H.C. Starck increased its sales volume to €785.9 million in 2014 (2013: 703.9 million). As of 31 December, 2014, the company reported 2,678 employees worldwide (2012: 2,843).

As of 31 December, 2014, the company reported 2,678 employees worldwide (2012: 2,843).

The company said that it performed well in 2014 ‘given the very difficult market environment’. It reported a large increase in its tungsten powder division, with sales increasing by more than €75 million in 2014, bolstered by new customers and market share gains.

‘The increase in sales was also supported by our strategic growth projects in Asia: the tungsten joint ventures in China and Vietnam. That helped us grow significantly our tungsten powder business, and gain large market shares especially in Asia,’ said Andreas Meier, CEO of H.C. Starck. ‘Overall, though, 2014 was shaped by the difficult economic situation in our global core markets, which hurt the profitability of the business.’ In particular, there were structural changes in the tungsten and tantalum market with correspondingly negative price effects and increased competition which in turn led to a decline in raw-material prices, he said. Sales results were also impacted by the weak Japanese yen and by a notable drop in metal listings.

H.C. Starck’s tungsten powders are mainly used in manufacturing industrial tools and wear parts, in order to facilitate high-performance processes like metal drilling, turning and milling on an industrial scale. The tungsten component business also saw a clear increase in sales volume, in particular thanks to the competitive cost structure at the division’s Chinese manufacturing site. 

Rare earth metals

In the tantalum and niobium powder business, H.C. Starck reported no increase in demand. But despite this difficult market environment, the company was able to gain market shares for tantalum powders and reinforce its competitive position. In addition, the company used cost-effective raw materials to stabilize its results in the second half of the year. 

In its surface technology and ceramic powders division, H.C. Starck saw a double-digit percentage increase in sales. In particular, the thermal spray powder business benefited from increased demand in the United States and several new products and customers.

Investments

In 2014 H.C. Starck increased its investments up to around €40 million. The major part of the budget was spent on the construction of the production facilities of the new tungsten joint venture, on German production sites and on the further expansion of the tungsten joint venture in China.

Research and development focused on projects to increase the yield in processing secondary materials and byproducts, to improve the quality of tantalum and niobium powders, and to develop special tungsten carbides for the Asian market. In addition, H.C. Starck launched several partnerships to use tantalum pastes in manufacturing ultra-thin capacitors with heights less than 0.3 millimeters. These capacitors can be used to make very thin electronic devices that will be used in many forward-looking trends, for instance wearable electronics. Another research focus was on developing high-purity tantalum and niobium oxides, which are the base material for SAW filters.

Gradual recovery

H.C. Starck said that it expects only a gradual recovery for its core markets in 2015. ‘Our cautious business forecast is mainly based on the persistent weak growth of our target industries in Europe and Asia,’ said Meier. ‘Oil and raw-material prices as well as currencies will continue to be very volatile; growth in the emerging countries will be slower, and geopolitical conflicts will slow the global economy.’ Despite these uncertain framework conditions, the company said that it sees good opportunities ahead for 2015, thanks in part to low oil prices, which will stimulate the processing industry.

The focus of the ongoing fiscal year is on optimizing the powder business. ‘With the complete startup and maximum capacity utilization of our tungsten joint ventures in China and Vietnam, we are perfectly positioned to leverage Asia’s market potential and the demand for tungsten for our own growth,’ said Meier. ‘Together with our existing tungsten powder production lines in Germany and Canada, that makes us the world’s largest independent tungsten manufacturer.’

New industries

H.C. Starck also plans to grow its tantalum and niobium powder business during the 2015 fiscal year. ‘We will reinforce our leading market position with innovative products for new industries, along with a revised business model for capacitor powders,’ said Meier. In addition, the company plans to position its tantalum and niobium powder business more broadly outside the electronics industry. 

In the other divisions, the company will strengthen the regional expansion of its business activities. In addition, innovative technologies and market segments like additive manufacturing and the semiconductor industry offer attractive business opportunities.

The company plans to recycle more secondary materials in the ongoing fiscal year: ‘Our goal is to separate our raw-material supply from the increasing volatility and speculation on the raw-materials market, said Meier. ‘That’s why we are not only processing conflict-free ore concentrates, but are also recycling more secondary materials – to secure our supply of cost-effective raw materials.’