Frequently Asked Questions About Magnets & Magnetism
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- 1.0 History
- 2.0 The Basics
- 3.0 Magnetic Strength
- 4.0 Magnetic Field
- 5.0 Magnetic Poles
- 6.0 Magnetic Flux
- 7.0 Magnetic Orientation
- 8.0 Magnetic Characteristics
- 9.0 Magnetic Properties
- 10.0 Magnet Operating Temperatures
- 11.0 Machining Magnets
- 12.0 Magnetic Assemblies
- 13.0 Handling & Storage
- 14.0 Resources
[top]1.0 A BRIEF HISTORY
The ancient Greeks and Chinese discovered that certain rare stones, called lodestones, were naturally magnetized. These stones could attract small pieces of iron in a seemingly magical way, and were found to always point in the same direction when allowed to swing freely, suspended by a piece of string, or floating on water. Early navigators used these magnets as rudimentary compasses to help them determine their direction while at sea.
The word "magnet" comes from Magnesia, a district in Thessaly, Greece where it is believed that the first lodestone was mined.
Over the years, magnets have evolved into the high-strength materials we have today. It was discovered that by creating alloys of various materials, one could create similar effects to those found in natural lodestone rocks, and increase the level of magnetism. ]
However, it was not until the 18th century that the first man-made magnets were created. Progress in creating stronger magnetic alloys was very slow until the 1920s when alnico magnet materials (an alloy of nickel, aluminum and cobalt) were formulated. Ferrite magnets were developed in the 1950s and rare-earth magnets in the 1970s. Since then, the science of magnetism has grown exponentially, and extremely powerful magnetic materials have made miniature and powerful devices possible.
What is a magnet?
Magnets can be made by placing a magnetic material, such as iron or steel, in a strong magnetic field. Permanent, temporary, and electromagnets can be produced in this manner.
The atoms forming materials that can be easily magnetized such as iron, steel, nickel, and cobalt are arranged in small units, called domains. Each domain, although microscopic in size, contains millions of billions of atoms and each domain acts like a small magnet. If a magnetic material is placed in a strong magnetic field, the individual domains, which normally point in all directions, will gradually swing around into the direction of the field. They also take over neighboring domains. When most of the domains are aligned to the field, the material becomes a magnet.
Domains before magnetization
Domains after magnetization
What does a magnet do?
Magnets do the following things:
- Attract certain materials, such as iron, nickel, cobalt, certain steels and other alloys.
- Exert an attractive or repulsive force on other magnets (opposite poles attract, like poles repel).
- Have an effect on electrical conductors when the magnet and conductor are moving in relation to each other.
- Have an effect on the path taken by electrically charged particles traveling in free space.
- Mechanical to mechanical, such as attraction and repulsion.
- Mechanical to electrical, such as generators and microphones.
- Electrical to mechanical, such as motors, loudspeakers, charged particle deflection.
- Mechanical to heat, such as eddy current and hysteresis torque devices.
- Special effects, such as magneto-resistance, Hall effect devices, and magnetic resonance.
How are magnets made?
Are there different types of magnets available?
- Permanent magnets emit a magnetic field without the need for any external source of magnetism or electrical power.
- Temporary magnets behave as magnets while attached to or close to something that emits a magnetic field, but lose this characteristic when the source of the magnetic field is removed.
- Electro-magnets require electricity in order to behave as a magnet.
What are permanent magnets made of?
Modern permanent magnets are made of special alloys that have been found through research to create increasingly better magnets. The most common families of permanent magnet materials today are made out of aluminum-nickel-cobalt (alnicos), strontium-iron (ferrites, also known as ceramics), neodymium-iron-boron (a.k.a. neodymium magnets, or "super magnets"), and samarium-cobalt. (The samarium-cobalt and neodymium-iron-boron families are collectively known as the rare-earths).
What are Rare Earth Magnets?
What is a temporary magnet?
Soft iron and certain iron alloys, such as permalloy (a mixture of iron and nickel) can be very easily magnetized, even in a weak field. As soon as the field is removed, however, the magnetism is lost. These materials make excellent temporary magnets, like those used in telephones and electric motors.
What are electromagnets?
What are eddy currents?
These are electrical currents that are induced when a magnetic field moves in relation to an electrical conductor that has been placed within reach of the magnetic field. In turn, these eddy currents create a magnetic field that acts to stop the relative motion of the original magnetic field and electrical conductor.
What do magnets cost?
($ / Pound)
($ / BHmax)
* Note: the costs shown here are relative costs based on high volumes of magnet materials that have no special machining or other characteristics.
Are there industry standards for magnets?
How do I order magnets?
To efficiently order magnets, you need to have a good idea of what you want to accomplish. Here are a few items to consider:
- General nature of application: holding, moving, lifting, etc.
- Shape of magnet desired: disc, Ring, Rectangle, etc.
- Size of magnet desired: diameter, length, width, height, etc.
- Tolerances: what variation in dimensions is allowed.
- Conditions in which magnets will be used: elevated temperature, humidity, outside, inside, etc.
- Strength of magnet required: in pounds of holding force, Gauss, etc.
- Magnet should cost no more than X: this will eliminate certain materials from consideration.
- Quantities required.
How permanent is a magnet’s strength?
What might affect a magnet’s strength?
- Strong electrical currents in close proximity to the magnet
- Other magnets in close proximity to the magnet
- Neo magnets will corrode in high humidity environments unless they have a protective coating.
Will magnets lose their power over time?
Which are the strongest magnets?
The most powerful magnets available today are the rare- earth types. Of the rare-earths, neodymium magnets are the strongest. However, at elevated temperatures (of approximately 150°C and above), samarium cobalt magnets can be stronger than neo magnets, depending on the magnetic circuit.
What are superconductors?
Can I make a magnet that I already have stronger?
Can a magnet that has lost its magnetism be re-magnetized?
Provided that the material has not been damaged by extreme heat, most magnets can be re-magnetized back to their original strength.
How do you measure the strength or power of a magnet?
Special Gaussmeters can cost up to several thousands of dollars. Integrated Magnetics stocks several types of Gaussmeters that range between $400 and $1,500 each. contact us if you are interested in more information regarding these or to place an order.
If I have a neo magnet with a Br of 12,300 Gauss, will I be able to measure 12,300 Gauss on its surface?
No. The Br value is measured under closed-circuit conditions. A closed-circuit magnet is not of much use. In practice, you will measure a field that is less than 12,300 Gauss close to the surface of the magnet. The actual measurement will depend on whether the magnet has any steel attached to it, how far away from the surface you make the measurement, and the size of the magnet (assuming that the measurement is being made at room temperature). For example, a 1" diameter Grade 35 neodymium magnet that is ¼" long will measure approximately 2,500 Gauss when 1/16" away from the surface, and 2,200 Gauss when 1/8" away from the surface.
What is the strength of the earth’s magnetic field?
How does a magnet’s strength drop off over distance?
The strength of a magnetic field drops off more or less exponentially over distance.
Here is an example of how the field (measured in Gauss) drops off with distance for a samarium cobalt Grade 18-disc magnet which is 1" in diameter and 1/2" long:
There are additional formulae that can be used to calculate the field from a rectangular magnet and magnets in other configurations. Use our on-line calculators to determine your own field levels.
What can I use to block a magnetic field?
Only materials that are attracted to a magnet can "block" a magnetic field. Depending on how thick the blocking piece is, it will partially or completely block the magnetic field.
What are magnetic poles?
What are the standard definitions of “North” and “South” pole?
The north pole is defined as the pole of a magnet that, when free to rotate, seeks the north pole of the earth. In other words, a magnet's north pole will seek the earth's north pole. Similarly, the south pole of a magnet seeks the south pole of the earth.
Can a particular pole be identified?
Yes, the north or south pole of a magnet can be marked if specified.
How can you tell which is the North Pole if it’s not marked?
You can't tell by looking. You can tell by placing a compass close to the magnet. The end of the needle that normally points toward the north pole of the earth would point to the south pole of the magnet.
6.0 MAGNETIC FLUX
How do lines of magnetic flux behave?
Lines of force are three-dimensional, surrounding a bar magnet on all sides.
Like poles repel and unlike poles attract. When opposite poles of a magnet are brought together, the lines of force join up and the magnets pull together.
When like poles of a magnet are brought together, the lines of force push away from each other and the magnets repel each other.
What does “orientation direction” mean?
Most modern magnet materials have a "grain", in that they can be magnetized for maximum effect only through one direction. This is the "orientation direction", also known as the "easy axis", or "axis".
Un-oriented magnets (also known as "isotropic magnets") are much weaker than oriented magnets, and can be magnetized in any direction. Oriented magnets, also known as "anisotropic magnets", are not the same in every direction- they have a preferred direction in which they should be magnetized.
8.0 MAGNETIC CHARACTERISTICS
How are magnets rated?
Magnets are characterized by three main characteristics:
- Residual Induction: Given the symbol Br, and measured in Gauss, this is an indication of how strong the magnet is capable of being.
- Coercive Force: Given the symbol Hc, and measured in Oersteds, this is an indication of how difficult it is to de-magnetize the magnet.
- Maximum Energy Product: Given the symbol BHmax, and measured in Gauss-Oersteds, this is an indication of what volume of magnet material is required to project a given level of magnetic flux.
What are the properties of commonly used magnet materials?
- Neo Iron Boron Magnet Materials Properties Data
- SmCo Magnet Materials Properties Data
- Alnico Magnet Materials Properties Data
- Ceramic Magnet Materials Properties Data
- Flexible Magnet Materials Properties Data
Given a magnet size, you can estimate how much magnetic flux different materials will project at a given distance. You can also use this information to compare one material to another.
Example: How much more flux will a neodymium grade 35 magnet project as compared to a ceramic grade 5 of the same dimension at a given distance? Simply divide the Br of the neo 35 by the Br of ceramic 5 (12300/3950) to get 3.1. This means that the neo grade 35 will project 3.1 times the flux a same-size ceramic grade 5 would at a given distance.
Given the flux required at some fixed distance from the magnet, you can use this information to estimate what magnet volume will be required for different magnet materials.
Example: What volume of ceramic-5 magnets would give the same flux as a neodymium grade-35 magnet at a given distance? Simply divide the BHmax of neo-35 by the BHmax of ceramic-5 (35/3.6) to get 9.7. This means that the volume of the ceramic-5 magnets would have to be 9.7 times that of the neo-35 magnet to give you the same flux.
What are the maximum recommended operating temperatures for different magnet materials?
The maximum temperature at which a magnet will be effective depends greatly on the permeance coefficient, or "Pc" of the material. The Pc is a function of the magnetic circuit in which the magnet operates. The higher the Pc (the more "closed" the circuit), the higher temperature at which the magnet can operate without becoming severely demagnetized. Shown here are approximate maximum operating temperatures for the various classes of magnet material. At temperatures, close to those listed below, special attention may be needed in order to ensure that the magnet will not become demagnetized.
What is maximum temperature a magnet can operate at not a set value?
Magnets function at different levels of efficiency given different circuits that they operate in. The more closed the circuit the magnet is operating in, the more stable it is, and the less effect temperature will have on it.
Can magnets be machined?
Yes, magnets can be machined. However, hard magnet materials are extremely difficult to machine, unlike flexible or rubber-type magnet materials. Magnets should be machined in the unmagnetized state as much as possible, using diamond tools and/or soft grinding wheels. In general, it is best not to try to machine hard magnet materials unless you are familiar with these specialized machining techniques.
How much does it cost to machine magnets?
Factors that determine the cost to machine magnets include:
- Quantity: The larger the quantity, the lower the cost, since set-up charges must be amortized over the quantity, and special tooling can be created to machine larger quantities.
- Material: SmCo materials are more costly to machine since they are very brittle, flexible materials are very inexpensive to machine because of their physical characteristics.
- Shape: Complex shapes are more expensive than simple shapes; and,
- Tolerances: The closer the required tolerances, the more expensive it will be to machine the magnets.
What is a magnetic assembly?
A magnet assembly consists of one of more magnets, along with other components, such as steel, that generally affect the functionality of the magnet.
How should magnets be assembled to my device?
If a magnet must be fastened to a device, you can use either mechanical means or adhesives to secure the magnet in place.
Adhesives are often used to secure magnets in place. If magnets are being adhered to uneven surfaces, an adhesive with plenty of "body" is required so that it will conform to the uneven surface. Hot glues have been found to work well for adhering magnets to ceramics, wood, cloth, and other materials. For magnets being adhered to metal, "super glues" can be used very effectively.
Integrated Magnetics can supply flexible magnets with adhesives already attached; simply peel off the liner and attach the magnet to your product. Contact us, send us a request for quote for a specialty order, or visit www.magnetshop.com for large stock inventory available for on-line purchase.
*As with all adhesive applications, it is very important to ensure that all surfaces being bonded are clean and dry before bonding.
Tips on handling and storing magnets
- Always take special care in handling magnets! Magnets can snap together and injure personnel or damage themselves.
- Keep magnets away from magnetic media such as floppy disks, credit cards, and computer monitors.
- Store magnets in closed containers so they don't attract metal debris.
- If several magnets are being stored, they should be stored in attracting positions.
- Because they can easily become demagnetized, alnico magnets should be stored with "keepers", iron or magnetic steel plates that connect the poles of the magnet.
- Permanent Magnet Design Handbook, by Lester Moskowitz, a 385-page book aimed at the technical layperson.
- Permanent Magnets and their Applications, by Dr. Peter Campbell, a 203-page book aimed at the technical person.
- The Driving Force, by James Livingston, a 310- page book aimed at the non-technical reader. A very well written and interesting book on the history of magnets and some of their more exotic applications.