Drives and Controls Magazine

Rare-earth restrictions threaten linear motor recovery

03 February, 2011

Although sales of linear and torque motors had recovered to pre-downturn levels by the end of 2010 – and are set for further growth during 2011 and 2012 – the recovery is being threatened by the continuity of supply of rare-earth magnets.

The market analyst IMS Research says it is uncertain how manufacturers of direct-drive motors are going to ensure continuity of supply the vital rare-earth magnets in the face of export restrictions by China, which currently produces about 97% of the world’s rare-earth materials. In 2010, China exported 39,813 tonnes of rare-earth materials, compared to a nine-year average of around 60,000 tonnes a year, and the Chinese Government is reported to be cutting export quotas of rare-earth materials by 35% for the first half of 2011.

IMS suggests that the Chinese government’s motive is to increase local value-added production and to raise domestic technology levels. To back this contention, IMS cites the growing number of direct-drive motor manufacturers opening production facilities in China or entering into partnerships with Chinese companies to produce rare-earth magnetic components.

“With the price of rare-earth material increasing with restricted exports,” it says, “China is making a healthy profit from those companies that choose to import rare-earth raw materials – a win-win situation”