The Metal industry is one of the strongest manufacturing sectors in Slovenia. The industry creates 30 percent of the total national manufacturing output and over one third of the exports, with a value exceeding 20 billion euros in 2022. The industry employs close to 50,000 people. Most of the output comes from the manufacturing of machinery and transportation equipment and not from a metal industry in the sense of the production and processing of basic metals. Still, the basic metal industry – historically one of the country’s most important segments - remains relevant. It is the backbone of Slovenia’s automotive sector, and it has gone through significant changes. Though formally not considered a high tech industry, it still strives for innovation and a clear orientation towards more sustainable operations. Steel and aluminium producers are regular recipients of the national innovation awards. SIJ Ravne Metal, for example, develops extremely high resistance steels for use in the toughest conditions. Their materials are used in the ITER Tokamak, the world’s largest fusion reactor. The company belongs to the Slovenian Steel Industry Group (SIJ) and develops five to ten new versions of steel every year. It is the third largest tool steel producer in Europe and fifth largest in the world. Its sister company SIJ Ravne Systems became the third largest producer of softwood veneer laminate knives – and one of the few outside Japan – due to its innovative new material.
The sector also increasingly employs factory 4.0 principles. The aluminium company Impol is working on a new AI based software solution for the development of new alloys. Slovenian Steel Industry (SIJ) uses digital twins to develop more efficient processes. Talum’s Aluminium 4.0 project also aims for the digitalisation of its operations.
The industry was hit by the increase of energy prices and Talum, for example, has had to suspend its primary production of aluminium and focus entirely on higher value products, such as slugs, alloys, castings, billets, evaporators, and heat exchangers. Talum is fighting unstable energy prices with battery storage systems – the latest addition designed by Slovenian company Ngen is one of the largest in Europe. Another answer to the energy crisis is to increase efficiency and sustainability. Recently Talum invested 170 million euros into making their operations more sustainable. They have already managed to reduce their carbon footprint by 79 percent and plan to increase the share of recycled aluminium used in production from 39 to 55 percent. Slovenian SID bank recently listed R&D projects to green-up the production among the best practices supported by the bank. Impol’s R&D project Green Al Pro is working on “green” top quality alloys for the automotive industry. The company increasingly uses recycled aluminium and has developed InfinitiAL, a new line of alloys comprising at least 50-percent of the recycled material. SIJ aims to reduce the emissions from steel production by 51 percent before 2030. The group has almost reached their zero-waste goal: they reuse or recycle 97.6 percent of their industrial waste. The times when the metal industry was synonymous with pollution and low value mass production seem to be over for good.