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Tech is a key to unlocking future metals successes


With serious economic challenges on the domestic and global fronts, this may not seem like the right time to make the case for metals makers to spend more on technology. Investments in equipment and information technology (IT) systems can be expensive and cumbersome, and choosing the right one can be a tricky decision. And perhaps in part because of this, there is a strong sense among analysts of the metals sector as well as among the suppliers of such solutions that the industry drags it feet more than most other businesses.

But technology is a key component to the future of every metals company around the world. Employing the latest in technology
breakthroughs is woven into every thread of being of the steel, aluminum, titanium and others metals industries. It is essential to
growth, efficiency and maintaining a competitive edge. Despite an ever-growing availability of a range of hardware, software, systems
analysis mechanisms and data-analysis tools to help metal companies make better decisions, some reluctance to embrace these solutions remains among metals makers.

But as a recent AMM/PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) survey shows, with each passing year, more metals executives are saying
that innovation and new technology—including IT—are critical or somewhat important to their long-term strategy. So maybe the message is being received, as Tony Barnes of PwC said in analyzing the survey results.

When it comes to advances in production and manufacturing processes, for decades most metals makers have had a consistent pattern of implementing and using the latest developments. Whether it’s advanced, high-strength steel or titanium powder processes or aluminum alloys, metals makers and their leadership have been bold and decisive and continue to be so. And there are still ways to make progress there.

But the area of IT has gradually become just as crucial to competitiveness and corporate financial health. Nearly all companies now
have chief technology officers or directors of technology, and these professionals have taken their tasks to heart. Still, while a majority
of companies have embraced at least some IT-driven solutions such as enterprise resource planning and enterprise risk-management systems, many have yet to come on board.

The challenge is that changes come at a fast-and-furious pace. For example, cloud computing, smart machining and the Internet
of Things are emerging right now as major breakthroughs. For a company to accept such IT answers, the impetus must come from
the chief executive, chief operating officer, chief financial officer or others at the top and then make its way down the ladder. While it’s
true that immediate and short-term priorities need attention, especially in today’s still-struggling economic climate, ignoring IT developments is a long-term strategic error. The companies that will not only survive but thrive will find ways to include IT investments in their planning and budgeting.

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