The end of 2011 brings rising servo motor prices

Dramatically rising prices of magnets from China are going to start cutting into the consumer's wallet by the start of 2012.

By Jenelea Howell, Research Manager, IMS Research November 14, 2011

To cope with the rise in magnet prices, motion controls suppliers are driving productivity to offset the increase, however in the second half of 2011 there has been evidence that for many suppliers these prices can no longer be absorbed and the cost must be passed onto the customer.  

The last half of 2011 and 2012 will be the major exceptions to this trend as the servo motors markets is being affected significantly by increasing magnet costs. Several suppliers increased servo motors prices in the second half of 2011 and those that have yet to increase prices are expected to do so in 2012 to offset the dramatically rising prices of magnets from China. Average selling prices for servo motors are predicted to increase by 6.6% in 2011 and 9.3% in 2012 as the majority of the market is expected to begin raising prices.

Servo motors require magnets manufactured from rare earth minerals, including both neodymium and dysprosium. Currently, neodymium-based permanent magnets (PMs) are estimated to cost about €70/kg ($95/kg). Neodymium is not found naturally in metallic form and must be extracted from monazite and bastnasite ore. China is currently the leading producer of neodymium magnets and is estimated to account for 97% of the world’s current supply. Although the raw material (ore) does exist in other countries around the world, China is currently the leader in processing this ore into the raw elements needed to manufacture these powerful magnets. However, mining for this ore also occurs in the USA, Brazil, India, Sri Lanka, Japan, and Australia, but due to environment laws mining in several of these countries drives up the cost of the final product above that of China’s.

In July 2010, China’s Ministry of Commerce announced plans to cut export quotas for rare earth minerals by over 70% in the second half of 2010. This decision caps foreign shipments at 8,000 metric tons, down from 28,500 metric tons in the same period in 2009. In August 2010, two of China’s largest state-owned rare earth mining companies announced intentions to create a unified pricing system that aims to give China greater control over the availability and supply of rare earth minerals, including neodymium. Prices for these magnets in China have continued to increase over 2011, ultimately creating a race for other countries to turn on mines and find quick alternatives to extracting neodymium.

Recent interruptions in demand for neodymium magnets is coming from the hybrid electric vehicles market, wind turbines, and the squirrel-cage permanent magnet motor market, which is helping to drive up prices of these magnets. As motor efficiency legislation is driving the use of squirrel-cage permanent magnet motors, induction motor manufacturers also providing these motors are concerned that customers will not pay such a high cost for these motors. In this case, the customers have a choice to buy an induction motor since it is a substitute product, but for servo motors there is no substitute product to rely on, therefore, the customer must pay the higher prices. Although many countries are trying to find alternative ways of mining and extracting this material in order to speed up the process of supplying the market, the effects of current price increases can no longer be absorbed by suppliers.