Vincent Couty is currently Vice President for the Refractory Producers market at Imerys. He joined Imerys in 2002 after graduating from Audencia Business school from which he holds a finance degree. Within Imerys, he has held various roles in strategic planning and improving sales & operational efficiency for Mining & Specialty minerals. He has notably been General Manager for the North American Carbonates business as well as General Manager for the Ceramics business in Asia. Citizen of the world, Vincent has worked in Malaysia, Brazil, Thailand, the United States and Belgium. He is married and has two children aged 8 years old.
Mr. Vincent Couty, Imerys Refractory Producers Vice President
Refwin: Mr. Vincent Couty, could you please introduce the new RAC business sector after re-organization since 2019?
Mr. Vincent Couty: RAC, which stands for Refractory, Abrasives and Construction, is one of Imerys’ five Business Areas and is led by Philippe Bourg. RAC focuses on supplying specialty minerals and solutions to a diversified number of industries, refractories being an important one of them.
In 2021, this Business Area represented more than 4,000 employees, 39 operational sites in 15 countries, 3 Technology Centers in Austria, France and China and more than 4,500 customers worldwide for a total revenue of 1.1 billion euro.
My role within RAC is to lead the sales, technical support and marketing teams serving globally the refractory, investment casting and advanced ceramics customers with our wide range of products. We are organized commercially by region with 5 sales directors (Americas, EMEA, India, China and APAC), supported by global functions to drive marketing, technical support and key account management.
Refwin: As the largest global supplier of industrial minerals, why don’t you involve MgO-based minerals (Magnesite, dolomite, brucite, etc.), which is very important especially for refractory? Do you have any plan or strategies to extend to this field at present or in coming years?
Mr. Vincent Couty:
At heart, Imerys remains a specialty minerals company, with our assets targeted to drive value for our customers. With this guiding rule Imerys will always review the individual benefits and opportunities for possible extensions of his mineral portfolio. There are already many fully integrated suppliers and a large share of independent suppliers based in China offering basic Minerals. We will keep looking for solutions that can drive value including in the basic applications but not necessarily through the MgO-based minerals you mentioned. A good illustration of this is our latest development in MagCarbon brick with the introduction of MagArrmour.
Refwin: In 2021, the world met a big challenge in mineral supply. How do you see the global minerals shortage, especially in Europe and Americas? Do you think this supply crisis will keep going forward in 2022?
Mr. Vincent Couty:
Refractory is a very cyclical market linked to the capital expansion and investment in high temperature processing assets. 2021 saw a combination of events that we often see around times of global uncertainty. A sharp decline, followed by a strong rebound. The magnitude of this shift in early 2021 was however sudden and brutal, as we moved from a situation of short time working to being oversold in a couple of weeks, putting all our assets under pressure. It was also coupled with major challenges on the supply chain front and strong inflation later in the year. For now the situation remains very tense and we have to operate under allocation and to implement surcharges to cover exceptional costs increases, notably on energy. We are trying to do it with as much anticipation and transparency as possible to allow our customers to anticipate and to adapt as well. We see this trend continuing in 2022 but with some easing anticipated towards the end of the year.
Refwin: International freight and logistics was a big problem in 2021, and this problem continues in early 2022. How do you keep your supply capacity and control your transportation cost under such circumstances? What’s your opinion on the development trend of global freight, especially for industrial minerals transportation?
Mr. Vincent Couty:
One of our strengths is our network of assets, we have Calcium Aluminates Binders plants in almost all regions (USA, Europe, China and now India with the startup of our new plant in Vizag), same for Fused Zirconia, White Fused Alumina. It allows us to adapt faster to changing market conditions and to keep serving our customers despite supply chain disruptions or trade restrictions. The main concern today with transportation is unpredictability, both in terms of costs but even more in terms of service (on time shipments), it makes it very difficult to plan ahead and meet our commitments. We had to adapt our supply chain strategy, both from a sourcing side relying on contracts but also spot, and from an inventory side building inventory of critical raw materials, when it was possible. We all hope it will normalize but the reality is that it is very slow to improve.
Refwin: How do you prepare to expand the refractory business in the coming years?
Mr. Vincent Couty:
The refractory market continues to evolve and adapt to the ever changing global environment, so there is no simple approach. As such, our focus is to first understand the needs from the market and our customers so that we can adapt our capabilities and product offering accordingly. Our marketing team is focused on identifying the main trends that will shape the future of the refractory industry : cycles, changes in end markets dynamics, new applicative developments. One worth mentioning is the impact that the decarbonation of the steel industry will have, notably in Europe, Japan, China, as they are accelerating their ambitions. At the same time, we have the traditional approaches of proximity as new countries become growth engines of the global economy like India. By connecting these new business opportunities through our innovation roadmap, to our core principles as a specialty minerals supplier and focus on sustainability of our products and of our solutions, we believe that we are well positioned to continue to develop and grow with the refractory market.
Refwin: Do you have any plans or actions on recycling minerals? What do you think of this part of the market in global minerals demand?
Mr. Vincent Couty:
There is a growing interest for sure, at Imerys level and also for Refractory. Recycling is not new in the Refractory industry but it will intensify, some major players have already communicated on their ambitions in that respect. The challenges remain technical as recycling some materials can be limited in some formulations and economical as recycled materials are sometimes far more expensive than virgin materials. We have an active project to look at how we can support customers in their ambitions and also what could be a possible business model for Imerys. We see however Recycling as one lever of sustainability but not the only one.
Refwin: What’s your opinion on technical services for industrial minerals processing?
Mr. Vincent Couty:
This is the reason we exist, what we offer is not raw materials, this is solutions that can help our customers offer better products to serve their industry. I have been 20 years now in the mineral processing industry serving many different markets and this is the common expectation from all our customers and where Imerys has always been a pioneer and is a market leader. We keep investing in Research & Development and in our technical service teams to make sure we do not sacrifice the long term over managing the short term. Our mission is and will remain to provide superior quality of products and service through our well known brands with a continuous focus on customer needs and sustainable product development. Today’s context is clearly bringing challenges to foster interaction with customers’ technical teams but my wish for 2022 is that we will be able to bring back innovation on top of the agenda.
Refwin: You were recently at UNITECR in Chicago, can you tell us about the highlights for Imerys’ Refractory business?
Mr. Vincent Couty: This year’s edition of UNITECR was a key milestone for us as a Group and we were thrilled to support this event and to be able to meet customers and partners in person.
Our team has collaborated jointly with partners across the industry on four technical papers. Our Science & Technology Director for Refractories, Christoph WOHRMEYER presented a paper dedicated to our MagArmour product and its use in monolithic materials. Other team members co-authored papers on a diverse range of topics & applications including increasing understanding of the MULCOA range in monolithic materials, the utilization of ZIONIC Stabilized Zirconia in thermal shock applications and MagArmour, a mineral solution to reducing oxidation in MgO-C applications.
As part of the event, Imerys has co-sponsored the Women in Science and engineering session as well as the Young Professionals event. Through this sponsorship, Imerys is keen to demonstrate its ambition to welcome more women and new talents to its teams and that diversity and inclusion is a key priority for us as a Group. We also want to contribute to attract new talents into the refractory industry, which will be a key success factor to keep developing this fascinating industry.
And last but not least, our colleague Chris PARR received the American Ceramic Society’s Theodore J. Planje St. Louis Refractories Award recognizing and honoring distinguished achievement in the refractories field - so this year’s UNITECR was indeed a great event and success!