Mr. Yao Wenbo, General Manager of North Kiln & Engineering Co., Ltd.
Refwin: Mr Yao, thank you for accepting our exclusive interview. We learned that North Kiln & Engineering Co., Ltd has been developing the international market of kiln engineering for many years. Can you talk about the main achievements of Northern Kiln in overseas business during this period?
Mr. Yao Wenbo: First of all, I would like to thank Refwin for the support and promotion given to North Kiln over the years! It is only 5 years long since North Kiln has begun to develop the international market since the year of 2016. We entered the Indian market first in 2017 and then into West Asia, South America etc., but the cooperation with some famous refractory producers started even earlier. In 2008, we cooperated with LWB, and successively undertook the construction and maintenance of several high-temperature shaft furnaces of this USA company for several times, as well as the improvement project of tunnel kilns to producer magnesia calcium brick and this cooperation last to Magnesita period. In 2012, we started cooperate with RHI (Liaoning Aoding) for the first time and have been responsible for the construction and maintenance of their shaft furnace. Now, we also provide maintenance service to Yingkou Refratechnik. In 2018 and 2020, North Kiln has won some projects in overseas market, like TRL Krosaki and Imerys, Calderys of India. In Indian market, we contracted with Maithan, Champion, TRL Krosaki and IFGL, etc., as well as some projects in western Asia. 50% benefits are from overseas propjects in 2019 financial year. In 2020, the outbreak of coronavirus has led some difficulties to our projects overseas, but we succeed to remote those projects in normal progress.
Refwin: What are the key business areas and regions for North Kiln globally? What is the sales strategy in the main target markets currently?
Mr. Yao Wenbo: It’s not long since our overseas market has been developed, and we should say that we have just started. In fact, the most important point for us is to build quality kilns and service to win reputation. In the past few years, as China's advantageous refractory enterprises continue to grow stronger, higher performance for kilns have been the common requirements. North Kiln has invested much on R & D to improve our products quality and performance, thus we achieved rapid development of kiln technology.
At present, we mainly serve refractory enterprises, refractory products and refractory raw materials producers, by supply solutions of tunnel kilns, heat treatment furnaces and high-temperature vertical kilns. Now we are mainly exporting to India, northwest Asian countries as well as Guyana in South America. About the sales strategy, we participated in some professional exhibitions to meet our potential customers, and also advertised one industrial publications like Refwin. In recent years, we visited refractory associations in Europe, South America, USA, Japan, India and many famous refractory companies such as Vesuvius (UK), Cerinnov (France), Shinagawa (Japan), (Brazil), HWI (USA), Tata Krosaki TRLK, IFGL, etc., to continuously improve the visibility of North Kiln. We have also communicated with world-renowned kiln companies such as TKIS and VISTRA in Germany and sponsored international academic conferences on refractories.
Refwin: The impact of the COVID-19 epidemic on the refractory industry is predicted to last 2-3 years. What is your opinion? Do you treat the impact of the epidemic as an opportunity for North Kilns to expand the overseas markets?
Mr. Yao Wenbo: Indeed, we only complete overseas projects by more online meetings, video communication, and remote guidance on-site during the pandemics. Thankfully these projects have all been put into operation one after another by the highly understanding to each other with our customers. In response to the inconvenience of personnel travel during the epidemic, we also promptly adjusted our cooperation mode and strategy to mainly providing overall design and supply of major equipment and electrical, etc. for our customers, and some common materials were procured by the users at their locations by remotely guidance, so as to construction and services. According to my understanding, the epidemic has impact on the normal production of the global refractory industry, but in limited range. However, it really has a great impact on the progress of the projects under construction. In fact, in addition to the epidemic, the international trade friction in recent years has had a great impact on steel, and even refractory industry. Over the past year, we have been talking about several overseas projects, which means that the market is still there, but the process is very long. In a word, the epidemic has had a great impact on our company. I agree with the view that the impact of the COVID-19 epidemic on the global refractory industry will last for 2-3 years, and that it should have a greater impact on new projects. However, as the epidemic passes, there will definitely be a strong rebound, so we have been preparing for that as well.
Refwin: What’s your development strategy in the coming 10 years, especially for overseas market?
Mr. Yao Wenbo: North Kiln was established in January 1999, with a 23-year history. In the first 20 years, our goal was to lay the cornerstone our business and forge an international brand. By the end of 2018, we basically met this business goal. We occupied a high ratio in the domestic high-end market, with some international refractory giants as partner, including RHI Magnesita, Refratechnik, Krosaki, etc. In China, Beijing Lier, Puyang Punai, Ruitai Technology, Yingkou Qinghua, Haicheng Houying are our customers. In 2013,North Kiln(Xi'an) Thermal Energy Technology Co., Ltd. was established, which is mainly dedicated to the research and development of new kiln thermal technology, kiln engineering design and consulting services. Currently, we cover the three series of tunnel kilns (including shuttle kilns), high-temperature shaft kilns and rotary kilns. In Gaoyi, Hebei, we also have our own machinery factory, specializing in the production of non-standard equipment and burners for kilns.
In 2019, this is the staring year of our second 20 years. We have caught up with the rapid development of the world's refractory materials, especially in the Indian market. Although the global spread of the epidemic that began in 2020 has affected our further development of overseas markets, it has not completely stopped our progress. In the next 5-10 years, we will continue to stabilize the domestic mid-to-high-end market, give full play to our technical advantages, take the road of integrated technology, and gradually shift from a single kiln contractor to a systematic solution provider, and gradually expand with steady development.
Refwin: What is the key factor that remain North Kiln competitive in the market?
Mr. Yao Wenbo: I think it mainly depends on our professional technical team and excellent consultant team, as well as culture of keeping studying and continuous innovation. At the beginning of the establishment of the company, we produce ceramic roller kilns and spray drying equipment. Since 2003, we have focused on refractory kilns for 18 years, and this is only thing we focus on. We have workable team, mature experience, specialized and professional after-sales service, which helps us to meet different requirements of various customers. Over the years, we have created many domestic firsts in China. The tunnel kiln that burns natural gas at a maximum temperature of 1850°C, the largest PD32000 spray drying tower in the kaolin industry, the mechanized shaft kiln for calcination of bauxite homogenizing material, the first tunnel kiln for porous plug, the first tunnel kiln for high-chromium bricks, gas shaft furnace(up to 2300℃) for Microcrystalline magnesia, the longest silica brick tunnel kiln with 243m, the largest new energy-saving slide plate tunnel kiln in China, etc. We also cooperate with TKIS to design and construct high-purity magnesia shaft furnaces and multi-layer furnaces in China.
Refwin: What is the tread of world refractories development, as well as the trends of high-temperature kilns?
Mr. Yao Wenbo: In recent years, with the development of new varieties of refractory materials and new technologies worldwide, the continuous merger and reorganization of refractory business keeps going forward. The total demand for refractory materials per unit product in the downstream industry continues to decline at a rate of about 3.5% in the past five years. Besides, China’s environmental protection, carbon emission policy also exert influence on global refractories and some uncertain factors caused by epidemic that has not been effectively controlled globally. In my opinion, the refractory industry will have following new trends: 1) The largest participants will keep concentration it global resource, and the global resource optimization is one of the key goal in coming years. They will be closer to the end user. However, the total demand for refractory materials will gradually decrease, especially in China. 2) The smart factories and smart production lines will be another trend. Quality control will be more accurate and production efficiency will be further improved. For small and medium participants, they should focus on some high-end, sophisticated, cutting-edge, specialized fields. 3) The demand for special and high-end refractory products and raw materials will further increase, but the total proportion will not be very high; while the number of ordinary refractory products will also decrease accordingly. (4) The market demand for new energy-saving insulation materials will definitely increase substantially, and the proportion of unburned products or unshaped materials will further increase, with the development in developing countries.
In addition, we should also focus on another two trends: one is the development trend of low-temperature kilns, and the other is the development trend of high-temperature kilns including product kiln and raw material kiln.
(1) Non-burned products and unshaped products account for more than 60%, which is an inevitable trend of development. Non-fired products include baking of precast refractories and resin-bonded products. The resin curing heat treatment furnace, is a relatively large category, which are usually use low-temperature heat treatment method to solidify the resin to improve strength, such as magnesia-carbon brick, aluminum-magnesium carbon brick, magnesia-calcium carbon brick, etc. The temperature is generally 150-250°C , with a hot blast stove for heating. The development trend is to make the section temperature as uniform as possible and reduce the temperature difference, reasonable design of the air inlet method and exhaust position, and the electric heating curing kiln be designed with hot air circulation and stirring to reduce the temperature difference. More than 80% of the exhaust gas is heated and recycled to save energy; about 20% of the final exhaust gas (including VOC or odor) must be incinerated to meet environmental protection requirements; further heat exchange before emission.
(2) Due to the continuous operation of the high-temperature tunnel kiln, the flue gas and waste heat are maximized to use, it has been widely used in the refractory industry and is almost able to meet the firing needs of various refractory products. In the past ten years, with the continuous emergence of new insulation materials, the development of efficient combustion technology, the electrical automation and computer control technology, and the development of combustion concepts and environmental protection concepts, modern tunnel kilns have achieve great progress. The popularization of carbon emission reduction thoughts make it possible to improve high-temperature tunnel kilns to save more energy, emit less, and be more environmentally friendly. In my opinion, the development trend of modern high-temperature tunnel kiln technology should include: large-scale, light-weight, flat, intelligent, and environmentally friendly.
(3) The high-temperature shaft kiln is the calcination kiln for raw material with the highest thermal efficiency. TKIS (RCE, MAERZ) is a pioneer, whose technology represents the development direction of shaft kilns. Multi-furnace furnaces and, suspension furnace for magnesite and high-temperature shaft kiln high-purity magnesia, and double-chamber shaft furnaces for calcining lime come from TKIS. Actually it is also possible to use RCE shaft furnace to produce tabular alumina. The natural gas bauxite calcination shaft furnace is very mature technology but it is still a long way for gas calcination of magnesia.
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