Material Handling
Thursday | 07 July, 2016 | 1:26 pm

Simple strength

By Gretchen Salois

Above: Replaceable pole shoes extend the life of lifters manufactured by Magswitch Technology.

New design allows lighter magnets to move more material

July 2016 - A shift in design can completely transform functionality. In the case of Magswitch Technology Inc., it introduced a concept in switchable magnets that, once applied, allows users to move heavier steel products in a wider range of gauges. Relocating material can be a cumbersome, often dangerous affair.  Picking a single sheet from a stack often requires someone to manually, with a crowbar, pry away pieces below the target sheet from the magnet, leaving fingers and hands vulnerable to pinching or crushing injuries.

Magswitch offers industrial magnets with varying levels of strength for processors, distributors and fabricators handling steel sheets and other materials. Specifically, the design stretches beyond traditional passive shunt technology into active shunt (See Figure X). With active shunt, the produced magnetic force is controlled, creating a strong, shallow magnetic field. This shallow field enables Magswitch to create lifting magnets that will de-stack material as well as turn completely on and off without electricity. 

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Magswitch lifters create a strong hold force on thin material, enabling its equipment to lift sheets that others cannot.

“Because Magswitch offers the only switchable magnets on the market that turn all the way off, their tools stay clean in fabricating and manufacturing environments,” claims Derek DalPiaz, vice president of product management at the Lafayette, Colorado-based company. 

According to DalPiaz, a common misconception associated with magnets is that a larger, more powerful magnet is necessary to lift more weight. “This is true with thick material (2 inches or better), but is not true at all with thin material,” he explains. “Passive shunting creates a deep field and needs a lot of material to produce the lifting power.”

Unlike passive shunting magnets, which rely on multiple pieces of steel to “short circuit” the magnetic field, active shunting uses multiple magnets to manipulate the magnetic field. Magswitch technology requires significantly less bulk than passive shunting, which makes its  lifters up to 80 percent lighter than passive shunting magnets, says DalPiaz. The shallow field produces more grip on the steel, allowing users to safely lift thin material. 

One of Magswitch’s missions is to educate consumers about how magnets work and how to use them correctly. “Trying to use large passive shunting magnets to lift thin material is like trying to power a home using headphone wires—it’s just not going to work,” he says. 

Shallow- versus deep-field (see graphic) magnets—such as the MLAY 600x4 1/4-ton lifter—weigh as little as 18 pounds and have a 762-pound safe working load (SWL) on 1/2-inch steel. “I can de-stack 1/2-inch or thinner sheets, something [previous] magnets don’t allow you to do because the older magnets have a deeper magnetic field and will tend to pick up more than one sheet at a time,” DalPiaz explains.

The next model, MLAY 1000x6 1 ton lifter, weighs in at 58 pounds and has a safe working load up to 1,872 pounds for 1-inch or thicker material. “An older design magnet weighs more than double our larger model and you still can’t lift 1/2-inch-thick material,” DalPiaz says. “To pick up 2,000 pounds on an older design you need at least 2-inch-thick steel.” 

Magswitch technology can both de-stack material as well as lift thin sheets or other shapes that cannot be done with passive shunting magnets. “The ability to safely and efficiently de-stack sheets of steel fulfills a need in the market that other tools cannot meet,” DalPiaz claims. 

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Cordless electric lifting frames work on forklifts as well as on overhead cranes.

Hook design

Magswitch’s hook design magnets allow material to be picked up in different directions, such as vertically, allowing further flexibility for users when maneuvering material around the shop. The two hooks on each side of the magnet help stabilize loads Many shops are accustomed to placing one hook in the middle but that method can make very large or very long pieces difficult to move. 

A patented dual-hook technology aims to more evenly distribute the weight of the material lifted, creating a higher level of stability. Dual hooks also allow for vertical or sheer lifting by using one hook instead of both. “If I want to lift and position a 500-pound piece of steel, I need to factor in a much bigger magnet,” DalPiaz says. Safety depends on understanding how the steel will react to the lift, which involves stress points and deflection. ANSYS is a computer simulation tool for simulating material response. Magswitch uses ANSYS magnetostatic to determine how material shapes and sizes will respond when specific magnetic forces are applied. The simulation “identifies the stress points and the deflection,” he says.

Deflection creates a pry force on the steel that can, in turn, peel away magnets.  Instead of excessive drooping creating a break from the magnet, users can more accurately view how weight is distributed throughout the material using the ANSYS tool to simulate what the lift will look like. 

“The line on the graph tells us exactly what’s going on during the lift, alerting us to any danger of material losing connection with the magnet,” DalPiaz says. “We will be able to tell before moving material whether 7 inches will pry the magnet free or not.”

Magswitch’s scalability and ANSYS technology allow customers to use magnets for especially large materials. “Consider the significance of this real-life scenario: If you have a 12-foot-wide by 75-foot-long, 7/16-inch-thick steel plate with a painted surface—that sheet of steel weighs 16,000 pounds and yet users can de-stack and move the material with Magswitch. They can use their crane and move it much faster and more safely than before.”

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Heavy lifting frames work particularly well on I-beams, pipe and tubing.


Users primarily lifting beams no longer have to worry about putting the forks of a forklift under the material and then attempting to balance the load in motion. Instead Magswitch lifters attach on top of the beam and then transport it. It’s hands free. 

Magswitch magnets apply at cutting operations as well. “We had a customer who needed to cut through a thick box tube, but once he got all the way around, making a clean-cut was impossible. The piece would break off with a jagged edge and fall to the floor, which made for an unsafe situation,” DalPiaz says. “Now he uses our magnet to hold the piece that would otherwise fall and he gets a clean, straight-cut instead of spending time grinding and perfecting edges and angles.”

The Magswitch HLF-8000-M comes with a spreader bar and magnets and can be used from an overhead crane or forklift. This tool allows users to pick up I-beam, pipes or sheets. The HLF-3000-CE is a cordless electric tool that can be operated remotely. It comes with a spreader frame for use on overhead crane or forklift. 

“Instead of the piece of steel attached to the frames with chains, users can instead pick the sheet or I-beam, hit a button to engage the magnets remotely to pick up and put down material,” he says.

Magswitch engineers are researching remote actuation methods, including electric and hydraulic options. “Right now our cordless magnet batteries will last for a full shift,” he says. “However, for round-the-clock operations, other remote actuation methods will open up access to new solutions. We’re working on remote options that don’t require batteries—the idea is to keep offering lighter options that can work in more situations.” MM

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