Yardie Interviews → Yves Simons

November 2009, Interview with Yves Simons of Umicore Indium Products

This month, our youth coordinator Alma Carrillo sits down with Yves Simons, of Umicore Indium Products, located just across the street from the Steel Yard.  A donation from Umicore supported one enrollment for a youth in this year's Camp Metalhead summer program.  Yves talks with us about how they are leading the way in metals recycling and why Umicore chose to support our programming.

Alma Carrillo: What is Umicore?
Yves Simons: Umicore started as a mining company over two centuries ago, but over the years has transformed into a materials technology manufacturer.  We work with different producers of goods that need non-ferrous based materials, silver, gold, platinum, and selenium, just to name a few.  Another one of these metals, indium, is what led us to Providence where we manufacture indium tin oxide for hi-tech digital screens and touch panels, Indium based salts to prevent rust, and an indium alloy for temperature based safety shut-offs.  Originally based in Belgium, we now have about 15,000 employees worldwide.
AC: What makes Umicore different?
YS: Umicore has been very active in promoting and producing sustainable products that can be recycled at the end of their life.  Umicore is the number one recycler in the world of electronic scraps.  Old electronics, computers and cell phones get collected and we smelt them to get their metals back in the original form.  We spend eighty-percent of our research and development efforts in search of new materials that will help the environment.
For instance, we provide materials that go into mobile phone batteries, and about half the phones in the world use these materials.  These are rechargeable batteries that can be used again and again.  We do the same with the catalytic converters that alter affluent gasses in today's vehicles.
These days, "sustainable development" are buzz words companies use frequently, but we have been living that phrase for over 10 years.
AC: Any new products/projects you are working on?
YS: Yes, the new product that we are most proud of is a rotary form of our indium tin oxide product that we launched over the last year.  This process allows customers to recycle 80-90% percent of the compound, more than 50% over previous processes.  We are the only company in the world that has mastered creating this product.
The product is also being used in solar cell production because of its conductivity and transparency qualities.  Unlike the silicon technology used in most solar films, this technology is thinner, can be produced in the form of flexible sheets, and uses much less material.
AC: What is your history with Umicore?
YS: I'm a third generation Umicore employee.  My grandfather worked for the company his entire life, as did my father.  My grandfather started as a factory worker right out of school in Belgium and worked his way up until, by the end of his career, he was responsible of purchasing all of the manufacturing materials for one of our bigger sites.  My father began as a chemical engineer and over the years became a plant manager.  He was also responsible for building the first Umicore plant in the United States.  The factory in North Carolina was opened in 1980 and is still operating.  That’s how I ended up in the United States and where I received my electrical engineering and MBA degrees.
AC: How did you end up in this neighborhood?
YS: Umicore had been producing indium metal strictly in Belgium.  As we grew as a company, we made the strategic decision to start adding more value to the metals by transforming these into products from raw materials into ones that get used by customers.  We were looking to do something with indium when we found this company called Arconium in Providence that produced indium tin oxide and was going up for sale.  It was exactly what we were looking for.  We acquired the company in 2002 and we have been here ever since. We hope to continue to be here for a long time to come.
AC: How did you first hear about the Steel Yard?
YS: In 2002 it was still a working steel fabricating company across the street, Providence Steel Incorporated.  As you know, PSI went out of business soon after and your founders came on the scene with a vision to do something with the property.  I'd watched it grow daily from my office when I finally decided it was time to be neighborly and asked if any of our excess equipment could be useful to you.  Soon thereafter I started to hear your plans for growth and realized we had the same ideas.  I felt we could learn from each other and decided stay involved. It's been exciting to see the growth and development over these years. 
AC: What do you like about the Steel Yard?
YS: I enjoy the arts, and your mission to combine fine arts with practical arts experience is fabulous.  Employers need people that are skilled, and I know your programs such as welding can benefit individuals far down the road.  The Steel Yard also adds to the character to the neighborhood, helps make it a lively place to be.  I can't wait to see your farmer's market and amphitheater.
AC: You recently gave a generous donation to our summer youth program Camp Metalhead.  Why did you choose to support this program? 
YS: It was a no brainer.  Umicore has a set of values that have been around for many, many years: openness, innovation, respect, teamwork, and commitment.  We expect openness from all stakeholders, that means employees and investors, but it also includes our neighbors because they are directly impacted by what we do, and vise versa.  We put a lot of effort in trying to be a good neighbor and when I heard about your program, well, it met all of our values.  Plus, it provided an opportunity for us to support something local.  I asked that the funding we provided for Camp Metalhead go to subsidize the participation of a local underprivileged individual who could not otherwise attend a program like this.  We wanted to be able to touch, see, and feel the benefits for that individual.  We hope to provide another scholarship again next year.
If any leaders of industry are reading this interview, I hope they consider doing the same and support any type of program associated with the Steel Yard.  We wish you a lot of success.

>> Click here for more information about Umicore Indium Products.