Brazil's Metallurgical Heritage
I started this series by talking about the history of Brazil and the composition of its population. Immigrants from around the world constitute what Brazil is today – a country where all races are present. This immigration helped create the Brazil we know today.
There were once large pools of idle land in Brazil with little manpower available for agriculture. After a global economic crisis in the 1930s, however, there was too much manpower available. Rural workers with reduced land dimensions could no longer feed large families.
This may explain the emergence of companies in Brazil in the metallurgical branch dedicated to producing tools and utensils linked to rural activities. Take the Gerdau Group, for example, a major steel company and one of the largest suppliers of special long-carbon steels worldwide.
The history of Gerdau begins with Johannes Heinrich Kaspar Gerdau, a German emigrant who left for the south of Brazil in 1869. The son of farmers, Gerdau opened a home business selling domestic and imported products. He started in industrial activity by acquiring a factory in 1901 that produced nails. This gave rise to the industrial conglomerate that today has steel mills in 14 countries with an installed capacity of over 26 million tons of steel per year. With over 120,000 shareholders, the shares of Gerdau companies are listed on the stock exchanges of São Paulo, New York and Madrid.
Another Brazilian company with a similar origin is Tramontina, a manufacturer known worldwide for its kitchen appliances, hand tools and other products. The company was founded in 1911 by Valentin Tramontina, the son of Italian immigrants. He started by producing knives. Today, the group has more than 10 factories spread across the globe and manufactures and sells more than 17,000 items. Tramontina employs robots and the latest-generation vacuum furnaces.
The opportunities presented by Brazil have been exploited by immigrants and their families. Over time, descendants of these immigrants are continuing to write Brazilian history in the fields of metallurgy and heat treatment.
The manufacturers of raw materials are genuinely Brazilian-born and internationalized. A good example is CBMM (Companhia Brasileira de Metalurgia e Mineração). The company is the world’s leading niobium producer after decades of investment in niobium technology and applications. Founded in 1955 in Araxá, Minas Gerais at the site of a large niobium-ore deposit, CBMM currently employs 1,800 professionals that provide cutting-edge niobium products and technology to over 300 customers in 50 countries.
Another company worth mentioning is Magnesita Refractories. Created in 1939 after the discovery of magnesite deposits in Brumado, in the northern state of Bahia, its industrial activities started in 1944 with the production of alumina and silica-alumina refractory products. In 2008, Magnesita acquired German company LWB Refractories, a market leader in basic refractory and dolomitic products. Currently, the company operates 28 industrial and mining units worldwide.
Over time, furnace manufacturers and heat-treatment shops have emerged. At first dedicated to meet the vast domestic market, these companies have started to go abroad. Brazil has a special feature – it has an internal consumer market of over 250 million people but at the same time is geographically distant from major international consumer centers. This may hinder the expansion of Brazilian companies that want to enter the world market and, furthermore, require technology that is not always available in our country.
But this is not the case. I attended the Thermprocess show in Germany in June and found many exhibitors from Brazil. Claudio Goldbach is director of a Brazilian company in the industrial heating and insulation industry that found partners abroad developing the latest technology in aluminum melting. With these partners he formed Termia Technology, which developed an isothermal melting furnace for aluminum.
This is the way of the future.