Articles in Category: Product Developments

The Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries in general, and Saudi Arabia in particular, have done the U.S. oil industry a massive favor, and they are probably ruing the day they tried to squeeze America’s shale industry out of existence.

Benchmark Your Current Metal Price by Grade, Shape and Alloy: See How it Stacks Up

The collapse in oil prices that ensued after Saudi Arabia-led OPEC opened the spigots two years ago forced American companies, and their many subcontractors, to innovate in a way that would never have happened so fast or gone so far without the imminent threat of survival forcing the pace.

Oil Prices Allow Reopening of Old Wells

Now, U.S. shale producers have achieved economies of scale that allow them to return to previously closed wells in fields like Eagle Ford and achieve 30% returns even at $40 a barrel. U.S. explorers may be making hay in the domestic market, but huge potential exists for these same firms to take their technology abroad. Read more

For off-road cognoscenti, there are few automobiles more iconic than Jaguar Land Rover’s Defender. Since its introduction in 1948, the rugged old workhorse has earned a reputation for go anywhere capability and durability as an article in the FT notes.

Benchmark Your Current Metal Price by Grade, Shape and Alloy: See How it Stacks Up

The Defender’s engineering simplicity meant that the car could be repaired in the middle of the desert with the sparsest of resources and spare parts. But that rugged simplicity also led to its downfall. The SUV’s body-on-frame construction meant that it failed to meet modern safety crash tests and the engine just polluted the air too much to meet European emission rules. JLR consequently halted Defender production last year to the anguish of its diehard fans.

Land Rover Defender. Source: Autoexpress

Well, it would seem JLR has aspirations for a comeback. According to the FT, the group expect to relaunch the Defender in 2019 and its design group is working furiously to reconcept a new vehicle that meets modern environmental and safety standards, requiring a complete redesign from the ground up of the old Defender.

Aluminum Everywhere

It would be inconceivable if the new Defender was less capable than the old, a betrayal of that once iconic brand and, by all accounts, JLR has no intention of letting them down. Like the old Defender, a new version will employ considerable use of aluminum in the body, but unlike the old steel chassis will have an entirely new aluminum frame construction. Read more

More and more Indian companies, including steelmakers such as Tata and Essar Steel, are entering the defense manufacturing sector. Essar Steel, for example, recently announced a game plan to develop steel grades for land and naval defense applications.

Benchmark Your Current Steel Price by Grade, Shape and Alloy: See How it Stacks Up

Essar Steel made a low key entry into the sector about five years ago, but it’s now turned bullish on defense because of the increased marketability of its products. Essar’s products include an indigenous armor plate for ballistic protection. Some of its products are innovative while others are simple substitutes for imports for India’s native contractors looking to keep more of their supply chains close to home. The latter have been used in the construction of naval destroyers, offshore patrol vessels and floating docks. Other products are used in the construction of Coast Guard vessels, so also the repair of naval ships.

In land defense, Essar Steel’s products are used in battle tanks, the motor casings of missiles, combat vehicles, and artillery guns. Read more

Those not involved in the steel industry tend to look at large, integrated blast furnace steel plants as dated technology light-years from the gleaming glass and concrete operations of IT or electronics. However, steelmakers are constantly striving for technological improvements.

Benchmark Your Current Steel Price by Grade, Shape and Alloy: See How it Stacks Up

In fact, the very marginal nature of steel production in the western world means that constant innovation is a necessity for a firm’s survival. Comparisons between U.S. Steel and Nucor Corp. illustrate this point. When U.S. Steel was focused on cost reduction and rationalization at the turn of the century, Nucor was innovating and investing not just in alternative electric arc furnaces, but in direct casting and other downstream technologies. As a result, Nucor is now North America’s most successful steel company but they’re not alone in looking to technology for their future prosperity.

Continuous Casting

An interesting article in the Economist details efforts at a number of steel producers around the world to find a better alternative to the traditional blast furnace. The slab casting and re-rolling route is epitomized by the likes of U.S. Steel and the major Asian steel mills. For years, the only real challenger to this process was the electric arc furnace which enjoys the benefits of scrap as a raw material and greater flexibility and economies of scale allowing it to operate profitably on a fraction of the cost required throughout for a traditional blast furnace-based integrated steel plant.

Liquid steel.

Innovation in steelmaking is coming from novel uses of liquid metal. Source: Adobe Stock/Photollug.

One of the major attractions most EAF plants have is that they produce final product by the continuous casting route. The liquid metal is taken from the refining vessel and, for flat-rolled products, continuously cast into 80-120-mm thick slabs, which can then be further rolled to thinner gauges. Read more

I know it sounds a bit geeky, but we at MetalMiner love to hear about new applications for aluminum. This latest development is not exactly going to change the global demand-supply balance for aluminum but it does showcase one of the many qualities the metal possesses, one which is sometimes overshadowed by aluminum’s lightweight or easy formability.

Benchmark Your Current Aluminum Price by Grade, Shape and Alloy: See How it Stacks Up

Aluminum’s use in batteries is nothing new. Aluminum–air batteries have been a topic of research for some time and work by producing electricity from the reaction of oxygen in the air with aluminum. They have one of the highest energy densities of all batteries, but they are not widely used because of problems with high anode cost and by-product removal when using traditional electrolytes. Read more

The serial entrepreneur is never shy of making bold claims, and recently he announced plans for Space X to fly two private citizens on a mission around the moon by late 2018.

Benchmark Your Current Metal Price by Grade, Shape and Alloy: See How it Stacks Up

The journey would take about a week and the astronauts will travel deeper into space than any human has ventured before, the Washington Post reports. Let’s think about this. Space X has never flown people before and in the last two years has had two rockets blow up on the launch pad or in flight. Even more challenging is that the mission would require the untested Falcon Heavy Rocket which has yet to fly and a modified Dragon Capsule which is also, as yet, untested in space.

So far Musk’s Space X has operated unmanned missions in a long-running partnership with NASA, to fly cargo to the International Space Station. The program to run manned missions has been delayed but the company still claims it will happen by the middle of next year.

Most, therefore, expect the end 2018 deadline for the lunar mission to be delayed but SpaceX has earned itself a reputation for setting and mostly achieving ambitious targets. It was the first private company to fly to the ISS and the first ever to land the first stage of a rocket that had lifted its payload into orbit. Along with Boeing, Space X has worked closely with NASA to develop reusable launch systems that not only service the space station but could ultimately go to Mars. Maybe spurred by this pace, the private sector is setting the agenda for space exploration. NASA recently announced that it is considering adding astronauts to the first flight of its Space Launch System rocket and Orion crew capsule the Post reports.

Interestingly, the change of administration in the White House has also had an impact on space exploration. Bob Richards, the chief executive of Moon Express, a private company that plans to land a robotic spacecraft on the moon this year is quoted as saying “With the new administration, regardless of what you think politically, comes a new sense of commercial partnerships which is good for us in the space industry. I feel, as many do, a lunar tide rising. The political environment is catching up with logic. With the moon as an important step for even deeper space exploration.”

As the Trump administration looks for a big win in space exploration, somewhat like Kennedy’s promise to send a man to the moon over 50 years ago, there is a new willingness to commit dollars. Some, particularly outside the U.S., look back on that decade in the 1960’s as America’s greatest hour, when the country achieved something no one else dared or could develop the technology to do.

Two-Month Trial: Metal Buying Outlook

Not just for that generation, but in the years that followed it was an inspirational program that developed technologies and advanced science for decades to follow. Maybe it is with one eye on history and a fondness for private enterprise that the new administration is looking at the private sector to again take America to new goals. One man who does not lack the ambition to fulfill such ambition is Elon Musk. We should applaud it.

“The eagles are coming.” – J.R.R. Tolkien

Is it a case of the cash-strapped French military turning to a cheaper option or is it some kind of quasi-environmental option to train eagles in a counter drone role?

Benchmark Your Current Metal Price by Grade, Shape (Eagle Talon Cover Not Available Yet) and Alloy: See How it Stacks Up

A ZDnet article explains that the French military turned to eagles to counter the threat of terrorist or insurgent drones, faced by a nation that considers itself almost under siege from terrorist attacks.

D'Artagon goes drone hunting

D’Artagnon may not have been a full Musketeer, but, trust him, you don’t want none, terrorist drones! Source: Youtube/French military.

At the Mont-de-Marsan military base in southwestern France, the four eagles under training, named after the fictitious four (Athos, Porthos, Aramis and D’Artagnan) heroes of Alexandre Dumas fame, have been undergoing training since June of last year. The article explains that since the November 2015 Paris attacks, France is on high alert for any kind of threat including those from unmanned aerial vehicles or drones feared for their potential to drop small bombs on civilian or even military targets.

In a demonstration at the base one eagle (D’Artagnan) took out an approaching drone at 200 meters in less than 20 seconds, earning himself a food treat. Indeed, food seems to be the key incentive. The young birds are trained from three months of age by serving food on the top of drone wreckage creating an association between UAVs and food, the article explains.

It would seem the French are not alone. Dutch law enforcement officers have also been experimenting with the use of eagles to take out drones. The Dutch police explained the attraction of the birds of prey is that they could takeout drone threats without the need to deploy weaponry which could injure innocents.

Two-Month Trial: Metal Buying Outlook

But what about larger drones you may ask? Nevermind those little handheld models available in high street stores or online from hobby shops. Well, the French have a plan. Apparently, they intend to kit out their eagles with leather and kevlar mittens to protect the birds’ talons.

But, you have to ask, what could you reasonably put a 5-kg golden eagle up against before it became unfair competition? Terrorists are unlikely to get their hands on the monsters deployed by major armed forces like the U.S. Army but even category 2 UAVs, like Boeing’s ScanEagle which is used largely for reconnaissance, weigh in at about 20 kg and travel at up to 150km/hr That’s tough opposition for a 5-kg eagle, even if it can match it for top speed and may enjoy Kevlar mitts!

U.S. Customs and Border Protection said recently that it plans to start awarding contracts by mid-April for President Donald Trump’s proposed border wall with Mexico, signalling that he is aggressively pursuing plans to erect “a great wall” along the 2,000-mile border.

Benchmark Your Current Metal Price by Grade, Shape and Alloy: See How it Stacks Up

The agency said it will request bids on or around March 6 and that companies would have to submit “concept papers” to design and build prototypes by March 10, according to FedBizOpps.gov, a procurement website for federal contractors. The field of candidates will be narrowed by March 20, and finalists must submit offers with their proposed costs by March 24.

Can I Get a Good Deal on a Wall?

The president told the Conservative Political Action Conference on Friday that construction will start “very soon” and is “way, way, way ahead of schedule.”

Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly has sought employees’ opinions during border tours of California, Arizona and Texas but it’s still unclear how Congress would provide funding, how much it would cost and when, exactly, construction could start.

The Government Accountability Office estimated it would cost on average $6.5 million a mile for a fence to keep out people who try to enter on foot and $1.8 million a mile for vehicle barriers. There are currently 354 miles of pedestrian fencing and 300 miles of vehicle barriers, much of it built during President George W. Bush’s second term.

U.S.-Mexico border wall in Arizona.

A section of an existing US-Mexico metal border wall in Arizona. Source: Adobe Stock/Yukon Charlie.

Republican leaders in Congress have said Trump’s wall would cost between $12 billion and $15 billion. Trump has suggested $12 billion. An internal Homeland Security report prepared for Kelly estimated the cost of extending the wall along the entire U.S.—Mexico border at about $21 billion. Read more

You may feel it cynical to say anyone would engage in a blue sky thinking if someone else is going to pay for it, but you have to question whether Voestalpine AG and its partners would be embarking on a research program that appears to have little prospect of economic viability in the next 20 years if the European Union was not funding the lion’s share of €18 million.

Two-Month Trial: Metal Buying Outlook

The Austrian steelmaker Voestalpine, Siemens of Germany and Austrian renewable energy company Verbund party are building an experimental facility to economically produce hydrogen from water, which would then be used in place of coking coal for steelmaking. You may remember that my colleague, Jeff Yoders, noted that Voestalpine touted research into using hydrogen to reduce iron ore at its new DRI facility in Texas when the facility opened last year.

Voestalpine Corpus Christi

Voestalpine’s $750 million direct-reduced iron ore facility in Corpus Christi, Texas, could one day be fueled by hydrogen and not natural gas. Image: Jeff Yoders.

By the consortium’s own admission, an economically viable hydrogen process could take 20 years but should it eventually prove successful the benefits in decarbonizing a range of energy intensive industries such as ceramics, aluminum, glass, and cement in addition to steel could dramatically reduce emissions from one of the largest sources of industrial CO2 emissions. Read more

Set against the backdrop of the recent presidential election, the media’s constant referral to protecting American jobs and employment should come as no surprise, even though the level of national employment has never been better.

Click Here for Current Metal Prices

The reality, of course, is that national figures mask regional disparities and the disproportionate impact in some industries of offshoring and global competition has been intense. In practice, though, globalization is only part of the issue when it comes to the loss of jobs in certain industries. There has been a great deal of recent research which supports the position that automation is having as much, if not more, impact on certain industries than competition from abroad.

Automation Continues

As the Financial Times observed recently, automation has been a constant for decades, and the latest advances in robotics and artificial intelligence all but guarantee that the pace will accelerate, but some industries or job roles are particularly vulnerable to replacement by machines. All industries operate in a global environment, the decision as to whether to invest in automated processes should not and cannot be made based on employment, alone, if firms want to survive in the long-term.

The key question is not whether automation, robotics or artificial intelligence will replace humans in existing roles, the question is simply when. For society at large, the pace of automation will determine how easily the displacement of workers can be handled — and whether this creates a political backlash or is accommodated through retraining and the creation of new jobs.

Source: Direct Industry

We are used to seeing rows of gleaming robots assembling cars in modern automotive factories but a recent article in Direct Industry explores developments in the agricultural industry and highlights the fast pace of robotic developments that could well see the replacement of humans for many agricultural activities in the years ahead. Read more