political status quo on its head appears to be a global trend and one that can be predicted, it seems, simply by working out what would be the worst outcome and then betting on it. So, the UK leaving the EU – not a great idea, but hey ho, it’s happened. The nightmare has become reality. What’s next? Donald Trump – considered a joke candidate to be voted leader of the free world, but guess what? It’s looking increasingly likely.
When it comes to the global steel industry, the common wisdom is that giving China Market Economy Status (MES) would not be a good idea. Last week in Brussels the European Economic and Social Committee (EESC), an influential group whose opinion is valued by European Commission officials in charge of decision-making, called for the abolition of the lesser duty rule and the need to enhance the effectiveness and efficiency of trade defence instruments. “Enough is enough. We have to save our steel,” said Andrés Barceló, rapporteur of the EESC opinion on Steel: Preserving sustainable jobs and growth in Europe. He said it was time to ‘restore a level playing field for Europe’s steel industry’.
The EESC believes that granting MES to China would be a ‘serious setback for Europe’s ambitions for sustainable development and the fight against climate change’. But it goes beyond steel. It would affect the aluminium, bicycle, ceramic, glass, motor vehicle parts and paper industries, the EESC claims.
The global steel industry has been making similar arguments for many years, but as the time approaches for making the big decision, I worry. Jean-Claude Juncker and Chinese premier Li Keqiang seem far too cosy for my liking and talk of an ‘EU deal to assuage steel dumping concerns’ makes me wonder whether another big political mistake is looming large.