Montanuniversität Leoben becomes Key Innovator on the EU Innovation Radar

The Innovation Radar is an initiative of the European Commission to make innovations and rethinking with high potential in EU-funded research and innovation framework programs visible. The REProMag project has now been included in the radar by the Commission as only the third project from Leoben. The Montanuniversität Leoben (Institute of Polymer Processing) was involved as a project partner and it was supported by the research and innovation programme Horizon 2020.

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Rare-earth magnets such as neodymium-iron-boron (Ne-Fe-B) hard magnets are used, for example, in generators of wind power plants; the extraction and processing of the raw materials is sometimes critical from an environmental point of view. For this reason, the REProMag project, which ran from 2015 to 2017, aimed on developing resource-efficient production methods for these magnets with a 100 % waste-free process chain and based on recycled materials. 

In a previous project, the University of Birmingham had already developed a method for recycling Ne-Fe-B hard magnets, and further research continued on this basis: the powder obtained in the recycling process can be compounded, i.e. mixed, with polymers. In this way, a raw material optimized for further processing is obtained. Possible processing methods include powder injection molding and additive manufacturing methods / 3D printing.

Shape, Debind, and Sinter: innovative process for the production of rare earth magnets in 3D printing

In the project, the team at the Institute of Polymer Processing dealt with the production of highly filled filaments from a mixture of prepared powders of neodymium-iron-boron hard magnets and polymers. The Institute of Polymer Processing at the Montanuniversität Leoben concentrated in this project on the on the Fused Filament Fabrication (FFF) Method and investigated material compositions and produced filaments. To make the component as dense and pore-free as possible, the proportion of Ne-Fe-B powder must be relatively high. A particular challenge here was to find the right material composition and the mixing process with a view to the subsequent production steps. Extensive tests revealed an optimum mixture of 80 wt. % Ne-Fe-B powder in the polymer matrix. 

From this mixture, the team from the Institute of Polymer Processing produced filaments. By using the SDS process (shape, debind, sinter) the filaments were printed into complex shapes (at the company HAGE Sondermaschinenbau GmbH & Co KG), and finally solid components were produced by debinding and sintering (at the company OBE Ohnmacht & Baumgärtner GmbH & Co. KG). In debinding and sintering, the polymer is first removed by high temperature and then brought to almost its melting point in a sintering furnace.

On the pulse of time: concepts already relevant for the economy

Together with the project partners HAGE Sondermaschinenbau GmbH & Co KG and OBE Ohnmacht & Baumgärtner GmbH & Co. KG, the Institute of Polymer Processing at the Montanuniversität Leoben was defined as a Key Innovator for three innovations within the scope of this project. On the one hand, the application and functionalization of the SDS process was attributed a high innovation potential as a comprehensive technology within the project, and it was also categorized as "Business Ready". On the other hand, production methods and composition of the developed filaments as well as the optimization of the 3D printing process for highly filled materials were categorized as "Tech Ready" and relevant for existing markets. 

The REProMag project thus joins the more than 3,600 EU-funded innovations already presented on the Innovation Radar.






About the project 

REProMag was funded within the framework of the "Horizon 2020" research and innovation program of the European Union (Grant Agreement No. 636881). During its duration from January 2015 to December 2017, new production processes for the manufacture of high-precision permanent magnets for sensor, motor and generator applications were developed. The process is based on the use of recycled materials, which will significantly reduce the dependence of magnet production on scarce and valuable raw materials. The project has also already received several awards: in July 2017 it was awarded the Baden-Württemberg Environmental Technology Prize and in January 2018 the German Raw Material Efficiency Prize 2017.

Participating companies besides the Montanuniversität Leoben were:  OBE Ohnmacht & Baumgärtner GmbH & Co. KG (Germany),  FOTEC Forschungs- und Technologietransfer GmbH (Austria),  PT+A GmbH (Germany),  HAGE Sondermaschinenbau GmbH & Co. KG (Austria),  Lithoz GmbH (Austria),  TEKS SARL LIMITED (Great Britain),  SIEMENS AG (Germany),  Sennheiser electronic GmbH & Co. KG (Germany)  Technische Universität Wien (Austria),  The University of Birmingham (England),  Jožef Stefan Institute (Slowenia),  National Physical Laboratory – NPL (England) und  Steinbeis 2i GmbH (Germany).