How Does an Electromagnet Work?

Electromagnet design

Magnets are all around us. From cabinet latches and stereo speakers to material handling devices and manufacturing machines, they are used in countless commercial and consumer applications. While all types of magnets are capable of producing a magnetic field, some of them use a different method of operation than others. There are permanent magnets, for instance, and there are electromagnets.

Overview of Electromagnets

An electromagnet is a type of magnetic device that’s characterized by the use of an electrical current. In other words, they produce a magnetic field using electricity. Electromagnets typically consist of wire or conductive material that’s wrapped around a metal base. As electricity flows through the wire or conductive material, a magnetic field is produced.

How Electromagnets Work

While they may look and sound complex, electromagnets have a simple method of operation. Electromagnets are able to produce a magnetic field by leveraging the natural properties of electricity as it moves. When electricity moves, it creates a magnetic field. These effects can be amplified by using a long wire or piece of conductive material and wrapping it around a metal base, such as a piece of iron. Electricity will flow through the wire or conductive material while simultaneously producing a magnetic field.

Benefits of Electromagnets

Electromagnets offer several benefits when compared to traditional permanent magnets. One of the main benefits of electromagnets is that they can be controlled. You can control the magnetic field of an electromagnet, for example, by increasing or decreasing the amount of electricity that flows through it. Increasing the electricity will result in a stronger magnetic field being produced, whereas decreasing the electricity will result in a weaker magnetic field being produced. You can even disable an electromagnet completely by cutting off all electricity to it. Without any electricity, electromagnets can’t produce a magnetic field.

It shouldn’t come as a surprise to learn that electromagnets are powerful. When supplied with an adequate amount of electricity, they can lift heavy objects. Some material handling devices feature an electromagnet. These electromagnet material handling devices allow workers to lift and move heavy objects, resulting in higher levels of productivity and a lower risk of bodily injury.

The downside to electromagnets, of course, is that they are dependent upon a power source. Unlike permanent magnets, all electromagnets require a power source. If electricity running to an electromagnetic is disrupted, it will stop producing a magnetic field.