Refractories in Transition: Global Outlook 2021

Carol Jackson, Chair of the World Refractories Association (WRA), says at the start of the pandemic in early 2020, many policymakers had no idea that many products could not be produced without refractories.

Thus it became immediately necessary for the WRA to communicate that refractories were indeed an essential industry and vital to the manufacturing of countless goods that ensure the safety and security of our global community.

The industry has responded to an overall economic downturn, “And it is likely we won’t return to a pre‐COVID business environment until 2022” said Jackson.

Government policies and spending will have an impact, as infrastructure spending can boost refractory end markets and refractory demand, though we are likely to have different spending levels by region and country, depending on specific policies.

Refractory demand recovery from the pandemic will correlate with GDP and industrial recovery by region. Growth is expected for 2021, but different situations with the pandemic regionally will have different impacts.

For example, the US is expected to bounce back faster than Europe, which is continuing to experience new lockdowns in some countries. In emerging markets and developing economies, China and India are set to recover more quickly than countries in South America, such as Brazil.

Jackson praised that it is incumbent upon refractory producers to maintain and even increase flexibility in operations “…so we can respond when industries need us. Our role is not changing, and we must be there and be ready when our customers need us…if we do not make investments or research and development does not continue due to short‐term cost controls, [we] risk sacrificing long‐term viability.”

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