Stainless Steel & Special Alloys

Extract BIR Annual Report 2019

In turbulent times, the value of listening to experts share their reliable data and insights cannot be overstated. In going about our day-to-day business, we are generally focused on problem-solving and the here-and-now of market circumstances rather than dwelling too much on what lies some way further down the road. However, a longer- term view is always interesting, often enlightening and can help inform our decisions when plotting the course ahead.

And so it was highly appropriate in last year’s challenging business environment to have guest speakers at our meetings who really lifted the lid on latest market developments and provided us with at least some vision of what was likely to confront our businesses in the short to medium term.

At our most recent meeting, held in Budapest last October, Natalie Scott- Gray of INTL FC Stone Ltd suggested stainless steel production in 2019 would be below the average for recent years but still acceptable in the light of a more depressed world economy. Subsequent data from
the International Stainless Steel Forum (ISSF) for the first nine months of last year reveal a year-on-year increase of 3.4% in global melt shop production despite significant declines across Europe, the USA and most of Asia.

These data support the contention featured in our final Mirror publication of 2019 that Chinese-led production of stainless steel – especially in Indonesia – has blossomed largely at the expense of producers elsewhere in the world through a seizing of their market shares. Indeed, Ms Scott- Gray insisted that Indonesia would become the dominant force in the stainless steel market at some future point.

Of course, when mills’ market shares and profitability are under pressure, their immediate reaction is to look for ways to cut costs. We can certainly confirm from personal experience in Europe that our customers were applying relentless downward pressure on our scrap prices during the course of 2019.

Ms Scott-Gray also predicted that stainless steel demand would jump by 16% over the coming five years. Again, more recent figures – released by the ISSF last October – confirmed that stainless steel consumption was on course to increase by 2.4% for 2019 as a whole, exactly half the growth recorded in the previous year. For 2020, however, the ISSF expected the pace of consumption to quicken once again for year-on-year growth of 4.4%. Interestingly in light of earlier comments, consumption growth is forecast to be particularly healthy in China this year at 7.2%, with far lower gains anticipated for the rest of Asia (+2%), the Americas (+1.6%) and Europe/Africa (+0.4%).

In Budapest, we had the benefit of hearing from Olivier Masson of Roskill Commodity Research, Consulting & Events. He offered us encouragement through his suggestion that the USA, Europe and India were likely to maintain their firm reliance on scrap for stainless steel production.

At the same time, however, he pointed out that the major growth centres of China and Indonesia were heavily geared towards the use of nickel pig iron as their major raw material.

In Singapore, guest speaker Robert Messmer of Steel & Metals Market Research revealed an intercontinental trading share of 8% for stainless steel scrap in 2018, with the bulk of this volume destined for Asia and mainly India.

And while he hailed scrap as the lowest cost option, he also acknowledged that our raw materials had scope to suffer further price declines. This is despite the fact that, in the process of making stainless steel, scrap produces less slag and leaves a smaller carbon footprint when compared to ferroalloys-based production.

The bottom line, therefore, is that some countries will continue to make scrap their raw material of choice for stainless steel production; in general, unfortunately, these countries are losing market share to nations where scrap is not so favoured. So even though the outlook for global stainless steel demand remains extremely positive, many of us can expect yet more difficult years ahead.

“We can certainly confirm from personal experience in Europe that our customers were applying relentless downward pressure on our scrap prices during the course of 2019.”

CHAIRMAN STAINLESS STEEL & SPECIAL ALLOYS COMMITTEE
Joost van Kleef
ORYX Stainless BV (NLD)

IMPORTANT FACTS

Stainless steel is an iron alloy that contains nickel and chromium to protect it against corrosion and rust. This material is remarkably strong and resistant to high temperatures, providing optimum performance under severe environmental and chemical conditions. Stainless steel’s inherent physical properties make it ideal for use in the construction, automotive and transportation sectors. Its versatility also makes it a popular material in household items such as kitchen appliances and cutlery.

Demand growth for stainless steel has outstripped that of most other metals over the last few decades. At a recent BIR Convention, it was noted that the compound annual growth rate (CAGR) for stainless steel was 5.6% for the period from 2000 to 2018, with China recording a particularly strong CAGR of more than 14% over that same period. There was an increase of 4.8% in global crude stainless steel production to 52.43 million tonnes in 2018, with output becoming ever more dominated by Asia with its world production share of around 80%.

Besides nickel and chromium, other major alloying elements used in combination with steel include molybdenum, titanium, tungsten and vanadium. These metals are scarce and only available in very few parts of the world, which makes extraction costly and difficult. Recycling is therefore essential to minimizing depletion of the planet’s natural resources; as a result, the recycling industry has become a vital player in providing a stable supply of quality secondary raw material.

RECYCLING PROCESSES

SORTING

BALING

MELTING

Most special alloys are very similar in appearance. Sophisticated identification technologies, including X-ray spectrometry, are used to separate and prepare each type. Recycling stainless steel is a similar process to the one used for other ferrous metals.

Sorting: Given that many forms of stainless steel are non-magnetic, this metal cannot be easily separated from other recyclables in a recycling facility with magnetic belts.

Shearing: Hydraulic machinery capable of exerting enormous pressure is used to cut thick, heavy stainless steel into smaller pieces.

Baling: Stainless steel products are compacted into large blocks to improve ease of handling and transportation.
 
Media separation: Shredders incorporate rotating magnetic drums to separate ferrous metals from other materials. Further separation is achieved using electrical currents, high-pressure air flows and liquid flotation systems. 
 
Melting: The recovered materials are melted together in a furnace. This process is determined by the level of purity necessary for the future applications of the secondary raw material. The melted stainless steel is then poured into casters and shaped into ingots or slabs. Later, they can be rolled into flat sheets that are used to manufacture new products.

APPLICATIONS & RECYCLING FACTS

  • APPLICATIONS

    Stainless steel is 100% recyclable and loses none of its original physical properties in the process. The most common applications include:

    • Construction: Excellent corrosion resistance, strength and malleability allow for the construction of attractive, low-maintenance and durable curtain walls and roofs.
    • Food storage and production: Stainless steel resists colonization of bacteria, does not alter the taste of foods, and is easily cleaned and sterilized.
    • Transport: Passenger rail cars of today’s high-speed trains are often constructed of stainless steel, which offers structural strength and improved crash protection.
    • Healthcare: Most surgical instruments are made of stainless steel because of its strength and resistance to regular cleaning and sterilization.
    • Households: Stainless steel has been traditionally used in cutlery, cookware and appliances.
  • RECYCLING FACTS

    • Recycling one tonne of steel saves 1100 kg of iron ore, 630 kg of coal and 55 kg of limestone.
    • The average stainless steel object is composed of around 60% recycled material.
    • Approximately 90% of end-of-life stainless steel is collected and recycled into new products.

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