Faced with the worst economic downturn in the Steel industry and its ripple effect on the refractory industry we are in for some tough times ahead. Worldwide demand of steel is expected to rise by fewer than 3.5% per year and will reach approx. 1667 million tons per year with China by far the most dominant player with about 75% market share. With the high volatility and high raw material prices of Zircon between 2010 and 2012, substitution of Zircon with aluminosilicates and feldspar in mainly the tile industry has changed the Zircon market substantially. Fused Zirconia also showed a significant decline between 2011 and 2013.
Zirconia demand is mainly driven by the steel and glass industry with the pigment market growing fast. Chemical Zirconia in the very high-value sectors of advanced ceramics has grown at a high rate over the past three years.
Zircon demand is expected to grow at around 4% with Chemical Zirconia leading the way in the Zirconia business; growth of Zirconia in refractory and glass industries is expected to be at a much lower growth rate.
Refwin: As the largest producer of fused zirconia in South Africa, what is the major feature or advantage of Foskor Zirconia products?
Mr. Albert Render: The origin of Foskor Zirconia flowed out of a gravity separation plant that recovered Baddeleyite, a natural ZrO2, from the tailings of the Foskor phosphate floatation plant. In 1992, this source got depleted. It was decided to start a smelting plant to produce fused Zirconia. The reason for this decision was the technical expertise and marketing knowledge needed to be preserved as well as the jobs depending on the then existing operation. A deep understanding of the capabilities of Zirconia and its applications leaves us well placed to serve the market,
We pride ourselves through our technical expertise and focus on a building of long-term trustful relationships with our customers, our approach to product co-development with our customers is our value proposition, which our customers appreciate.
Refwin: Now Foskor Zirconia owns the capacity of 4000 tpa of calcium stabilised & monoclinic fused zirconia. What developments do you plan at Foskor?
Mr. Albert Render: The process of anticipation and innovation in Zirconia being a unique material; whether used in high grade refractories, specialised applications like brake linings, pigments etc. and in almost all cases has a specific chemistry and size distribution for a specific application. Our ability to match this requirement and deliver a customised product to the customer to match his need consistently can be of great value.
We are well placed geographically with one of the largest Zircon deposits in the world on our doorstep. With a new source of zircon sand, which enables to achieve low Thorium and Uranium level we intend to grow to the customers and markets we could not approach in the past. To this end, we have taken the first steps to increase our production capacity.
Refwin: As the new appointed CEO of Foskor, what market solutions have been set up for Foskor's export and domestic supply?
Mr. Albert Render: The countries with growth potential remains Europe where 80% of our market share sits. Strong growth in markets in India, Japan and the USA is possible. India is the most interesting market and our presence through our CUMI India network of sales and marketing places us in a strong position to achieve good market penetration in India. In addition to our historical market being primarily central and Western Europe, the recent establishment of a Sales office CUMI Europe in Prague in the Czech Republic under the leadership of Vladimir Gerasimov improves our service levels to existing customers but places us on the doorstep of Eastern Europe with great potential. These changes have been triggered within recent 3 month from our new internal and external communication channels through new marketing and sales tools. We can enjoy our highly experienced sales and marketing team with several decades experience.
Refwin: What is the global development strategy of Foskor Zirconia?
Mr. Albert Render: Through a recent strategic restructuring, Foskor Zirconia has ceased Bubble Zirconia production and focuses entirely on Calcium stabilised and high grade Monoclinic Zirconia via a tap Fused Electric Arc furnace route. With three furnaces we have a Smelter capacity of 5000 tons + per annum and a state of the art milling and sizing capability enabling us to customising around the customers’ needs as our speciality.
Our key task is to prove our strong market position and maintain our highest value – our happy customers.
We intend to grow both in product range and geographically. Our R&D team is driven by new product and process innovations.
Refwin: Thanks for sharing your viewpoints with us!