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The Crisis in Neodymium Speaker Drivers

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  • The Crisis in Neodymium Speaker Drivers

    I fumed for the better part of a day in late 2010 when I read the first news story about China's five-year plan to dominate the electric vehicle market worldwide. It seemed dastardly enough to have come straight from a 1960s cartoon show's Communist megalo-villain. Rather than attempt to develop electric vehicle technology on their own, what their government has been planning instead amounts in my mind to technological thievery (not that this is new for the Chinese, but to state it as openly as they have signifies an audacious and cavalier new direction for the Chinese government regarding foreign intellectual property that they have an interest in). The way it works is this: First, the Chinese government requires that any American company who wants to manufacture electric vehicle parts in China must do so as part of a joint venture with a Chinese company, and then the Chinese government limits exports of raw Neodymium and Neodymium magnets to the United States, driving the price of electric vehicle component production in the U.S. skyward. Thus, U.S.-based electric vehicle manufacturers would be forced to share complete documentation of their technology with the Chinese companies they enter into joint ventures with, and this data could easily be seized by the Chinese government (as has commonly happened in the past when the Chinese government has dissolved a company to obtain intellectual property from foreign sources).

    Beyond the obvious malicious intent of the Chinese government in attempting to steal electric vehicle technology from American companies in order to compete directly with them on price, their approach strikes me both as ridiculously stupid and shortsighted from a technical perspective, since it won't achieve what it's intended to. In electric vehicles, it is possible to work around an interruption in the supply of materials for a permanent magnet motor by using a high-frequency AC induction motor driven at high speed by a variable frequency inverter, which can achieve 80%-90% of the efficiency of a permanent-magnet DC motor. An induction motor doesn't use any magnetic material at all; its rotating magnetic field is created by copper windings arranged in bundles that pass through steel plates called poles, and the armature simply comprises a series of conductive copper bars that a current is induced in as the motor spins. However, other industries which produce products that rely on Neodymium magnetics will suffer as a result of the Chinese government's policy. Nd prices are headed north of $10/pound as of this writing, and going higher. I recently learned of an emergency meeting at one manufacturer of a line of loudspeaker drivers with Neodymium magnetics due to the climbing price of Neodymium, and more are likely to follow. There are other mines for Neodymium that are outside China, but many of them have been shuttered for years, and it will take time to bring them online, and before this is over, the price of Nd could go beyond triple what it is currently selling for, making Nd magnetics an expensive luxury that many driver manufacturers may choose to forego (or at least cut production) in the near future, as did the aforementioned speaker manufacturer as a result of their meeting.

    What does this mean for the loudspeaker industry? First of all, the drivers most likely to be affected on a broad scale are tweeters and high-frequency compression drivers. Planar tweeters in particular are absolutely dependent on Neodymium motor structures to generate the necessary flux to drive what is a very inefficient magnetic structure by nature, since it must accommodate the motion of the diaphragm and produce flux lines which run parallel to the plane of the diaphragm, when viewed from above. The same goes for ribbon tweeters, which must develop magnetic flux across the entire surface of the ribbon, again parallel to the plane of the ribbon diaphragm. The skyrocketing price of Nd will also mean that tiny tweeters like the Dayton ND tweeters may disappear entirely from inexpensive loudspeakers, at least those manufactured outside of China. (I'm honestly not sure how this will affect loudspeaker drivers manufactured in China.)

    The pro audio market in particular will be affected by the artificial shortage of Neodymium being created by the Chinese government, because the weight savings provided by Neodymium magnetics is extremely attractive in large-format portable enclosures and line-array systems (where any weight savings is multiplied dramatically). Companies like JBL, Electro-Voice, Meyer Sound, and Eminence in the U.S., Ciare, Eighteen Sound, RCF, and B&C Speakers in Italy, Precision Devices in the U.K, and Beyma in Spain may decide to either decrease or suspend production entirely on their products with Neodymium magnetics. In inexpensive pro audio loudspeakers, I expect ferrite magnets to make a comeback wherever they weren't already being used. Also, depending on how this affects loudspeaker drivers produced in China, Dayton, Tang Band, Tymphany, and Hi-Vi drivers may increase significantly in price, and some inexpensive driver models using Neodymium magnetics may get the axe.

    This is something every speaker enthusiast and professional designer needs to be on the lookout for, and take into consideration when planning future projects. Drivers already purchased or purchased from remaining stock of a product shouldn't be affected, but this issue has very real potential to affect price and future availability of some drivers. I didn't say anything about this issue when I first read the news story and made the connection to loudspeaker products, because I wasn't sure what effect it would have and I didn't want to be alarmist, but some conversations I've had recently have changed that, and this looks like it could hit the loudspeaker industry pretty hard, unless the product in question is already produced in China, and even that remains to be seen.

    Please comment below.
    Best Regards,

    Rory Buszka

    Taterworks Audio

    "The work of the individual still remains the spark which moves mankind ahead, even more than teamwork." - Igor I. Sikorsky

    If it works, but you don't know why it works, then you haven't done any engineering.

  • #2
    Re: The Crisis in Neodymium Speaker Drivers

    The Chinese didn't create this problem, we did, when we decided to abandon our mines and buy only from them, ceding them a 97% market share, because that was the less expensive option. Now our own short sightedness is coming back at us after their decision to use their resources to support their industry, not ours and Japan's.
    The situation is temporary, as our mines are about to come back online, while the Aussies and Canadians and others are ramping up their production.
    www.billfitzmaurice.com
    www.billfitzmaurice.info/forum

    Comment


    • #3
      Re: The Crisis in Neodymium Speaker Drivers

      Interesting post. China is waging a very successful economic war against the US, and it looks like they're upping the ante once again.

      Maybe I should buy up a good stock of those ND20 and ND16 drivers :-).

      I've been waiting to see a good decently-priced subwoofer driver with a Neodymium structure. Infinity brought out one a few years ago (the Kappa122.7W) that retailed for $100. It was not without its flaws, but it was a decent start. The specs suggest that it actually might do well as a HT subwoofer (think NHT1259-type specs) but I haven't tried it out like that yet. I recently inquired on another forum if they were any new neo-magnet subs on the market. A short list was provided, but not one "budget" driver in the group, sigh.
      Brian Steele
      www.diysubwoofers.org

      Comment


      • #4
        Re: The Crisis in Neodymium Speaker Drivers

        No problem, as electric vehicles suck more than a Dyson.

        It's not magnets that are the key, it's the storage cells. There's just no way to store that much electricity without HUGE and EXPENSIVE batteries. The Tesla is the standard right now, but it is cost prohibitive due to the batteries, which by the way, are horribly environmentally unfriendly to produce.

        The whole hybrid car thing is a farce too, as the energy cost to produce a hybrid is lost when the same car is fitted with a small, gas or diesel engine. It's much "greener" to drive a 4 cyl toyota than the Prius.

        The Volt is going nowhere. A huge waste of taxpayer money to develop a "turd."

        Let the Chinese mass produce the Volt. They'll be broke in no time.
        R = h/(2*pi*m*c) and don't you forget it! || Periodic Table as redrawn by Marshall Freerks and Ignatius Schumacher || King Crimson Radio
        Byzantium Project & Build Thread || MiniByzy Build Thread || 3 x Peerless 850439 HDS 3-way || 8" 2-way - RS28A/B&C8BG51

        95% of Climate Models Agree: The Observations Must be Wrong
        "Gravitational systems are the ashes of prior electrical systems.". - Hannes Alfven, Nobel Laureate, Plasma physicist.

        Comment


        • #5
          Re: The Crisis in Neodymium Speaker Drivers

          Crisis? No. Someone will come up with an alternative (e.g. re-open a mine or technology change) as long as there is a demand.

          Wasn't there a disruption in the supply of alnico a couple of decades ago?

          Regarding electric cars...you got to look at the simplicity of an all electric drivetrain and hope that some space alien will hook us up with the appropriate battery technology. As an alternative, peek under the hood of a new diesel pick-up and try to count the heat exchangers and other gadgets.

          Comment


          • #6
            Re: The Crisis in Neodymium Speaker Drivers

            No problem, as electric vehicles suck more than a Dyson.

            It's not magnets that are the key, it's the storage cells. There's just no way to store that much electricity without HUGE and EXPENSIVE batteries. The Tesla is the standard right now, but it is cost prohibitive due to the batteries, which by the way, are horribly environmentally unfriendly to produce.

            The whole hybrid car thing is a farce too, as the energy cost to produce a hybrid is lost when the same car is fitted with a small, gas or diesel engine. It's much "greener" to drive a 4 cyl toyota than the Prius.

            The Volt is going nowhere. A huge waste of taxpayer money to develop a "turd."

            Let the Chinese mass produce the Volt. They'll be broke in no time.
            I actually agree on this one. I also can't believe the asking prices of the hybrids and other small cars right now. I wish people would stop buying vehicles at these ridiculous prices.

            Comment


            • #7
              Re: The Crisis in Neodymium Speaker Drivers

              A tiny turbo diesel is what we need, car companies perceive public as too dumb to buy them.

              Comment


              • #8
                Re: The Crisis in Neodymium Speaker Drivers

                Inflammatory paranoid post is inflammatory paranoid.
                I am trolling you.

                Comment


                • #9
                  Re: The Crisis in Neodymium Speaker Drivers

                  Originally posted by djg View Post
                  A tiny turbo diesel is what we need, car companies perceive public as too dumb to buy them.
                  The most efficient method of propulsion currently used has been around for a long time, diesel generators powering electric motors. Both locomotives and ships have used this method since the 1940s.
                  www.billfitzmaurice.com
                  www.billfitzmaurice.info/forum

                  Comment


                  • #10
                    Re: The Crisis in Neodymium Speaker Drivers

                    Originally posted by djg View Post
                    A tiny turbo diesel is what we need, car companies perceive public as too dumb to buy them.
                    It's an issue of U.S. emissions standards more than anything else. U.S. emission regulations are NOX centric while European standards focus more on CO2. That's why we have Hybrids and Europe has Diesels.

                    Comment


                    • #11
                      Re: The Crisis in Neodymium Speaker Drivers

                      No problem, as electric vehicles suck more than a Dyson.

                      It's not magnets that are the key, it's the storage cells. There's just no way to store that much electricity without HUGE and EXPENSIVE batteries. The Tesla is the standard right now, but it is cost prohibitive due to the batteries, which by the way, are horribly environmentally unfriendly to produce.

                      The whole hybrid car thing is a farce too, as the energy cost to produce a hybrid is lost when the same car is fitted with a small, gas or diesel engine. It's much "greener" to drive a 4 cyl toyota than the Prius.

                      The Volt is going nowhere. A huge waste of taxpayer money to develop a "turd."

                      Let the Chinese mass produce the Volt. They'll be broke in no time.
                      Yep, energy density is problem # 1 with electric cars. Charge time is # 2, lack of a charging infrastructure #3. And, if we all went electric, the quick calculations I did a couple of years ago showed that the amount of energy we use in cars & trucks is rougly equal to our current electric generating capacity, so we would need to at a minimum double that, probably more like triple or quadruple in reality. Still, it would be nice to figure out a way to get off of hydrocarbons, especially those sourced from unfriendly/unstable parts of the world.
                      It is estimated that one percent of the general population are psychopaths - New Criminologist: Understanding Psychopaths

                      Comment


                      • #12
                        Re: The Crisis in Neodymium Speaker Drivers

                        No problem, as electric vehicles suck more than a Dyson.

                        It's not magnets that are the key, it's the storage cells. There's just no way to store that much electricity without HUGE and EXPENSIVE batteries. The Tesla is the standard right now, but it is cost prohibitive due to the batteries, which by the way, are horribly environmentally unfriendly to produce.

                        The whole hybrid car thing is a farce too, as the energy cost to produce a hybrid is lost when the same car is fitted with a small, gas or diesel engine. It's much "greener" to drive a 4 cyl toyota than the Prius.

                        The Volt is going nowhere. A huge waste of taxpayer money to develop a "turd."

                        Let the Chinese mass produce the Volt. They'll be broke in no time.
                        Today 06:54 PM
                        You are correct sir. If a purchaser of a hybrid were to recoup the premium he paid for it. He would be buying an new set of batteries in short order for an additional $2500+. If on the other hand he lived somewhere where the temperature varied outside of 30-95 fahrenheit degrees he would be unlikely to ever overcome the premium he paid. Well thats the opinion I've formed.

                        Comment


                        • #13
                          Re: The Crisis in Neodymium Speaker Drivers

                          Originally posted by MagicO309d View Post
                          It's an issue of U.S. emissions standards more than anything else. U.S. emission regulations are NOX centric while European standards focus more on CO2. That's why we have Hybrids and Europe has Diesels.
                          We are our own worst enemy. That is a fact.

                          If the geniuses in Washington want to mandate anything to have a net positive impact on energy, they'd make diesel engines mandatory for all modes of road transportation. Can you imagine how that would streamline refinery operations, to only have to produce one formulation instead of the multitude that they do now? Prices would surely drop.

                          Instead, we have irrational policy that forces the lunacy we have to endure. You'd think with all the greenies in these departments, that lowered CO2, higher efficiency would be paramount, but the only thing that matters is power, the political kind.
                          R = h/(2*pi*m*c) and don't you forget it! || Periodic Table as redrawn by Marshall Freerks and Ignatius Schumacher || King Crimson Radio
                          Byzantium Project & Build Thread || MiniByzy Build Thread || 3 x Peerless 850439 HDS 3-way || 8" 2-way - RS28A/B&C8BG51

                          95% of Climate Models Agree: The Observations Must be Wrong
                          "Gravitational systems are the ashes of prior electrical systems.". - Hannes Alfven, Nobel Laureate, Plasma physicist.

                          Comment


                          • #14
                            Re: The Crisis in Neodymium Speaker Drivers

                            We are our own worst enemy. That is a fact.

                            If the geniuses in Washington want to mandate anything to have a net positive impact on energy, they'd make diesel engines mandatory for all modes of road transportation. Can you imagine how that would streamline refinery operations, to only have to produce one formulation instead of the multitude that they do now? Prices would surely drop.

                            Instead, we have irrational policy that forces the lunacy we have to endure. You'd think with all the greenies in these departments, that lowered CO2, higher efficiency would be paramount, but the only thing that matters is power, the political kind.
                            I'm not sure if there is a good or bad, only that the US and Europe focus differently on emissions with their regulations.

                            Comment


                            • #15
                              Re: The Crisis in Neodymium Speaker Drivers

                              Originally posted by MagicO309d View Post
                              I'm not sure if there is a good or bad, only that the US and Europe focus differently on emissions with their regulations.
                              Diesels are just plain cleaner. Yes, they have soot, but compared to all the power robbing nonsense you have to strap to a gas engine for it to meet emission standards, the diesel is a no brainer.

                              I remember reading about a Honda turbo diesel that was getting 90mpg. Nope, not here though. :rolleyes:
                              R = h/(2*pi*m*c) and don't you forget it! || Periodic Table as redrawn by Marshall Freerks and Ignatius Schumacher || King Crimson Radio
                              Byzantium Project & Build Thread || MiniByzy Build Thread || 3 x Peerless 850439 HDS 3-way || 8" 2-way - RS28A/B&C8BG51

                              95% of Climate Models Agree: The Observations Must be Wrong
                              "Gravitational systems are the ashes of prior electrical systems.". - Hannes Alfven, Nobel Laureate, Plasma physicist.

                              Comment

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