Saturation (magnetic) - Effects and Uses

Effects and Uses

Saturation limits the maximum magnetic fields achievable in ferromagnetic-core electromagnets and transformers to around 2 T, which puts a limit on the minimum size of their cores. This is one reason why high power motors, generators, and utility transformers are physically large; because they must have large magnetic cores.

In electronic circuits, transformers and inductors with ferromagnetic cores operate nonlinearly when the current through them is large enough to drive their core materials into saturation. This means that their inductance and other properties vary with changes in drive current. In linear circuits this is usually considered an unwanted departure from ideal behavior. When AC signals are applied, this nonlinearity can cause the generation of harmonics and intermodulation distortion. To prevent this, the level of signals applied to iron core inductors must be limited so they don't saturate. To lower its effects, an air gap is created in some kinds of transformer cores. The saturation current, the current through the winding required to saturate the magnetic core, is given by manufacturers in the specifications for many inductors and transformers.

On the other hand, saturation is exploited in some electronic devices. Saturation is employed to limit current in saturable-core transformers, used in arc welding, and ferroresonant transformers which serve as voltage regulators. When the primary current exceeds a certain value, the core is pushed into its saturation region, limiting further increases in secondary current. In a more sophisticated application, saturable core inductors and magnetic amplifiers use a DC current through a separate winding to control an inductor's impedance. Varying the current in the control winding moves the operating point up and down in the saturation curve, controlling the AC current through the inductor. These are used in variable fluorescent light ballasts, and power control systems.

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