Management / Better comms within extractive supply chain will reap rewards, claims expert

Better comms within extractive supply chain will reap rewards, claims expert

There needs to be better engagement between producers of metals and minerals and product manufacturers for supply to be able to meet demands, claims an industry expert.

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According to Dr Bernie Rickinson, CEO at The Institute of Materials, Minerals and Mining, producers of metals and minerals need to understand how they are used by product designers and architects so as to comprehend what the demand is for such types of resources.

He believes that established manufacturing practices need to change as companies look at ways to produce goods more cheaply. This may mean they have to be less reliant on using metals and minerals to manufacture certain products.

Rickinson says: “There needs to be more engagement with the people who make the decisions about how the materials are going to be used. People cannot stand back and say the world is never going to change and that they will provide materials the same way as they have always done. Material producers need to appreciate the needs of the other community.

“For example, aerospace is driving towards lower fuel costs and more passenger miles. Metals are being displaced by composites. If you look at what the skin of an aircraft is made out of, it is predominately aluminium alloys, but the new Dreamliner aircraft is built from a carbon-fibre composite.

“If that as a technology starts to become proven, effectively you have a significant increase of manufacturing in aluminium which is going to see direct competition in composites.”

He is also seeing this in the car industry. He says: “Steel will always have a place in chassis, but if you look at the way the new Land Rover is now built, it is made out of aluminium. Audi has done the same, using aluminium to build its cars rather than cast iron.

“In the field of displacement, you have growing competition between metals and between other materials and metals. This is driving performance for the benefit of the end-user. No metal or material can be regarded as sacrosanct, insofar as it will always be used in a particular application. If CEOs are not thinking about the way in which the world is developing they are going to wake up one morning and find they have lost a market.”

Rickinson believes producers must keep in mind that demand for metals and minerals can swing backwards and forwards. It is driven by the economy.

He says: “The people who make the decisions on how to use the materials in the market are shaping the market for years to come. That knowledge is important. Also coming over the horizon is the technologist, who is disrupting the way we do things and coming up with new ways of building products. These collisions are always going to be happening – no one is ever going to stop them. It is a never-ending competition. There will always be something that is pressing. The smart money is looking at how businesses and markets are going to be displaced.

“This could either be  through designer choice, environmental issue, strategic or political events that are going to impact on the way in which my market moves, or I am going to see a threat coming from another material.”

Although the methods of extraction of metals and minerals may become more efficient and economically viable, unless producers communicate more with manufacturers, it will be harder to know – and react to – what future demand will be for their materials.

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