Magnets have always been fascinating items. Even small children appreciate the wonders of attraction that come with playing with magnets, and they continue to hold attention throughout our lives. But have you considered how widely used magnets are in industry? And what about around the home? In your kitchen, for example, it’s highly likely there are some doors that are kept closed by magnetic latches. Furthermore, your microwave oven will use a magnet, and any electric motors that are in use in household appliances will also rely on a magnet to make them work.
Your hard disk drive on your computer will also use magnets, they are used in certain applications in mobile phones, and they drive the speakers that you listen to when you turn on your hi-fi! Magnets are all around us, and that’s just in the home! In commerce and industry, magnets are also widely used: the mining industry uses large commercial magnets to separate metals from the ore they are mining. In the medical world, magnets are used in many items of equipment including MRI scanners and other imaging devices. Then there’s the use in children’s toys, and in many other items that we use daily. So what is the future like for the magnetic materials industry?
What the Future Holds
What is certain is that the market for magnets is very varied. Many areas of industry use large custom magnets made especially for their given, specific purpose by magnet manufacturers around the world. These can be used in the mining industry – as we have seen – and in many areas such as the scrap metal and recycling markets, and anywhere that metals need to be separated or identified. Then there is the market for smaller magnets, and this is where the future of magnet production becomes interesting.
In the middle of the 1980’s, two companies working independently – one in the USA and the other in Japan – both made a discovery that resulted in a new type of permanent magnet. This is the neodymium magnet, made with an alloy of neodymium – a rare earth metal – boron and iron. This type of magnet remains the most powerful that can be bought commercially, and its introduction changed the way magnets were used.
As neodymium magnets are so powerful, applications that needed magnets to operate could now be made smaller, as the magnet did not need to be of the regular size. Thus the neodymium magnet began replacing standard magnets in the new versions of many different types of appliance and application.
The future for magnets and magnetic materials is very bright. With the automobile industry turning rapidly to electric and hybrid cars, for example, demand for magnets – a central element in any electric motor – is growing. The same can be said of the renewable energy markets, where they are needed for wind turbines and other power generating equipment. There will always be a call for magnets, so the world’s magnet manufacturers are looking at a very promising commercial future.