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R&D Series: Our R&D Center in Contagem (Brazil)

21. June 2018

Our R&D Center in Contagem (Minas Gerais, Brazil) employs around 70 highly skilled scientists and focuses on refractories, raw materials and mineral processing. In fact, Contagem marks the only R&D Center within the company with a laboratory and a pilot plant dedicated to mineral processing studies.

We interviewed our two R&D leaders in Contagem about their activities in R&D Refractories and R&D Mineral Processing. They gave us an overview of their fields of research, characteristics of their site and what being customer focused means for them.

1) What is special about your R&D center/hub?

Modestino Brito, Head of R&D South America (R&D Refractories): We have a qualified, conscious and motivated team that reflects modern business competencies such as a sense of urgency, courage to take risks, cost awareness and accountability. We are ready to provide prompt responses to plant and marketing requests, with great focus on the customer’s needs and product quality. The laboratories and R&D facilities have specialized equipment to carry out product design and processing tests, such as different kinds of mixers, presses, furnaces and microscopes. Our instrumental laboratory is ISO/IEC 17025 – CRL1.196 accredited by INMETRO, a Brazilian government agency that audits and controls the requirements of this standard. This places us at the international level of chemical and carbon analysis of minerals and refractory products.

Paschoal Bonadia, Head of R&D Mineral Processing (R&D Mineral Processing): We are simulating all the main ore treatment operations on a small scale, collecting data and then bringing them to the industrial site at lower risks. At the same time, we are providing information for the conceptual engineering of expansion projects and new plants. The R&D Mineral Processing team supports RHI Magnesita plants that produce raw materials, helps them to improve their efficiencies and strengthens the company’s strategy on basic raw materials verticalization.

2) Which fields of research are you focusing on?

Modestino Brito (R&D Refractories): Current R&D projects focus on the study of different binder systems, application of alternative materials in various refractory products (secondary recycled material) and development of new products based on novel raw materials.

Paschoal Bonadia (R&D Mineral Processing): Our main focus is on magnesite beneficiation, especially on topics related to grinding, flotation, calcination and sintering, with the goal of providing the best raw material for the company, both in terms of quality and cost.

3) The objectives of the TAC are to bring in new expertise and knowledge from outside, to strengthen the ties to the external world of technology and open up the innovation process. Which key partners are you collaborating with internally (departments) and externally? Why is this important?

Modestino Brito (R&D Refractories): Internal partners are the operations, purchasing, technical assistance and sales areas. We cultivate a close and collaborative relationship to provide the best and most applicable responses to the company’s and the market’s needs. External partners include universities, suppliers and customers, such as the Federal University of São Carlos (UFSCar), Federal University of Minas Gerais (UFMG), and key customers, among many others. These partnerships foster an innovation culture and are valuable for the development and assertiveness of our projects.

Paschoal Bonadia (R&D Mineral Processing): We have a team of researchers that work internally in close cooperation with various internal and external specialists including geologists and plant engineers. Externally, we develop post-graduation programs with the best universities in Brazil to address some of our challenges from a more academic perspective, which gives us the needed technical foundations to many of the ongoing projects more focused on applied and incremental improvement research. These collaborations are extremely important to broaden our view of the different approaches to the problems we have and keep us up to date on the latest trends in our field of studies. Now, with the TAC, we will be able to align our views with that of some of the greatest specialists worldwide.

4) “To act customer focused and innovatively” is one of our cultural themes. What does this mean concretely for your R&D center?

Modestino Brito (R&D Refractories): Understanding the customers’ needs is a daily challenge. Our researchers are encouraged to support marketing in customer visits and attend seminars and conferences worldwide to be constantly up to date regarding the market changes and needs. With this in mind, they are able to develop projects that are original, relevant and valuable to our customers.

Paschoal Bonadia (R&D Mineral Processing): On the Mineral Processing area our main customers are internal ones, like the plants that produce raw materials, although we also give technical support to part of the raw materials sales. For us, the cultural themes lead the way and we strive to provide our customers, either internal or external, with a prompt response and the best possible solution for value creation, even if the problem presented is still unknown to us. Our driving force is to find answers to new challenges and situations, cooperating with other departments across the company and taking advantage of our research facilities.