Refwin: Dear Mr. Nelson Guimaraes Gorgulho, Thanks for accepting Refwin interview. Would you please start with an introduction to Reframax Engenharia S.A.
Mr. Nelson Guimaraes Gorgulho:
It is with great pleasure that we respond to your request for an interview and we thank you for your deference. Reframax is a service company, initially focused only on the assembly of refractory lining and thermal insulation, and this is still its core business. In addition to consolidating its name on the market in these services, by executing several large works in its twenty-one years of existence, over the past eight years we have decided to expand our service portfolio by adding the services of Industrial Painting, Scaffolding and Electromechanical Assembly (associated to major refractory lining works or small and medium-sized projects). We are present in all industrial segments of Brazil in these service portfolios and we serve the other South America countries in the specialties of Refractory Lining and Thermal Insulation. We are mainly present in large Brazilian steel companies with permanent maintenance contracts in their Reduction, Steelmaking and Coke plants, which demand constant repair of refractory lining.
Refwin: Established in 1999, Reframax Engenharia S.A. is actually a very young company in this field. What roles do you play in South America market?
Mr. Nelson Guimaraes Gorgulho:
In fact, Reframax is not as young as it looks. The entire technical and managerial body of the company comes from a company that ended at the same time as the beginning of Reframax operations and that already operated in the refractory assembly market for over 25 years. I myself was Commercial Manager of that company and worked there for eighteen years. Therefore, we can say that the company's experience in the area is over 40 years in work performed by its technical staff. We can say, without false modesty, that we are a reference in terms of refractory assembly companies in Brazil and South America, especially in the steel sector. We have a subsidiary in Argentina and we operate in other countries on demand for existing works, including alliances with local companies in each country. Today, we can say that several international engineering companies recognize Reframax for its quality and commitment to delivery, recommending us to their customers.
Refwin: By far, Reframax mostly works with its business in Brazil or in Latin America. Do you have plans to expand business to global market? What is your strategies about globalization?
Mr. Nelson Guimaraes Gorgulho:
At the moment we have no plans for expansion outside Latin America. We have already had some proposals from our customers with units in Europe and North America (we even made an important job in Canada, using our Shotcreting Robot). However, there is no specific plan at this time. We still have a great challenge to expand our new portfolio in the Brazilian market and that demands a great sales effort. As mentioned before, since we have diversified our portfolio, a large number of business opportunities have opened up for our company. Some of them, in traditional clients, such as steel and mining, but also in other industrial segments. This "new market" is demanding a strong commitment from our entire team of employees, to meet these new demands and maintain the same quality standard.
Refwin: Against COVID-19, almost each industrial field have been affected, and Brazil is one of the most serious country affected by the virus. What is the situation of Reframax in this global virus and what measures have you take to overcome the hard time?
Mr. Nelson Guimaraes Gorgulho:
As soon as we heard that Covid-19 had spread around the world and arrived in Brazil, I compared the crisis to the beginning of a war. In those early days, we still did not have the exact dimension of when it would end, nor was it possible to measure its impacts on our daily lives and our business. Insecurity was enormous, and for that reason we had to behave as if we were heading into battle. As the weeks went by, however, prophylactic measures were discovered and we observed that it was possible to continue operating with the guarantee that our employees would be protected, and we became able to resist. Our greatest commitment, even before the pandemic, has always been to ensure the full security of our team. Fortunately, thanks to all the care, we managed to win the first battles. At the same time, we have worked hard to preserve jobs, especially in the administrative and technical areas. To this end, we remain attentive to the need of expanding our service portfolio and, as far as possible, continuing with the plan we had prepared for this year.
Refwin: How do you think the market refractories industry in Latin America? Where do you think its future lie in? Do you think COVID-19 will change the refractories industry in coming years? How?
Mr. Nelson Guimaraes Gorgulho: I believe that the refractory industry in Latin America is in a phase of modernization and optimization of its production processes, preparing itself for a growth in the productivity and quality of its products in relation to the world market. This improvement comes with the investments that have been made in its production processes.
Brazil is a country with a strong mineral vocation. This way the refractory industry in Brazil has excellent reserves of raw materials for the production of refractory materials, with a high degree of purity. This provides an excellent competitive advantage, compared to other countries and markets. Both international and national companies operating in Brazil have excellent quality products and act strongly as exporters to several countries, outside the American continent.
As for the influence of COVID-19, I believe that its effect cannot be analyzed only from the point of view of the refractory industry. In my view, it will have an influence on the entire production chain, changing the population's habits and consumption. The evaluation of this consequence is still premature, but it will be felt in all productive areas, for sure.
Refwin: We see many large producers are pushing forward “smart factory” or “industrial 4.0” in their production links and even the whole supply chains. How do you think of these internet or digital improvements? What influence do you think it will bring to refractories industry? Do you have such strategies?
Mr. Nelson Guimaraes Gorgulho: I do not see it as an option, but as a necessity, given the position of companies that produce refractory materials to have a globalized product. A standard of cost and quality that is required today is only the product of this set of innovations. As stated before, Reframax is a company exclusively specialized in the execution of services, not being a producer of materials. However, we seek through all possible ways to put ourselves in line with the most modern demolition and installation processes, with the use of robots in demolitions and Shotcreting application in Blast Furnaces, just as an example. Also, in long-term refractory maintenance contracts, on which we are responsible for the thickness control of the refractory remaining lining of the equipment (thermal and laser control for example), we have done this control with an intelligent measurement (3D laser scanning tool), combining service and material savings. Another example refers to the application of our vocation, to find solutions: in one of our clients we have implemented (from preliminary studies, detailed engineering and construction) an automated system for cleaning air ducts and coke ovens, providing increased stability operation of the ovens and consequently greater productivity.
Other possibility of gains on the services supply chain is the use of BIM (Building information Modeling). We are studying internally and step by step how that tool can help us (and our final customer consequently) to get more productivity, keeping the same high levels of safety and quality indexes, as well as to be more competitive in this hard competence market.
Refwin: What are the main points that make REFRAMAX ENGENHARIA a reference company for refractory application services?
Mr. Nelson Guimaraes Gorgulho: Since its foundation, we have always sought to develop our activities, targeting the needs of our customers with innovative solutions. We focus on the quality of the execution of our services, respecting what is most important, that is the health and safety of our employees. This way, we always guarantee full compliance with our contracts, with safety, quality of services and execution within the established deadlines.
The great differential of our company are the people who develop their activities here. We try to foster a work environment that stimulates development and innovation, providing incentives for this.
We invest heavily in training and developing our employees, always with the purpose of ensuring their engagement with our vision.
Refwin: Quite directly, how do you describe REFRAMAX in large numbers? What are the major challenges you expect to face in the coming years?
Mr. Nelson Guimaraes Gorgulho: We are a company with approximately 2500 employees, with 120 professionals in the technical staff, having already carried out more than 2300 projects in more than 350 clients in these 21 years. They have worked in Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay, Chile, Peru, Colombia, Trinidad & Tobacco and Canada. Our annual sales are around USD 70 Mil. We operate strongly in the Steel, Mining, Cement and Lime, Pulp and Paper, Chemical, Oil & Gas markets.
Regarding our major challenges, we are still facing the possible effects of COVID 19 and its consequences throughout the business chain. In general, we foresee a slight growth in our sales, with a financial return to recover our profit margin, consolidating our strategy of being present in all the industrial segments that demand our services. In the political field, we are awaiting a series of reforms that could affect our operations and also our customers. We have strong expectations that these changes will increase the confidence of national entrepreneurs, transforming Brazil into an even more attractive country for foreign investors, consolidating it as a competitive and fair country for the installation of new industrial projects.