Over the last 30 years, Less Common Metals has regularly hit the headlines with its expertise in the rare earth industry. Today, LCM is the only company in the Western world commercially producing the highly specialised strip-cast alloys needed for the production of the highest-performance neodymium iron boron magnets. Furthermore, LCM’s expertise in the commercial production of neodymium metal and neodymium praseodymium alloy is unique in the Western world.
It is time for a celebration as this year marks the 30th anniversary of LCM and we are using this milestone to reflect on the growth and development of the company. From relocations and new equipment to the recognition from the UK Government via funding for feasibility studies into both supply chains and a UK magnet plant, LCM and the people behind the name have been loyal and resilient over years of building an excellent ethical midstream business.
It all started in 1992 when Less Common Metals Ltd was founded by David Kennedy, ex-Technical Manager at Rare Earth Products. The company soon grew with the acquisition of a unique co-reduction route for producing samarium cobalt. LCM quickly became established as a major global supplier of such materials.
In 1997 there was a relocation to Valley Road in Birkenhead, Wirral and a few years later came a significant capacity increase following the acquisition of manufacturing plant and personnel from the recently closed Johnson Matthey Rare Earth Products operation. LCM grew with enhanced melting facilities and a dedicated in-house analytical laboratory. Later that same year LCM was honoured to receive the Queen’s Award for Enterprise: International Trade (Export).
Fast forward and our relocation to from the Valley Road site to our current site in Hooton Park, Ellesmere Port in 2012 led to the installation of our first 600kg Strip Cast Melter. The second Strip Cast Melter was installed one year later and in the same year trial quantities of neodymium metal were made by electrolysis.
In 2015 LCM was acquired by Indian Ocean Rare Metals and began to successfully establish a complete commercial production of neodymium metal by electrolysis to western-world standards of environmental, health and safety stewardship.
At this crucial point, it was evident that LCM was expanding quickly to meet the demands of the rapidly evolving rare earth industry. It was in 2018 when LCM joined three industrial partners to kick off a new €17m EU Horizon 2020 project, named SecREEts. This project aims to establish an all-European supply chain for rare earth magnets and is still ongoing. In 2019 the capability for bulk electrolytic metal production expanded to include neodymium praseodymium alloy.
Come 2020, a new hydrogen decrepitation furnace was installed and commissioned for commercial production of NdFeB powders from LCM’s existing strip cast alloy facilities. In the same year, LCM received funding from UK Government to investigate stable and secure supply chains for rare earth permanent magnets. One year later further UK Government funding was received to investigate the feasibility of establishing a UK production facility for rare earth magnets.
That brings us to today, LCM is 50 strong with expanding roles in Technical, Production, and Commercial. Routine production takes place Monday – Friday with two 8-hour shifts and highly-trained operators work 12-hour shifts to provide 24/7 cover for our in-house neodymium and neodymium praseodymium metal-making.
LCM is constantly searching for a secure and stable supply chain and thus is involved in various key projects and associations. In addition, the team has worked tirelessly to achieve the accreditations ISO 9001 and ISO 14001 with a full environmental permit for activities.
Inside the LCM factory, you can expect to see a whopping 6,200m2 of shop floor housing six standard vacuum induction furnaces, three resistance heated furnaces, two strip casters, two full-sized electrolytic cells to produce rare earth metals from molten salts, a hydrogen decrepitation furnace, various crushers, mills and other metal processing plant and a fully equipped dedicated analytical laboratory.
As we look to the future, we are eager to embark on this journey toward a sustainable and secure supply of rare earth elements working alongside other like-minded companies and organisations.
It is at this point we would like to give thanks to our committed workforce who have made these past 30 years fruitful and rewarding.