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Interview Home > Interview

Interview with Ms FOULATIER, Director of the FONTES REFRACTORIES

2022-03-01

Despite the slowdown due to the health crisis, the construction sector made in France continues to thrive. The refractory brick market for the primary aluminum industry is booming. Élisabeth FOULATIER, Director of the FONTES REFRACTORIES Site, talked in an interview about her vision of this niche market of antacid refractory bricks.


Q: How would you define your company FONTES REFRACTORIES in a few words and a few figures?


A: The FONTES REFRACTORIES company has existed since the beginning of the 19th century and modified its statutes in March 2015. A family business located in the Revélois basin with an average workforce of around 30 people, it generates in 2021 a record tonnage and a turnover record of 5 million euros.


The company is both the operator of the clay quarry and the producer, from this raw material, of antacid refractory bricks. These bricks are intended for 3 distinct sectors:

● The primary aluminum industry: in this niche sector, bricks are used for lining primary aluminum electrolysis cells;

● The chemical industry which requires antacid bricks, such as the fertilizer industry;

● Construction, for barbecues and fireplaces.


Aluminum industry customers account for 98% of business. Fontes Refractories is one of the world's top 3 manufacturers of refractory bricks for primary aluminum electrolysis cells, and is the only one in France. Its market is almost entirely export: in Argentina, Canada, Saudi Arabia or Australia.


Q: What challenges does your industry face today?


A: The company is now facing competition from India and Asia, which offers much cheaper products, but of lower quality, while the product already costs very little (€215/ton on average).


In addition, we are, like all companies since the health crisis, faced with the difficult problem of maritime transport costs, which have soared, in particular the costs of containers, the price of which may have been multiplied by 4 or by 10 depending on the country.


This increase in the cost of the container is due to a shortage at the global level because many containers remained blocked in China during the pandemic and to a demand much higher than the supply, which creates a shortage of containers.


Q: What developments in your market and your company are expected in the short and medium term?


A: Faced with these transport cost difficulties, the company began to diversify. Thanks to the very specific properties of the clay from the quarry, the raw material can be used in the fertilizer industry, particularly in Morocco, which represents 60% of the world's phosphate resources. The interest in these products is that the market prices are much higher and the products are sold with a higher margin.


The company's market is also highly dependent on the aluminum market and its price. As the price of aluminum is currently very high, the current order book is full for 2022. Despite everything, it remains uncertain and dangerous to be dependent on a market whose prices we do not control.


Q: How do you characterize your company's values and commitments?


A: The company has a long family history since it belonged to the Fontes family until 1998. Since then, it has belonged to the Belgian family group SGI. Strongly anchored in the territory of the Revel basin, where the quarry has been exploited for many years, the company has remained on a human scale. It places customer satisfaction at the heart of its values, with a strong desire to meet deadlines, be responsive and supply quality products.


Its commitments are very focused on employee safety, with a desire to reduce the hardship of employees' work. To do this, it needs to develop its manufacturing process by automating tasks, so as to gain in attractiveness to attract more young people to the company.


Fontes Refractories is also committed to respecting the environment and energy management, since it is in the process of ISO 50001 certification.

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