A visit to Hirst Magnetics

Q&A with CEO James McKenzie

Firstly, can you give me some background about Hirst Magnetic Instrumentation regarding its origins and how that compares to its role today?

Hirst as a magnetics instruments company has been around since 1982 when the company’s founder John Dudding bought part of the original Hirst company that had been operating in magnetics since the 1960s. The Hirst name comes from Sidney Hirst who set up the original company in 1938. John grew the business making magnetisers (sold mostly into, audio and aerospace), gaussmeters and fluxmeters and permeameters and in 1998 launched the first pulsed field magnetometer (PFM). If you want to see some examples of this please see our website https://hirst-magnetics.com/home/about-us/hirst-magnetics-company-history/ .

Sadly, John passed away in 2021 just before shipping the first of the latest generation 8, the PFM08-30 to the National Institute of Metrology (NIM) in Beijing who had commissioned this machine to provide reference sample tests in China. John worked closely with NIM in the 1990s and recognised early on that PFMs were the only way to characterise higher coercivity rare earth magnets.

Johns’ legacy lives on and the company’s products are in more demand than ever these days, and whilst historically Hirst mostly shipped PFMs to China (where they are used in quality control and R&D), the demand has grown greatly as the US, EU and others countries seeking to build and expand their own capacity in rare earth magnets production.

What are unique aspects to Hirst that set you apart from competitors / what are your core products that you see being the biggest markets for you in 2024 and beyond?

PFMs are a niche market, but Hirst is the world leader in this and with the launch of the full line up of Generation 8 machines in 2023 Hirst offer the fastest and most repeatable measurements in this market. The generation 8 machines also can be used in R&D for grain boundary diffusion magnets (GBD) with thin sample modes and small sample kits for samples down to 1x1x1mm (for next generation selectively diffused GBD magnets that only have the expensive heavy rare earths diffused just where they are needed).

The 08-40 MT is for R&D and National or regional labs and R&D who want to test a range of sample sizes and shapes over a wide range of temperatures from -40 to 230 ℃.The larger generation 8 machines also work well for traction magnet users who are looking to check quality of incoming magnets ahead of assembly into motors.

Specifically, they don’t want to have a bad batch go into the EV motor which could lead to field failures at elevated operating temperatures and warranty recalls. So there is a need to measure coercivity at high temperature on large samples. PFMs are ideal for this and the PFM08-40 (for magnets up to 40mm diameter) and 08-70 (for magnets up to 70mm diameter) as magnets can be put in whole and as the PFM measurement is a non-destructive test once tested can still be used in production.

It’s the 25th anniversary of commercial shipments of PFMs at Hirst in 2024 and Hirst is actively involved in the IEC standard work on PFMs which is at quite an advanced stage and global demand for high performance magnets is growing rapidly so we see the global market for these key metrology and quality control tools growing. We see the US and EU as key markets for 2024 and beyond for PFMs, as well as serving the growing demand in China for production ramp up.

Hirst has also just launched (1.2.23) its latest gaussmeter product, the GM09. A touch screen display gaussmeter with a focus on application modes with the aim of making it easier to set up and use in a range of applications including Magnet testing, Magnetic Field testing, Residual magnetism testing, Fit-to-Fly testing for magnetic materials against IATA (and FAA guidelines, Food Magnet Extractor and Occupational safety testing. With a rechargeable battery and USB C charging its easier than ever to get access to test data as the GM09 appears as a USB mass storage device (like a memory stick or SD card) when connected to your computer.

The data is in .CSV files so it’s easy to import and use. Hirst first introduced its first gaussmeter product in the 1960s and are excited by the capabilities of the new product and the last gaussmeter product, the ubiquitous GM08 was introduced in 2008 so this is the first major gaussmeter product introduction for 16 years and a big technology step forward. As Hirst gaussmeters are used, distributed, and sold globally we think this is an important product for Hirst.

Can you tell me about how you view the UK and its role in the global Magnetics Industry?

Its clear to me that this is a global industry set to grow rapidly over the next 20 years and beyond and that the UK has many things the world needs for us all to transition over to EVs and renewables such as wind turbines. 

Can you tell us about some examples of the key customers you serve in context? (i.esensors in aerospace / automotive companies that use your PFMs)

 When I joined Hirst in 2022 I was quite surprised at just how many applications Hirst had developed magnetiser and test solutions for. Historically Hirst made lots of equipment for magnetising loud speakers for what have become global premium audio companies much of this equipment is still in operation today.

I was also surprised just how many sensors involve magnetics and that Hirst has been providing production equipment for critical aircraft sensorssuch as backup compasses, cockpit oxygen sensors and oil actuators for decades. The upshot of which is that for every Airbus or Boeing plane in the service today has at least 3 (more in larger aircraft) sensors or actuators that have been manufactured with Hirst equipment.

What do you hope to gain from exhibiting at the Magnetics Show?

 We hope to generate new sales and possible distribution partnerships in the US and South America for our latest products. In addition, we would like to make US and EU companies aware of the benefits of PFMs in the magnet supply chain and goods inward quality control.

What is your favourite (incorrect) use of Magnets in TV, Movies or Media?

 Well it has to be in Breaking bad the hit show on Netflix about a high school chemistryteacher funding his cancer treatment by cooking crystal meth and specifically where the two main characters Jesse Pinkman and Walter White destroy evidence using an electromagnet in the first episode of season 5 titled ‘Live Free or Die’ .

They were able to wipe the hard disk of a laptop from 10s of feet away using an electromagnet powered off 21 car batteries, the hard disk is wiped and the laptop fly’s out of Jessies hands and smashes on the electromagnet and Jessie excitedly shouts “Yeah, b****! Magnets!”.