The ancient Finns believed it was sparks from a fox’s tail. The Chinese thought it was a celestial battle between good and evil dragons breathing fire across the sky. Superstitious Europeans in the Middle Ages were shaken by the sight and saw warnings of illness, plague and death. And when red-hued northern lights astonishingly appeared throughout much of Europe on the night of January 25, 1938, my wife’s grandfather immediately knew its significance: “War is coming,” he said.
The steel industry today is faced by an unprecedented crisis. Never before has there been such a gap between excess global steelmaking capacity and actual demand. According to a report from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), the world’s installed steelmaking capacity is projected to increase to 2.36 billion tons by 2017, which is 760 million tons more than the 1.6 billion tons of steel consumed in 2015. To put it bluntly, steelmakers will soon be able to produce nearly one-third more steel than the world actually needs. The reality is already oversupply, deteriorating prices, financial losses, bankruptcies and plant closures – which is not only limited to steel manufacturers. Despite the best intentions by key steel-producing countries to reduce excess capacity, these efforts will certainly be accompanied by job losses, social instability, trade wars and maybe even worse.
However, all is not necessarily doom and gloom. It’s well worth remembering that the steel industry historically has always been cyclical. At the end of the tunnel there is the light. And after the darkness follows the dawn. The current pessimistic situation may last longer than previous downturns, and it may be far more painful, yet it is pragmatic to take a longer-term view. What is important is that the right decisions be made today by policymakers, producers and suppliers, and that future steps are carefully charted. By doing so, the groundwork can be laid today for a more prosperous tomorrow.
The future of metals starts by thinking about it. Primetals Technologies has therefore taken a long and hard look at the state of the metals industry, and has explored future perspectives and scenarios. We have conducted scores of interviews during the past four years with prominent figures, opinion leaders and technology specialists from the metals sector. The results have been compared and emerging trends identified. The quintessence of all this work is summarized in this issue of Metals Magazine. A common tenor in the interviews is a surprisingly optimistic outlook for the mid- to long-term future of metals.
Of the hundreds of legends about the northern lights, most are enigmatic, ominous or foreboding. Yet a number of stories offer a positive or auspicious message indeed: In Chinese and Japanese cultures, it is still believed that a child conceived under the northern lights will be blessed with good fortune. And when Nanahbozho, the Algonquin creator of the Earth, finished his task of creation, he traveled to the far north where he built large fires – the celestial lights – to remind his people of his concern and lasting love for them.
The pictures of northern lights used throughout this issue thus symbolize either a positive or negative outlook for the future of metals. Primetals Technologies has contemplated the future and is optimistic for the metals world to come. To safeguard a bright tomorrow, we continue to develop the technological solutions and processes needed to meet the challenges that lie ahead.
Dr. Lawrence Gould
Managing Editor of Metals Magazine
Primetals Technologies, Limited