OAK RIDGE, Tenn., Nov. 1 (UPI) -- New research suggests permanent magnets constructed by 3D printers perform as well as or better than magnets made by traditional methods.
Using additive manufacturing technology, researchers at the Department of Energy's Oak Ridge National Laboratory printed isotropic, near-net-shape, neodymium-iron-boron magnets.
Most magnets are made using a process called injection molding. In tests, printed magnets were as strong, structurally sound and magnetically powerful as traditional magnets.
The main two advantages of additive manufacturing in magnet production are control and conservation. Scientists wasted 30 to 50 percent less material during the magnet printing process. Many magnets require expensive rare earth metals, the mining of which can be environmentally destructive.
As a previous study showed, 3D printers allow magnets to be precisely designed for an array of purposes -- their structure and shape more easily augmented to produce unique magnetic fields.
Previously, scientists printed layered material that could be magnetized post-production. Researchers at ORNL produced permanent magnets, composed of permanently magnetized material.
The latest research confirms magnetic performance is not sacrificed for the benefits offered by additive manufacturing. What's more, the process' streamlined adaptability makes it ideal for small batch production, and to meet the demands of emerging technologies.
"Manufacturing is changing rapidly, and a customer may need 50 different designs for the magnets they want to use," ORNL researcher Ling Li said in a news release.
The magnets were printed using melted pellets made from isotropic NdFeB powder and polyamide, or Nylon-12. One melted, the material was ejected layer by layer by the printer to form the bonded magnet.
Scientists -- who detailed their work in the journal Scientific Reports -- now plan to experiment with the printing of other types of magnets.
"This work has demonstrated the potential of additive manufacturing to be applied to the fabrication of a wide range of magnetic materials and assemblies," said researcher John Ormerod.