Are Neodymium Magnets Dangerous?
Neodymium magnets (also known as NdFeB, NIB, or Neo magnets) are one of the most commonly used magnets today. They are utilized in almost every field in the industry and are continuously rising in demand. With this constant increase in use, it is important to ask – are they safe?
What are Neodymium Magnets?
History of Neodymium Magnets
First of all, we should know what Neodymium magnets are.
The first neodymium magnet was created in 1885 by Austrian scientist and inventor Dr. Carl Auer von Welsbach, who divided didymium into the new distinct elements neodidymium (“new didymium”) and praseodidymium (“green didymium”). Neodymium and praseodymium would eventually replace the original names of the elements, respectively. On June 18, 1885, Dr. von Welsbach revealed his creations to the Vienna Academy of Sciences. Most scientists welcomed it with suspicion rather than enthusiasm. The finding made by Auer von Welsbach was endorsed by his lifelong mentor Robert Bunsen, who also invented the Bunsen burner, but many other chemists disregarded him.
Only after almost a hundred years did Dr. von Welsbach’s creations appreciate. The compound that makes up neodymium magnets, Nd2Fe14B (Neodymium-iron-boron alloy), was only used in 1982. The development of the Nd2Fe14B compound by General Motors(GM) and Sumitomo Special Metals was motivated by the escalating expense of the raw material for cobalt and samarium permanent magnets. General Motors launched Magnequench in 1986, a company that eventually merged with Molycorp. GM invented and sold melt-spun nanocrystalline isotropic Neo powder to fabricate bound neodymium magnets. Sumitomo Special Metals, a subsidiary of Hitachi Corporation, created and is actively manufacturing full-density sintered Nd2Fe14B magnets under license for other businesses. Neodymium magnets are now covered by more than 600 patents held by Hitachi. China is becoming a significant producer of Neodymium magnets around the globe due to the plentiful supply of rare earth ores. They produce approximately 87% of global Neodymium magnets.
Components and Properties
Neodymium is a lanthanide rare-earth element and is the 4th member of the group. It has the atomic number of 60 in the periodic table. Neodymium is surprisingly the 27th most prevalent element in the Earth’s crust, despite not naturally existing in metallic form or unmixed with other lanthanides. They are the most famous rare earth magnets and are made of neodymium, boron, and iron alloy.
Neodymium exhibits magnetic characteristics in its pure form and is specifically antiferromagnetic, but only at temperatures below 19 K (254.2 °C; 425.5 °F). They are graded depending on their strength of magnetic field output, resistance to demagnetization, temperature coefficients, and maximum recommended operating temperature. There is a generally accepted worldwide categorization for sintered NdFeB magnets. They range in value from 28 to 52. Neodymium, or sintered NdFeB magnets, is denoted by the initial N before the values. The numbers are followed by letters representing intrinsic coercivity and maximum operating temperatures. These are associated positively with the Curie temperature and vary from the default (up to 80 °C or 176 °F) to TH (230 °C or 446 °F). A higher number would indicate a stronger magnet. But even with different grading, all neodymium magnets exhibit incredible magnetization compared to all other types of neodymium magnets. Because of their high saturation magnetization and resistance to demagnetization, neodymium magnets are exceptionally powerful. One of the main benefits of the NdFeB magnet is the ability to employ a smaller neodymium magnet for the same function as a bigger one. As a result, the equipment’s total size may be decreased while lowering the overall cost.
Where are These Neodymium Magnets being Used?
In 2020, the market for neodymium was estimated to be worth USD 2.25 billion, and from 2021 to 2028, it is anticipated to increase at a compound growth rate of 5.3%. This makes Neodymium one of the most demanded neodymium magnets in the world. It is most commonly used as a permanent neodymium magnet. They are utilized mainly in electronics, motors, and manufacturing industries. In electronics, they are used in mobile phones, computers, audio and visual systems, and hard disc drives. Motors and electric cars also heavily depend on these neodymium magnets, like anti-lock braking systems. In manufacturing industries, they are used to produce on-off buttons, magnetic separators, filters, generators, and even safety and security systems. Other uses of neodymium magnets include healthcare, wherein they make up Magnetic Resonance Imaging scanners, magnetic therapy, and dentures.
Are They Safe?
Neodymium magnets are generally safe. No evidence exists that the neodymium magnets and their properties are directly harmful or detrimental to humans and other living things. There are even cases where people think that neodymium magnets improve health but similar to its damaging effects, there have not been proven studies or theories. As long as the neodymium magnets are handled with proper care and precaution, they do not cause harm.
Are There Risks in Using These Neodymium Magnets?
Like all other things in the world, neodymium magnets come with risks.
The first risk is related to its strong magnetism. Because neodymium magnets can easily be magnetized but are hard to demagnetize, they tend to attract and move unexpectedly compared to how people imagine ‘ordinary’ neodymium magnets to move. They move towards each other with great acceleration and can even break because of the power produced upon impact when being magnetized. These sudden movements can cause injuries like impingements, fractures, and wounds.
Neodymium magnets should not be swallowed. The components of neodymium magnets are not digestible by the human body. Similar to the reasons above, neodymium magnets can also cause distress within the body because of their strong magnetic force. It can damage body tissues when more than one neodymium magnet is swallowed because of the strength of attraction it can make. They can move around the digestive tract or impinge/squeeze different tissues.
Individuals with heart pacemakers should also be cautioned or informed when a neodymium magnet as strong as neodymium is within the area. The mechanism of pacemakers depends on their manufacturer and may or may not use neodymium magnets as a mechanism. Still, there has been evidence that pacemakers may lose their rhythm and synchronicity when around strong neodymium magnets. The same risk goes for other implanted medical devices like implantable cardioverter-defibrillators, hearing aids, and metal parts.
Neodymium magnets are brittle and fragile. The dust they produce from damage (i.e., chipping, cracking, peeling, shatters), drilling, sanding, machining, etc., is highly flammable. People allergic to nickel should also be cautioned about neodymium magnets since most neodymium magnets are nickel-plated.
Besides being brittle, Neodymium magnets can easily rust and corrode when not taken care of properly. The presence of moisture can accelerate this process and damage the neodymium magnet. This may affect the neodymium magnet’s magnetism.
As mentioned a while ago, neodymium magnets have different gradings. If a person is not knowledgeable about its properties, it may cause harm since many factors can affect the neodymium magnet’s performance (e.g., coating, corrosion, temperature). A neodymium magnet being used beyond its maximum operating temperature can demagnetize and cause injuries.
Tips in Handling Neodymium magnets
- Wear protective gloves and goggles when handling bigger and stronger neodymium magnets
- Read and understand the grading of neodymium magnets
- Please do not leave children alone with neodymium magnets and keep neodymium magnets away from them as much as possible.
- Keep neodymium magnets away from pets.
- Maintain the neodymium magnet at a distance of at least 25 centimeters from electronic devices or items that may be attracted to neodymium magnets (pacemakers, watches, jewelry, etc.)
- Try to keep neodymium magnets away from navigational equipment as it can affect performance.
- Avoid drilling, sanding, or machining neodymium magnets as their dust is highly flammable.
- Please handle them with care and avoid impacting them. If you are trying to demagnetize a neodymium magnet and another magnet/object, slide the two in different directions. Do not try to separate them by pulling them apart, as this can cause impingement.
- Keep flammables and flames away from neodymium magnets.
- Stay attentive when using these neodymium magnets, especially if handling more than one.
- If you are planning to store neodymium magnets, label and place them in containers that may reduce their magnetic force.
- Do not place them near temperatures above their maximum operating temperatures.
Neodymium magnets have been around for a long time. They are used in many industries and have increasingly been in demand. Although they have many applications, they also have many risks. Neodymium magnets are much stronger and can cover more considerable distances with their magnetism, making them unpredictable and dangerous compared to ordinary neodymium magnets. They can significantly affect electronics, healthcare devices, and navigational instruments. Other than that, they are brittle and produce highly flammable dust.
There should always be precaution and care when handling neodymium magnets. These precautions include wearing safety gear, reading about their properties, and staying attentive when using them.
As we progress towards innovation and increase our use of these neodymium magnets, we should always keep in mind that neodymium magnets have risks and dangers. Always seek professional tips and always try to communicate with your supplier regarding the care and handling of neodymium magnets.
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