Manufacturing Sustainability: Green Manufacturing News

Materials Industries Face Significant Long-Term Challenges

posted by William R. Stott
Published: February 08, 2009

Global competition, energy supplies and new technologies are among the issues converging to create a perfect storm that threatens to engulf the materials industries, according to a materials industry consultant.

“The ultimate driving force behind this storm is simply population growth,” said Carl E. Frahme, Ph.D., an instructor for ASM International, the materials information society. “The pressures have been overwhelming on supplies of raw materials and energy, and especially on the environment. And because technology has driven per capita consumption of all resources dramatically higher, the challenges are that much more intense.”

Frahme, the president of Frahme Consulting Services, Gardner, KS, described “A Perfect Storm for Materials Industries” in the January 2009 issue of Advanced Materials & Processes magazine, published by ASM International.

Raw materials: Up to this point, mankind has acted as if the supply of raw materials is virtually inexhaustible, even though intellectually we know this cannot be true. In fact, strains are starting to appear for many raw materials. Iron ore is not yet a problem, but raw materials for copper, aluminum, some other metals, oil and gas (for polymers), and others are being questioned, at least in the 50 to 100 year resource range. Although we might not normally consider them as “raw materials,” enough clean water and even good soil may be in jeopardy.

Environmental concerns: Materials industries are energy intensive, and a large portion of that energy is fossil-based. In addition, many areas are experiencing air and water pollution problems. These are not necessarily local problems any longer. For example, there is strong evidence that 10% of the air pollution in California comes from China. Mining, the source of most of our materials, is often a target of “not in my backyard” thinking. How do we get China to join in global efforts to solve the issues?

Global competition: In the 1970’s when U.S. President Richard Nixon initiated contacts with China, who would have predicted the level of international trade and commerce that China has achieved? Who then would have predicted the near dominance of Japanese auto manufacturers in the U.S. market? Who would have predicted that heavy and bulky products such as toilets would be shipped to the U.S. from Asia, and that manufacturers in the United States would be very adversely affected? Global competition is well established and is not going away, despite the world economic crisis. For most industries, being able to compete globally is necessary for survival. It also offers enormous opportunities for those able to compete.

New technologies: When a new and potent technology comes along, it has the potential to decimate industries or companies based on older technologies, at least if they fail to embrace or effectively counter the new technology.

  • New chemical vapor deposition processes can produce diamonds, including large gem quality diamonds, without the high pressure/temperature processes developed some decades ago and used mostly to make industrial diamonds for grinding and machining. This offers all sorts of new opportunities for the application of diamond materials, but it also causes a market to disappear for press manufacturers.
  • Float glass now totally dominates the production of quality flat glass, but the initial development
    was not easy. New flat-screen technologies have caused the demise of CRT screens for TV and computers and the glass industry based on them.
  • The basic oxygen furnace has dramatically changed steelmaking. BOF furnaces have totally
    replaced open hearth furnaces, and as a result changed the refractory business.
  • Traditional metals such as low carbon steel and cast iron are being replaced in the auto industry by aluminum, special high strength steels, polymers, and composites.
  • Aluminum is being replaced in the aerospace industry by composites. The new Boeing 787 Dreamliner is more than 50% composites by weight.
  • Laser cutting and machining are replacing traditional methods.

Interrelationships: The Perfect Storm aspect of all of this is that the challenges are highly interrelated. Energy and the environment and raw materials supply are not separate issues. Global competition includes not only new technologies, but also raw materials and energy supplies and costs, and environmental issues must be factored in. The current world economic crisis compounds these issues and requires a not only a great deal of thinking – but action.

Frahme will describe these challenges in detail, and options for meeting them, during a special ASM International Education presentation at Materials Park, Ohio on Feb. 23-29. For more information about “Meeting the Challenges to the Materials Industries Posed by Raw Materials Supply, Energy, Environmental Constraints, Global Competition, and New Technologies,” visit

Frahme co-founded the Ceramic Correspondence Institute, now owned and operated by The American Ceramic Society, and remains active in its operation. He was a lecturer in ceramic technology at UCLA and holds a number of patents in refractory fiber and other technologies. He holds a B.S. in Metallurgical Engineering from Case Western Reserve University and a Ph.D. in Ceramics from Rutgers.

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