A Falmouth company aims to beat off international competition by offering a more accurate method of characterising magnets for its global client base.

The new algorithms, being developed by Hirst Magnetic Instruments Ltd to enable the characterisation of magnets, are based on calculations from mathematicians from the University of Exeter's Environment and Sustainability Institute (ESI) at the Penryn Campus.

Founded in 1938, Hirst Magnetics produces a wide range of award-winning specialist magnetic instruments. From its base on the Tregoniggie Industrial Estate, Hirst designs, develops and manufactures magnetic instruments. A market leader in the UK, the business now has a global reputation, particularly in China.

Magnets are used in a range of industrial applications, from medical to aerospace to data storage. However, before being put to use, magnets need to be characterised to assess their properties. Whether magnets are being used to help produce a brain scan or generate power from a wind turbine, it is important that their quality has been tested.

Currently the most commonplace technique involves clamping magnets between the steel poles of an electromagnet. The company had a concept of how it might be able to characterise magnets in a new way and had been grappling with the issue for decades before enlisting the help of the ESI.

A team of mathematicians from the institute are now helping to unlock the problem through smart processing of measurement data. With a patent now underway, the business will use the new process to gain an extra edge on international competitors and access new markets John Dudding of Hirst Magnetics said: “For decades, we have had a concept on how we could solve a fundamental problem in magnetics, but we didn't have the mathematical skills to tackle it. The ESI team has been extraordinarily dedicated and focused and we are now keen to work with them on solving other issues that could benefit the business.

“In measurement, accuracy is the name of the game and we are now in a different league. By working with the ESI team to solve this problem, we expect to maintain our market lead in China and steal a fundamental technical advantage over our competitors.”

Professor Stuart Townley, chair in applied mathematics at ESI, said: “Magnets are used in an almost endless range of products and devices, from medical instruments to data storage to food production. Therefore, the benefits of this collaboration could be far-reaching.

“It was very gratifying to see our knowledge of what was essentially a classical mathematical problem being adapted to something that is of real commercial benefit to a local business.”