Physicists to 3D print magnets

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The magnets are being developed using a one-of-a-kind 3D printer, according to the researchers. (Image: UrFU / Oksana Meleschuk)

Russian physicists are looking to print magnets, magnetic systems and soft magnetic elements using selective laser melting within the next few years.

The magnets will be useful in almost any field from medicine to space, the researchers say, for example being used by robotic surgical assistants to unclog arteries and veins, or to place stents.

Such magnets will be based on either samarium or cobalt compounds, according to Aleksey Volegov, associate professor of the department of magnetism and magnetic nanomaterials at the Ural Federal University. 

‘They can be used in submarines, at space stations, on ships,’ he said. ‘That is, in those areas where there are very strong temperature changes and we need magnets with special properties in terms of stability. Or it will be simple magnets based on an alloy of neodymium, iron, and boron, which work at normal temperatures.’ Such magnets are used in smartphones, hard disk drives, and automotive engine sensors. For example, they are installed in the latest generation Tesla electric motors.

The researchers are using what they say is the only model of a German printer on the world market capable of carrying out their work, a printer that can print from metal powders while having open settings for printing parameters. 

‘Our model is probably the only one in the world that meets our goals,’ Volegov confirmed. ‘The printer makes it possible to obtain samples from metal powders using selective laser melting and selective laser sintering technologies. In the first case, the powder particles are completely re-melted, in the second, they are slightly melted near the surface. There are about 20 published scientific papers in the world today, the authors of which have tried to print magnets. And work on selective laser melting, in general, can be counted by the fingers of one hand.’

A planetary chevron gear, a non-separable system that can only be obtained by 3D printing, was produced to verify the accuracy of the physicists' printer. (Image: UrFU / Oksana Meleschuk)

At this stage of the work, the printed samples still require post-processing to magnetise. In order for the printer to immediately print magnets with specific properties, it will be necessary to teach it to work with specific powders and print the required samples, which will take anywhere from six months up to a few years, according to Volegov.

The scientists printed a planetary chevron gear to verify the accuracy of the printer, and are now deciding which kind of magnets they will start printing first.

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