Nov 2, 2016 | By Andre

The first thing many of us think of when we hear the word magnet is that horseshoe N-S bar from elementary school science class. The truth is that the world we live in relies heavily on the power of these opposing forces in motors, generators, speakers, trains, TVs, cranes and compasses for navigation.

They are in no uncertain terms paramount in driving the technological systems that surround us so when Oak Ridge National Laboratory announced their 3D printed permanent magnets outperform the conventional variety well, I’ll take that as another victory for additive manufacturing.

A permanent magnet is one that creates its own persistent magnetic field and therefore keep going without the need for any recharge. A good example of one is found in your refrigerator door for example. Pull open as often as you want and it will always snap back shut with ease.

The Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory study created their 3D printed magnets by blending magnetic powders with a polymer as a binder and then by depositing the material into its preferred shape using several commercial processing methods including extrusion.

And while the idea of 3D printing a powerful magnet might be new to many, it is further evidence that the technology is being adopted by more and more faculties around the world is growing steadfast.

Composite pellets are melted, compounded, and extruded layer-by-layer into desired forms. 

Liang Li, ORNL research and study co-author suggests that “manufacturing is changing rapidly, and a customer may need 50 different designs for the magnets they want to use. Traditional injection molding would require the expense of creating a new mold and tooling for each, but with additive manufacturing the forms can be crafted simply and quickly using computer-assisted design”

Using composite pellets consisting of 65 volume percent isotropic NdFeB powder and 35 percent polyamide (Nylon-12) manufactured by Magnet Applications Inc, the material is melted and extruded layer by layer into the desired form just like any other method of 3D printing.

Nylon-12 is a very common and versatile material in SLS 3D printing methods so its no surprise it can be found as a mixing agent in the 3D printed permanent magnet process. This said, it is the FDM process commonly found in desktop 3D printers (as seen in the image below) that drives the magnet 3D printer.

In fact, the study even notes that “the printing of the extruded nylon magnet composite flows even better than the widely explored 3D printing plastic filament acrylonitrile butadiene styrene (ABS), and renders high accuracy.”

The 3D printer itself (using the Big Area Additive Manufacturing (BAAM) System) has a massive build volume of 3.56m x 1.65 m x 0.86 m build volume, has a single screw extruder, gantry and even a heated bed (so no warped 3D printed magnets!). It prints at roughly 270°C and deposits directly onto a sheet ABS stacked on an aluminium table for maximum adhesion.

Furthermore, this new method of creating permanent magnets ultimately results in upwards of 30 to 50 percent less waste during manufacture. This is simply because any non-used material during the process can be captured and reused later on.

And considering NdFeB magnets are the most powerful on earth, having the ability to 3D print with them is certainly something that stands out with much potential.

The process might have you quickly forget about the traditional horse-shoe shape of a magnet you are most familiar with. This is because, thanks to the fluid nature of additive manufacturing, you can pretty well 3D print magnets in any form you want.

Alex King, Directof of the Critical Materials Institute notes that “the ability to print high-strength magnets in complex shapes is a game changer for the design of efficient electric motors and generators. It removes many of the restrictions imposed by today’s manufacturing methods.”

The study is still fresh so the results still need to trickle through research and product labs around the world, but the team’s work has certainly laid the groundwork to a great new potential in how magnetic science can be applied to consumer goods.

John Ormerod, co-author of the study, is eager to suggest that “magnet Applications and many of our customers are excited to explore the commercial impact of this technology in the near future.”

To me, there’s no doubt that if 3D printing is capable of producing a more powerful and versatile version of such a essential material in the world we live in today, it will certainly catch on once product developers get a hold of the process. I don’t think this is the last we’ll hear of this research put out by Oake Ridge National Laboratory.



Posted in 3D Printing Application



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