Times of change lie ahead for the metal industries, so let’s look at three major factors to which they must adapt.
The world has become a crowded place and the people in it are more conscious of environmental issues. As middle classes around the world expand, communities are more likely to see the negative risks entailed by proposed mining and refining operations than to welcome the financial and employment opportunities they can bring.
When metal industries are well planned and managed, the advantages easily outweigh the negatives; however, convincing local communities, civic leaders and activists has become an uphill task in recent decades. Partly in consequence, a record number of mines and plants are nearing the end of their lifespan.
To address the urgent need for new developments, industry will have to produce far more detailed, conscientious and persuasive business plans. Where possible, remediation should be ongoing, with the provision of new housing and social facilities factored into the initial plans.
Politicians rarely learn from history, so are doomed to repeat it. The world has swung between conservative protectionism and liberal markets many times. Today, signs of a backlash against unregulated markets include Brexit and the election of Donald Trump.
As most mineral resources and manufacturing are located outside the EU, you might imagine Britain’s departure will bring a mixed bag of new opportunities and difficulties; however, whether in or out, the real challenge comes from policymakers in the mining jurisdictions. Already, many are arguing for minerals to be processed locally before export. The challenges this presents are numerous, including problems with infrastructure, training and economics.
The flood of productive jobs from developed countries reduces the capital available in these countries to buy finished goods. At the same time, it encourages wage demands to grow in developing areas, tipping currency exchange rates and making finished goods more expensive.
Both environmental and profitability issues can be solved by adopting new technologies, with robotic and automation in mining already a powerful trend. Replacing cost and labour-intensive welding by using a metal bonding adhesive such as CT1 metal to metal adhesive is another. 3D-prototyping will be a third for many manufacturing enterprises.
In times of change, the industry’s ability to innovate and get unions, governments and communities on board will determine its success.