Celebrate the UK Industry You May Not Know, but Cannot Live Without
Refractories leader HarbisonWalker International Ltd. marks 100 years of serving industry
Wirral, UK – July 22, 2021 – For the past century, a leader of one of the most critical industries affecting the quality of all our lives has been consistently serving customers across the UK, Europe, and the Middle East. This month, HarbisonWalker International Ltd. (HWI) celebrates its 100th anniversary as a leading producer of refractory products and services.
Refractories are often called the “hidden industry,” or the industry behind all industries. Derived from the Latin word, ‘refractarius,’ meaning stubborn, refractories are essential protectants for all heat-intensive (>700°C) production processes. Refractory linings inside furnaces are rarely seen, and further, most consumers have no idea that these materials are critical to the manufacturing of almost everything. Hence the name “hidden industry.”
Virtually everything we see around us and use in our daily life has, at some point, had refractories involved: the paper and plastics we use, the glass we drink from, the phones we use, the houses we live in. Steel, aluminium, petrol, glass, cement, paper and pulp, and countless other materials rely on the protective properties of refractories in their manufacturing processes. Many of the world’s leading companies in these industries are the valued customers of HWI.
What are refractories?
Refractories are ceramic materials made using clay and other minerals, and the company’s earliest products were often called “fire bricks.” Today, customers’ requirements vary between pre-formed brick and monolithic products, depending on the application. The monolithic products can be shaped into countless forms or even sprayed on surfaces that require protection.
While the use of refractory materials is almost as old as fire itself, the need for refractories increased exponentially during the surge of industrialisation in the early 1900s. Refractory companies were founded across the world in and around the developing industrial areas.
The iron and steel industry always has been the top consumer of refractories. Over the years, processes and efficiencies have improved drastically, but for every ton of steel produced, an average of 6-8 kg of refractory is used. Considering that, worldwide, more than 1.8 billion tons of steel are produced every year, one can imagine the size of the refractory market for iron and steel alone.
The increase in population and evolution of industry resulted in the development of refractories for refineries, chemical plants, glass, copper, lead, and aluminium to name but a few. Every process is different and, in most cases, requires a refractory material specific to the industry. This specialization means that HWI provides thousands of other products, making refractories one of the most diverse industries.
HWI – Refractories in the UK
For HarbisonWalker International Ltd, the journey began on July 22nd, 1921, when the company was founded in London as Steam Plant Accessories Ltd. Initially, the company was supplying materials to boiler and steam companies.
For many years, the company had a sales office in London and a plant in Manchester. In 1966, the company invested in modernisation and built a brand-new plant in Bromborough. Throughout several acquisitions and corporate restructurings, the company changed names. Finally, in 2015 the name of the company was changed to HarbisonWalker International Ltd.
HarbisonWalker International Ltd. in the UK serves the European and Middle Eastern markets.
A committed sales team and a network of agents ensure close collaboration with customers and end-users. The local production of monolithic materials and precast shapes required in many applications make it possible to respond quickly to urgent customer requests. The company has been steady and constant in the local economy and a provider of long-term employment offering career opportunities.
As a part of HarbisonWalker International Inc., the largest producer of refractory products and services in North America, UK operations are supported by a vast Technical Marketing team and state-of-the-art Research and Development facilities. With more than 150 years of refractory expertise, these teams focus on the specific refractory needs of each market segment.
HWI is poised to meet customer needs today and in the future through ongoing change and adaptation of processes for lower carbon emissions. Requirements for improved insulation and the development of alternative heat sources will change the demand for refractories in the future. HarbisonWalker International technical, research, and sales teams are devoted to anticipating, delivering, and responding to customers to drive innovation.
This forward-thinking approach is also fueling the company’s employee-led Environmental, Social, and Governance, or “ESG,” journey, launched this year to ensure that HWI will be a thriving, responsible, and sustainable business for its next century of operations, and beyond. To learn more about HWI, visit thinkHWI.com.
About HarbisonWalker International
With more than 150 years of industry leadership, HarbisonWalker International (HWI) is the largest supplier of refractory products and services in the United States. Headquartered in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, the company’s international network spans North America, Europe, and Asia, with 19 manufacturing plants, 30 global sourcing centers, and technology facilities in both the United States and China. Serving virtually every major industry that requires refractory solutions to enhance production and protect assets, HWI is consistently recognized for its talented experts, industry firsts, and intensely driven excellence.