Mar 24, 2016 | By Alec
We’ve all played with magnets when we were younger. And to a kid, they are pretty magical with one attracting and one repelling side – until you find out about magnetic fields in high school. However, those conventional magnetic are actually quite limited, as the pioneering work of Correlated Magnetics Research (CMR) proves. The startup has been working on revolutionary new magnets, featuring 3D printed magnetic fields called Polymagnets that can be customized for any purpose – from very tight magnetic twisting seals to ‘magnetic’ springs that seem to float thanks to equal amounts of attraction and repulsion. A technology that can change engineering as we know it.
Correlated Magnetics Research has actually been around for a few years, but their technology is so new that they are still discovering new applications and research opportunities all the time. It has been spearheaded by co-founder and Chief Scientist Larry Fullerton, who took his youthful fascination with magnets into the lab to find a way to arrange magnets in patterns to create more complex magnetic fields – something that would lead to these 3D printed, programmed magnets. It’s a technology so unique, they have already received over 100 patents for it, one of most significant being Magnetic shear force transfer device (2014). This has grown into their first magnetizing 3D printer a few years ago, which prints the magnetic fields onto magnets– with a Mini MagPrinter following in 2014. It’s a very strange 3D printing technology, that touches the very nature of magnets themselves. Fortunately, Destin of Smarter Every Day recently visited the company to find out exactly how it works. You can see his report in the clip below.
As Jason Morgan, head of engineering at Polymagnets explained, they are essentially programming magnets to function beyond ordinary magnets with their north/south setup. Those setups actually lose energy through their large magnetic fields, and Polymagnets essentially condense those fields not on two sides, but on one side of the magnet. “What actually happens is that you have the north and the south on one face of the magnet. Instead of a long field that […] wastes energy, you have a tight field that is tightly controlled and have the force focused near the magnet,” explains Morgan.
More importantly, this is done with customizable patterns through their 3D printers. “CMR has invented a new, software-driven magnetizer that opens up entirely new magnetic systems. Rather than simple arrangements of north and south, customizable patterns are designed in software and programmed into a magnet in minutes. Not weeks,” the company explains. Covered with complex north and south regions on a single surface, these Polymagnets are fundamentally different from the magnets we know.
In this situation, the Mini MagPrinter simply ‘prints’ arrays of magnetic regions onto pieces of magnetic material. “Each Polymagnet is a system of smaller magnets, both north and south poles, that are imprinted by the MagPrinter. A conventional magnet can be turned into a Polymagnet by placing the magnet into the MagPrinter, choosing a pattern from the Polymagnet Catalog and re-programming the magnet to exhibit a number of different functions,” they say. It can be applied to the strongest Neodymium magnets, but also to flexible materials, ferrites and other specialized materials such as samarium cobalt.
In effect, they have created a technique that can make magnets of any size and for any function. “They can create whatever magnetic field they want on any of these magnets. The way the magnet interacts with the target material, determines how strong it’s attached,” explains Destin of Smarter Every Day. Each and every magnet can feature a customized magnetic field that performs a certain task, and thus have the potential to fundamentally change engineering. “CMR has a catalog of pre-engineered designs from incredibly strong holding magnets to magnet systems that spring, latch, release and align – and with these basic building blocks, that’s just a start,” the company says.
Andy Keane, the president and CEO of Correlated Magnetics Research, even went as far as comparing their technology’s potential to 3D printing. “Our new desktop MagPrinter will do for magnetics what 3D printing systems did for mechanical prototyping. Designers now have a powerful prototyping tool for programmable magnetics in an affordable desktop system that is perfect for consumer and industrial engineering teams,” he said.
Obviously, the sky’s the limit when it comes to applications. With their more sophisticated patterns, Polymagnets have already shown themselves to behave as magnetic springs, latches and self-aligning connectors. They are also more than five times stronger than conventional magnets, thanks to the optimized field, while they are also far less likely to damage sensitive electronics in their vicinity. Various logical applications, such as cabinet latches, magnetic couplings and attachment systems for power tools and other components are easily imagined, while roboticists can doubtlessly dream up dozens more applications. Last year, Correlated Magnetics Research also announced the launch of a new product line of smart Polymagnet kits for attaching tablet covers, keyboards and mobile accessories with ease and precision. Previously considered impossible builds can all be reevaluated through these special magnets.
If one thing is certain, it’s that their Mini MagPrinter could be the most fantastic toy to hit Fablabs and Makerspaces since desktop 3D printers. The only downside is that even this mini version is still shockingly expensive at $45,000, but then a batch of traditional made-to-order magnets will quickly cost several thousand dollars too. This means that Correlated Magnetics’ technology will largely be limited to research institutes and universities, but well-funded makerspaces might also have a shot at it. But with metal 3D printers also coming down in price, you have to ask yourself what your priorities are. Fortunately, single orders for Polymagnets (with almost 200 different designs already available in the company’s web shop) cost just a few dollars per magnet.
Posted in 3D Printing Application
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