Trends in US Refractories Industry
Gains in demand will be driven by recovery in US crude steel production, which plummeted significantly between 2004 and 2009, and in the production of nonmetallic mineral products such as glass and cement. Growth will also be supported byimprovements in refractory technologies themselves, which promote the use of more technically sophisticated, better performing and higher priced products. These trends, which bolster demand in value terms, will cause volume growth to lag somewhat. During the historical period, the US has run both trade surpluses and trade deficits in refractories. In 2009, US refractory producers were forced to aggressively seek overseas markets for their products to combat recessionary demand levels domestically, accounting for a net trade surplus amounting to five percent of shipments by value. However, longer term trends indicate the US is increasingly becoming a net importer as supplies and sources for refractory products and minerals shift offshore and as the sophistication of imported foreign refractory products increases. Of the two broad categories of refractory materials, nonclay refractories will account for 68 % of demand by value in 2014. These materials are becoming the products of choice among refractory end users. A wide assortment of nonclay refractory formulations have been developed that are cost-effective in specific and general applications. Consequently, gains in nonclay refractory demand will be faster than for clay refractories. Although all product forms are expected to benefit by recovery in major US refractory consuming markets, bricks and shapes will remain the dominant product form, expected to account for 56 % of total demand by value in 2014. This product form is particularly bolstered by increases in demand for precast refractory product shapes, but it also offers users performance advantages and reduced heat-up time. Monolithics are expected to be the fastest growing product form as they offer end users the economic advantage of extending the time span between full refractory brick relinings (Source: Freedonia Group, Inc.; 8/2011).