The science of magnetic separation has experienced extraordinary technological advancements over the past decade. As a consequence, new applications and design concepts in magnetic separation have evolved. This has resulted in a wide variety of highly effective and efficient magnetic separator designs.
In the past, a process engineer faced with a magnetic separation project had few alternatives. Magnetic separation was typically limited and only moderately effective. Magnetic separators that utilized permanent ferrite magnets, such as drum-type separators, generated relatively low magnetic field strengths. These separators worked well collecting ferrous material but were ineffective on fine paramagnetic particles. High intensity magnetic separators that were effective in collecting fine paramagnetic particles utilized electromagnetic circuits. These separators were large, heavy, low capacity machines that typically consumed an inordinate amount of power and required frequent maintenance. New developments in permanent magnetic separation technology now provide an efficient alternative for separation of paramagnetic materials.
Technological advances in the field of magnetic separation are the result of several recent developments. First, and perhaps most important, is the ability to precisely model magnetic circuits using sophisticated multi-dimensional finite element analysis (FEA). Although FEA is not a new tool, developments in computing speed over the last decade have made this tool readily accessible to the design engineer. In this technique, a scaled design of the magnetic circuit is created and the magnetic characteristics of the individual components quantified. The FEA model is then executed to determine the magnetic field intensity and gradient. Using this procedure, changes to the magnetic circuit design can be quickly evaluated to determine the optimum separator configuration. This technique can be applied to the design of both permanent and electromagnetic circuits. As a consequence, any type of magnetic separator can be developed (or redesigned) with a high level of confidence and predictability.
Equally important has been the recent development of rare-earth permanent magnets. Advances in rare-earth magnet materials have revolutionized the field of magnetic separation. The advent of rare-earth permanent magnets in the 1980’s provided a magnetic energy product an order of magnitude greater than that of conventional ferrite magnets. Rare-earth magnetic circuits commonly exhibit a magnetic attractive force 20 to 30 times greater than that of conventional ferrite magnets. This development has provided for the design of high-intensity magnetic circuits that operate energy-free and surpass the strength and effectiveness of electromagnets.
Finally, the materials of construction used in the fabrication of magnetic separators have advanced to a point that significantly extends service life while decreasing maintenance. Advanced materials, such as fiber composites, kevlar, ultra high molecular weight polyester, and specialty steel alloys are now commonly used in contact areas of the separator. These materials are lightweight, abrasion resistant, and comparatively inexpensive resulting in significant design advantages as compared to previous construction materials.
The evolution of high strength permanent rare-earth magnets has led to the development of high-intensity separators that operate virtually energy free. The use of rare-earth magnetic separators for beneficiation of industrial minerals has become the industry standard with literally hundreds of separators placed in recent years. The following sections present an overview of the most widely used permanent magnetic separators: rare-earth drum and rare-earth roll-type separators.
Rare-Earth Magnetic Separator Types
There are three distinct types of magnetic separators using rare earth magnets, in addition to simple magnetic traps in the form of rods and grids:
1. Roll separators, see Figure 2, usually with an enveloping belt, supported by an idler roll.
2. Drum separators for dry and wet processing, see Figures 3-6, essentially similar to well-known low-intensity drum separators using ferrite magnets.
3. Matrix-type separators, such as the narrow-width vertical wheel.
Of the roll separators, there are at least fourteen manufacturers. Most of the different makes are based on the original Permroll design concept originated by this author. Various enhancements have been mainly focused on the belt tracking methods. New magnetic roll configurations and optimization of roll designs are relatively recent innovations. Additional optimization efforts are in progress.
At last count, seven manufacturers have commercially available drum separators, most based on magnet circuits derived from the use of conventional ferrite magnet. Two unique designs have been developed with one clearly offering advantages over older configurations.
Rare-earth elements have some unique properties that are used in many common applications, such as TV screens and lighters. In the 1970’s, rare-earths began to be used in a new generation of magnetic materials, that have very unique characteristics. Not only were these stronger in the sense of attraction force between a magnet and mild steel (high induction, B), the coercivity (Hc) is extremely high. This property makes the magnetization of the magnet body composed of a rare-earth element alloy very stable, i.e., it cannot easily be demagnetized.
It was a well known fact that permanent magnets positioned on both sides of a flat steel body can magnetize the steel to a high level, if the magnet poles were the same on each side, i.e., the magnets would repel each other. However, in the past, large magnet volumes were required to achieve any substantial magnetization. With the new powerful magnets, the magnet volume could be relatively small to generate high steel magnetization. In 1981 this author determined the optimum ring size for samarium-cobalt magnets. Maximum steel magnetization (near saturation) could be obtained if the rings were stacked to make a roll using a 4:1 ratio of magnet to steel thickness, see Figure 1. Since magnetized particles are attracted to the magnetized steel surface on the roll periphery, this means that 20% of the exposed roll surface would collect such material. This collection area is an order of magnitude greater than what could be achieved with prior art magnets, making the magnetic roll useful for mineral separation.
Although one of the first prototype rare-earth magnetic rolls was calculated to have about 14,000 gauss steel magnetization, it was found in comparative testing with electromagnetic induced roll (IMR) separators operating at about 21,000 gauss, that similar performance was obtained in fine particle processing (smaller than 1 mm). When processing coarser particles an improved performance was established (e.g., less weakly magnetic contaminants remaining in the upgraded product — and fewer separation passes to achieve high quality). The improvement results because the magnetic force acting on the particles is high, due to a high flux gradient. An electromagnetic induced magnetic roll separator has an air gap, which must be increased to accommodate the processing of larger particles. The rare-earth magnetic roll (REMR) magnetic separator has no such air gap. Consequently, the magnetic force does not decline in the manner of an IMR set with a large air gap.