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Urge to standstill needs to be resisted, even now

Keywords: Tags  metals, steel, aluminum, Bob Weidner, Metals Service Center Institute, MSCI, Roger Newport, AK Steel Corp. SMDI

All along the supply chain for nearly two years, pain has been a common experience for many of those involved in metals. But even during what have been tough times recently, another important factor also has been shared—innovation.

“What has made us successful over the last 10 years is not going to make us successful over the next 10 years,” Bob Weidner, president and chief executive officer of the Metals Service Center Institute said at an organization meeting earlier this year.

“To ignore (innovation) would be flawed on our part,” he said later at the same meeting. “That’s where all of you come into play as leaders in the industry.... It’s our responsibility to challenge conventional ideas. Hope is not a strategy.”

Technological innovation is critical to the steel industry right now. This is a message that should strike other executives as not just self-evident, but also urgent.

Because it is grounded in science, technology and engineering, the metals industry is uniquely positioned to lead the country in discussing ways to find new solutions that can power people and industry, promote sustainability and put strong winds at the sails of the American economy.

“AK Steel and the steel industry are not standing still; we are continuing to develop new grades of steel to help the auto industry find cost-effective solutions to reduce the weight of vehicles,” Roger Newport, chief executive officer of West Chester, Ohio-based AK Steel Corp., said during a recent SMDI event.

Today is a golden age for such symbiotic planning, development and breakthroughs. Articles in this month’s issue highlight just how much this is the case on a regular basis. This issue is filled with stories about new technologies, from data collection to scanning advances to sensors on the production side to process optimization and the tools of IT and the cloud on the virtual and managerial side.

Often overlooked is how much the sellers and buyers of metals are interlinked. While not always nor exclusively locked in this symbiotic relationship, it often is the case that they are dependent on one another. For example, automakers seek lighter cars to help improve gas efficiency, and metals firms battle to help supply the answers. The businesses that most successfully understand and incorporate this thinking are the ones that will rule future markets.

Fortunately, many metals businesses regularly rise to the occasion and work to develop products and processes that will meet these needs. There are those that try to deny the truth and scope of these challenges or opportunities, claiming it is easier to find ways to justify the status quo than it is to face reality and begin to adapt to the facts and adopt new ways of performing. But a long view of the history of business shows this is unwise. Those companies willing to accept the truth and change their ways survive best and flourish over time.

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