Samarium cobalt permanent magnets have been widely used for their excellent intrinsic magnetic properties such as very high Curie temperature, high anisotropy fields and most importantly excellent temperature coefficients of induction and coercivity. These materials have continuing industrial interest especially for applications operating at elevated temperatures and in the presence of high demagnetizing fields, such as particle accelerators, high frequency traveling wave tubes (TWTs), servo-motors and automotive and aerospace applications. An area of opportunity for improving performance of SmCo magnets is increasing magnet toughness — resistance to fracture.
Like all other sintered rare earth magnetic materials, SmCo magnets are based on intermetallic compounds which are intrinsically brittle and can crack in the course of fabrication, machine work, and installation in the application. Increased toughness would also reduce handling sensitivity of magnetized magnets. For many years, studies on SmCo magnets have been focused on their magnetic properties, but the mechanical characteristics, strengthening and toughening mechanisms have been rarely reported. Understanding the phase and structural transformations induced in the SmCo magnets during the manufacturing process offers insight into potential modifications — chemical or processing-related. In this study, microstructural characterizations of 1:5 and 2:17 Sm-Co magnets were carried out using optical and scanning electron microscopes. In scanning electron microscopy (SEM), backscattered electron imaging and energy dispersive X-ray (EDX) microanalysis were used to investigate different phases and oxides. Finally, crystal structure of the magnets was studied using an X-ray diffractometer (XRD). The study correlates the microstructure characterization with the thermal processing history of different grades of SmCo magnets.