“More Understanding is Needed About the Critical Role of Refractories”
is Chairman of the Board and Chief Executive Officer of HarbisonWalker International (HWI), and President of the World Refractories Association (WRA).
Carol Jackson of the World Refractories Association and HarbisonWalker International talks about the environmental responsibility of the refractories industry and the role of refractories as an essential industry – especially in view of the current crisis.
Interceram: You have just begun your two-year term presidency of the WRA in January 2020. What are the main objectives of your presidency?
Carol Jackson: Since WRA was formed in 2014, our primary goals have been to promote the interests of the worldwide refractory industry and provide a global forum for the common interests of members, while serving as the voice of the industry. In addition, we have focused on making continuous progress in the areas of health, safety, global industry standards, and environmental issues. As we look ahead for the remainder of 2020 and beyond, these overall objectives continue to be priorities for our organization.
None of us, however, could have expected the impact that the COVID-19 global pandemic would have on our industry and all the industries we serve.
At the onset of the pandemic, governing bodies around the world were working to determine essential businesses that should remain open to support health operations and guarantee public safety. It became urgently necessary for WRA to communicate that refractories are an essential industry that is vital to the manufacturing of countless goods that ensure the safety and security of our global community.
The WRA has recently published a video explaining which industries require refractories and why. What would you say is the most important factor to raise awareness for this industry? Why is this important?
As evidenced by our communication surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic, more understanding is needed about the critical role of refractories in virtually all manufacturing processes. WRA and its members need to continue educating all our industry stakeholders, and the public, about the fact that without refractory products and services, society, as we know it today, could not exist.
How has the crisis affected the global refractory industry?
During this time of unprecedented uncertainty and like many others across the globe, our industry has had to respond to an overall economic downturn. So many of our members have had to find ways to reduce costs and curtail planned investments. As the uncertainty continues, refractory companies will need to weigh the consequences of this environment. Eventually, companies will reach a “tipping point” where if they do not make investments, or research and development does not continue due to short-term cost controls, they sacrifice long-term viability. So business decisions are always a balancing act.
What fascinates you most about refractories?
Many things! I’m always fascinated by the fact that our products, which may seem so simple, are so critically important to the manufacturing of virtually everything around us, from the cars we drive to the buildings we enter, to the daily products we use. The ability of refractories to withstand the intensity of some of the most high-heat and caustic manufacturing environments is amazing. Refractories are, in fact, highly sophisticated, and we’re constantly evolving them to solve new problems for customers.
How do you envision the refractory industry in 50 years?
Many truly exciting advancements are occurring in our industry. I expect that the world will continue to depend on our products for manufacturing, but we will be able to work so much more efficiently with customers and in our own manufacturing processes. I envision an environmentally responsible refractory product life cycle that has the potential to be zero-waste from the cradle to the grave.
Thank you for the interview.