Masato Sagawa

​​The world’s most powerful permanent magnet​

Non-EPO Countries
Technical field
Materials, metallurgy
​​NDFEB Corporation​
​​Neodymium-iron-boron (Nd-Fe-B) magnets have revolutionised the field of permanent magnets and become an indispensable component of modern technology. The strongest variety, “Sintered NdFeB magnets”, was developed by Japanese inventor and materials scientist Masato Sagawa.​

Before the 1980s, the preferred material for high-performance permanent magnets was an expensive combination of samarium and cobalt. Motivated by the lower cost of iron and its magnetic properties, Sagawa experimented with various elements to develop a new type of magnet. Using a sintering process that bonds the powdered components through a combination of heat and pressure, while keeping the fine microstructure, he eventually found the key by inserting boron into a neodymium and iron crystal lattice. This gave his magnets high coercivity, a resistance to demagnetisation, along with unparalleled strength. Nd-Fe-B magnets’ superior properties have led to their widespread adoption across industries, and they account for around 95% of all permanent magnets on the market today by value, with the sintered variety being the strongest among them.

Since driving the miniaturisation of the hard drive in the 1980s, which led to the rise of the personal computer, permanent magnets have found use in almost every field of modern technology. Among their multiple applications, they are today used in medical equipment, ABS brakes, security systems, generators, pumps and even jewellery. They are also at the forefront of green energy in electric vehicles and renewable energy generators such as wind turbines.

A lifelong pursuit of magnetic excellence

Sagawa developed an idea for Nd-Fe-B magnet in his spare time while working as a researcher at Fujitsu from 1972 to 1982. Recognising its potential, Sagawa resigned from his position, patented the magnet, and joined Sumitomo Metal Industries in 1982, where Nd-Fe-B magnet was commercialized. By 1988, he had founded Intermetallics to advance neodymium magnet technology. While competitors developed similar magnets at around the same time, their melt-spinning techniques resulted magnets that could not match Sumitomo's stronger and more resilient sintered magnet.

Throughout his career, Sagawa has accumulated patents related to his invention and has been honoured with numerous prestigious awards. As Sagawa reflects on his success, he emphasises the importance of perseverance and curiosity: "If I could give one piece of advice to new researchers, it would be to never stop looking for new avenues of research. On top of what you have been given, ask yourself, what might be necessary ten years from now? What will society need? Find your own research theme, and every day, little by little, you have to keep working on it."

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