Scientists 3D print miniature magnets

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A miniature permanent magnets printed via selective laser sintering. (Image: UrFU/Oksana Meleshchuk)

Scientists have determined the optimal parameters for 3D printing small, complex magnets using selective laser sintering.

Such magnets could be used in the electric motors and generators of pacemakers.

Creating small magnets is a difficult task, currently achieved by cutting larger magnets into pieces. However, due to the inefficiencies of this mechanical process, half of the used material ends up being scrapped.

In addition, the cutting introduces a lot of defects in the near-surface layer, which causes the properties of the magnet to deteriorate significantly. 

Additive technologies have been suggested as an alternative for producing small, complex, magnets, such as those with one north pole and two spatially separated south poles, or a magnet with five south poles and five north poles at once. 

“Such configurations are necessary for pacemakers, where it is only possible to assemble the rotor for an electric motor from separate magnets under a microscope," explained Dmitry Neznakhin, Associate Professor at the Department of Magnetism and Magnetic Nanomaterials at Ural Federal University, Russia.

Scientists have previously succeeded in producing thin – around one millimetre – permanent magnets with properties similar to those of industrially produced magnets. The base was a powder containing samarium, zirconium, iron, and titanium. 

“However, when creating permanent magnets based on these compounds using traditional methods, the properties of the finished products are far from the theoretically predicted ones,” said Neznakhin. “We found that when [selectively laser] sintering a sample, adding a fusible powder from an alloy of samarium, copper, and cobalt allows the magnetic characteristics of the main magnetic powder to be retained. This alloy melts at temperatures lower than the properties of the main alloy change, which is why the final material retains its coercive force and density.”

A description of the method and experimental results were published in the Journal of Magnetism and Magnetic Materials.

The scientists are currently establishing the basic laws of formation of the microstructure and magnetic properties of hard magnetic materials, and determining which magnetic materials could be used to manufacture permanent magnets using the laser sintering method. This includes testing how the sintering method affects the properties of another known base for magnets – an alloy of neodymium, iron, and boron. 

The work could enable the scientists to change the internal properties of the magnets at any stage of production – e.g. change the chemical composition of the compound, the degree of spatial orientation of crystallites and crystallographic texture, or influence the coercivity (resistance to demagnetisation).

The next stage of the work will be the production of bulk permanent magnets suitable for practical applications.

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