Grupo Metalur is Latin America’s biggest aluminum recycler – producing secondary aluminum alloys for the automotive and industrial sectors. The company produces 90,000 tons of aluminum a year and is completely committed to constant evolution. Reuben Ford reports on how Metalur is raising the bar for global aluminum production.
Aluminum cans are now officially the world’s most recycled beverage container, according to new statistics released by the Aluminum Association. Figures rose from 58 percent in 2010 to 2011’s 65 percent, putting the industry on the right path toward reaching its goal of a 75 percent recycling rate by 2015. Recycled aluminum takes 95 percent less energy to manufacture than that manufactured from virgin material, and the energy saved from can recycling in 2011 is the energy equivalent of saving 17 million barrels of crude oil.
Brazil’s aluminum recycling rates are the highest globally. The Aluminum Association reports that 61 billion cans were recycled in the US in 2010, while in Brazil the recycling rates of drinking cans reached almost 100 percent in the same year.
Metalur, which operates in São Paulo and Manaus is the Brazil’s largest recycler of aluminum. Factors such as energy saving and the rapid development of the automotive industry have driven the demand for aluminum. The company produces liquid aluminum, aluminum bars and aluminum powder and billets with zero residues.
STARTING FROM ZERO
Metalur is the only company in Brazil to produce recycled aluminum with zero waste, but arriving at this unique position has been the result of experience and strategic development to satisfy the demands of a growing industry. Today, the Metalur Group comprises three companies, which supply a variety of secondary aluminum products and employ processes that have set an example for the Latin American market. Metalur’s Recicla Alumínio uses methods developed in Europe to recycle aluminum dross and eliminate waste. The plant in São Paulo, Araçariguama supports neighboring Metalur Brasil, which was inaugurated in 1976, and Tecal Alumínio da Amazônia in Manaus.
However, to trace the success of the group it is necessary to start in 1952 when aluminum and magnetic alloys were welcome imports to the receptive Brazilian market. Initially an importer and distributer of metals, Metalur began developing its brand and know-how in the industry.
Success inspired the opening of the first plant in Araçariguama, approximately 40 miles from São Paulo state capital in the 1970s. By the 1980s it was producing special alloys and exporting aluminum products. “Thanks to our entrepreneurial spirit, our development accompanied the expanding of a market, which was in need of our metals,” confirms CEO, Caetano Messias Filho.
It was in the 1990s that Metalur shifted its focus to secondary aluminum. This was an important step for the company that was a frontrunner in the evolution of the industry in Brazil.
Dedicated to recycling, Metalur was determined to usefully employ the waste from secondary aluminum production. Liquid, ingots and powder all residue, which could be transformed into useful materials, such as aluminum concentrate, salt and alurox. The “aluminum concentrate” and the “salt” return to the aluminum production and the “alurox” can be applied as fillers in asphalt, concrete and bricks.
Recicla consists of two milling plants for the re-use of metallic aluminum and a chemical facility for the transformation of the slag. “It is one of ten plants of its type in the world and the only one in Brazil,” Messias Filho affirms.
The plant was completed in 2005, when the chemical facility was opened and the Metalur Group truly achieved ‘zero residue’. In the meantime, increasing production in the transportation sector had elevated levels of consumption of aluminum and Metalur had identified the need for a supplier in the northern state of Manaus. The state had been chosen as a location for motorcycle factories and the demand for liquid aluminum was high. While concentrating on the increased productivity and efficiency of its recycling, Metalur opened the third company of the group in 2004: Tecal Alumínio.
“Tecal was another result of our role as entrepreneur. The manufacture of motorcycles has rocketed in the last ten years from 350,000 to 1.7 million. We wanted to participate in the growth,” Messias Filho says. As the center of motorcycle production in Brazil, Manaus was the ideal location for the facility, which produces liquid secondary aluminum. Honda, which has an 80 percent market share, is located in the state, and the decision to open Tecal was based on logistics and practicality.
The three companies of the group provide an all-round mutual support system for each other and an exchange of knowledge and expertise. With a total of 680 staff, the Metalur Group’s facilities total 65,000 square meters.
The technological advantages of the group have made Metalur the largest secondary alloy manufacturer in Brazil. It was the first to use rotary and tilting furnaces for smelting metal and a pioneer in the development of containers for the transport of liquid aluminum used predominantly in automobile and motorcycle manufacturing. “We imported processes and technology from abroad, adapted them to Brazil and to the structure and functioning of the group. In Europe and the US these techniques were already in practice – we brought them to Brazil,” continues Messias Filho.
Nowadays, the nature of the competitive market has afforded competitors the same technology, but with its three facilities and three product lines, Metalur has secured a firm reputation and leading market position.
“Our strategy now is to maintain the leadership, service and quality that our clients expect from us,” Messias Filho says. His words are reflected strongly in the group’s aggressive investment in constantly improving its companies. Between 2000 and 2008, around $10 million was invested in Recicla and between 2004 and in 2008 $7.5 million was spent on the construction and furnishing of Tecal in Manaus.
Metalur’s strategy is a success. The group is growing at an average rate of 10 percent a year and aims to produce 100 thousand tons of secondary aluminum in 2012 – 80 percent of its total production capacity.
According to Messias Filho, the secure position of the company is partly due to Tecal that has accompanied the astonishing growth of the motorcycle market. “Our achievements are also thanks to our quality, timely delivery and commitment to our clients,” he adds.
Brazil’s economic growth and the valuation of the currency have been unfavorable to exports across the board. High taxation and cheaper options available on the global market have also presented a challenge to the aluminum recycling industry. Despite being the world leader in secondary aluminum production rates, Brazil faces many challenges. “Fortunately the domestic automotive industry (more and more companies are setting up local factories in Brazil to beat import taxes) and the loyalty of our clients enable our constant investment in a bright and secure future,” Messias Filho says.
Certainly, the market potential and production capacity of the group support Messias Filho’s outlook. Metalur has grown with the market and established itself as an authority in secondary aluminum. Constant investment and innovation in resources and technology are also broadening the group’s horizons. Although 90 percent of production is currently destined for the automotive industry, the boom in civil construction is building further opportunity.
Metalur also plans to intensify markets in the south of Brazil and consolidate its hold on new markets. An excellent track record of evolution and environment-conscious practices prove the group is more than capable of reaching its goals. A traditional company with a forward-thinking approach, Metalur is a shining example of the future of aluminum.