Rick Volk from Uni-Ref, Inc. was RCD’s 2012 T.J. Planje Award winner.

On Wednesday and Thursday I attended the 48th Symposium on Refractories sponsored by the St. Louis Section and the Refractory Ceramics Division. A record number of 162 attendees came to hear eleven talks on the theme of “Refractories for Non-Ferrous Applications.” Most stayed for the Phase Diagram Short Course given by Jeff Smith, professor at Missouri S&T.

The overwhelming majority of attendees work for industry as manufacturers, suppliers or consumers of refractories. A handful of academic and national lab (and Society) attendees provided leavening. A surprising (to me) number of attendees were retired or semi-retired from the refractory industry, but have maintained their interest and friendships in the field. Mark Stett, retired from National Refractories & Minerals told me, “Refractories isn’t just a profession, it’s a family.” I saw no evidence to the contrary!

Planje award winner, Rick Volk, used his presentation to provide a compelling overview of his career and the evolution of the refractory industry by highlighting the roles previous Planje award winners influenced his career.

The refractory industry has changed a lot over the years, and the days of making commodity refractory brick for the steel industry are gone. But, I talked to several engineers from smaller companies that are doing well and have found success by catering to niche markets, developing custom solutions and focusing on quality. Most everyone I talked to expressed cautious optimism about the direction their industry is going.

The international refractories community was well represented, too, with attendees from Peru, Brazil, Canada, China, Germany, France, Norway and Mexico.

Below are pictures from the event. Planning for next year has already begun. Watch The Bulletin and the ACerS website for details later in the year.

Jason Canon, RCD chair, welcomes a record 162 participants to the 48th Symposium on Refractories

Eleven talks were presented on the theme,"Refractories for Non-Ferrous Applications," and held the group's attention.

Many of the attendees came from abroad, including Marcus Magliano from Brazil, who was attending his first RCD symposium.

Ample coffee breaks provided plenty of opportunity to network, renew friendships and conduct business.

Longtime members of the "refractories family."

Rio Tinto Alcan's Tim Hillkirk works with a customer during the Expo.

Students from Missouri S&T discussed their work at the poster session held in conjunction with the Expo.

Professor Jeff Smith (Missouri S&T) demonstrates how to set up a point on a ternary phase diagram for before applying the Lever Rule.

Smith's two-hour short course was a useful brush-up on the fundamentals of using phase diagrams.