Researchers create world’s first purely magnetic transmission with contactless axles
Developed for space, MAGDRIVE's magnetic gear reducer also promises industrial applications.
A consortium of European researchers have developed a contactless gear reducer that uses magnetism instead of conventional toothed gears to transform speed from an input to output axle. Created by MAGDRIVE, a European research project, the frictionless transmission doesn’t require lubrication, produces little noise or vibration and is capable of through-wall transmission. It can even continue to function during overload. If an axle becomes blocked, the transmission’s parts simply slide without breaking.
“It is the first time in history that the input axle as well as the output axle of a gear reducer are floating without any kind of contact, and it can keep a mechanism which contains nothing else spinning at 3,000 revolutions per minute at cryogenic temperatures,” says lead researcher, José Luis Pérez Díaz of Universidad Carlos III de Madrid’s Instituto Pedro San Juan de Lastanosa.
Developed for the European Space Agency (ESA), MAGDRIVE’s primary prototype works in the vacuum of outer space at temperatures down to -210°C. It integrates superconductor bearings to generate repulsive forces that not only allow the axles to turn but also stabilize them against oscillating motion or possible imbalances.
According to the researchers, potential space applications range from robot arms and antenna positioners to vehicles like the Mars Rover, in which very low temperature and pressure shorten the life of conventional mechanisms.
In addition to the cryogenic prototype, the group also developed a room temperature version that uses permanent magnets “that repel and attract each other” so that “the transmission of couples and forces between the moving parts with contact is achieved,” explains Efrén Díez Jiménez, a contributing researcher from the UC3M Department of Mechanical Engineering.
The MAGDRIVE researchers say its terrestrial prototype can be used in any mechanics and manufacturing application that uses conventional mechanical reducers, including pharmaceutical, biomedical and food industries due to the lack of lubrication.
The final results of the MAGDRIVE project have been presented at different conferences, congresses and meetings organized by ESA, NASA and ASME. At present they are analyzing possible industrial markets and have formed a spin-off company, MAG SOAR, from the project.