Raw Material Innovations – a Key Success Factor in a Fast Changing Refractories World
In an uncertain environment driven by the slowing Chinese economy and the low crude oil price many industries have slowed down their investments. However, difficult times trigger also new ideas that lead in innovation-friendly companies to renewed product portfolios with materials and services that have a better performance/cost ratio, are more user and environmental friendly, more predictable in their performance and offer more value for the customer. This article gives examples of raw material innovations that target improvements at different steps in the value chain of castables, from the raw materials dry-mix, castable installation, dry-out, to the ultimate performance in service. Efforts to make castable rheology and setting more predictable have resulted in new types of binders and deflocculants and active compounds that achieve a higher robustness against variable parameter in the system. Other developments target the replacement of high-pH shotcrete gelling agents by more health and safety friendly systems. Developments also look at a better compromise between permeability, strength, and the water removal temperature of calcium aluminate bonded dense castables to allow an easier and safer water release. New castable microstructures have been achieved with innovative bond systems that improve the service life of alumina-spinel and alumina magnesia castables. The main driving force behind all these innovations is the never ending request of the steel industry to reduce specific refractory costs and to improve safety and equipment reliability.