There is virtually no limit to the items that can be produced with 3D-printing technology these days, and now researchers at the US Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) have used it to create a better magnet that happens to help protect the environment. The new 3D-printed magnet outperforms traditional magnets as well, making it even more desirable. Because the 3D-printing process involves zero waste, manufacturing the magnets helps conserve rare earth minerals, meaning more of them can stay in the ground.

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The game-changing innovation created at ORNL is an isotropic, near-net-shape, neodymium-iron-boron (NdFeB) permanent bonded magnet. Researchers working on the project report that the 3D-printed magnet has “comparable or better magnetic, mechanical, and microstructural properties” versus magnets with a similar composition that were created through conventional methods. The performance boost is just one of the benefits of this new technology, though.

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The other perk involves conserving rare minerals, which are mined from the earth only to be wasted in traditional manufacturing processes. In order to produce the magnets, composite pellets are melted, compounded, and extruded layer-by-layer into desired forms using the Big Area Additive Manufacturing (BAAM) machine, a special 3D-printer housed at the DOE’s Manufacturing Demonstration Facility at ORNL. Using 3D-printing to manufacture the magnets is a zero waste process, while conventional sintered magnet manufacturing can result in material waste up to 50 percent.

The results of the innovation were recently published in the journal Scientific Reports.


Images via ORNL