Applications of Magnetic Damping
One use of magnetic damping is found in sensitive laboratory balances. To have maximum sensitivity and accuracy, the balance must be as friction-free as possible. But if it is friction-free, then it will oscillate for a very long time. Magnetic damping is a simple and ideal solution. With magnetic damping, drag is proportional to speed and becomes zero at zero velocity. Thus the oscillations are quickly damped, after which the damping force disappears, allowing the balance to be very sensitive. (See this figure.) In most balances, magnetic damping is accomplished with a conducting disc that rotates in a fixed field.
Since eddy currents and magnetic damping occur only in conductors, recycling centers can use magnets to separate metals from other materials. Trash is dumped in batches down a ramp, beneath which lies a powerful magnet. Conductors in the trash are slowed by magnetic damping while nonmetals in the trash move on, separating from the metals. (See this figure.) This works for all metals, not just ferromagnetic ones. A magnet can separate out the ferromagnetic materials alone by acting on stationary trash.
Other major applications of eddy currents are in metal detectors and braking systems in trains and roller coasters. Portable metal detectors (this figure) consist of a primary coil carrying an alternating current and a secondary coil in which a current is induced. An eddy current will be induced in a piece of metal close to the detector which will cause a change in the induced current within the secondary coil, leading to some sort of signal like a shrill noise. Braking using eddy currents is safer because factors such as rain do not affect the braking and the braking is smoother.
However, eddy currents cannot bring the motion to a complete stop, since the force produced decreases with speed. Thus, speed can be reduced from say 20 m/s to 5 m/s, but another form of braking is needed to completely stop the vehicle. Generally, powerful rare earth magnets such as neodymium magnets are used in roller coasters. This figure shows rows of magnets in such an application. The vehicle has metal fins (normally containing copper) which pass through the magnetic field slowing the vehicle down in much the same way as with the pendulum bob shown in this figure.
Induction cooktops have electromagnets under their surface. The magnetic field is varied rapidly producing eddy currents in the base of the pot, causing the pot and its contents to increase in temperature. Induction cooktops have high efficiencies and good response times but the base of the pot needs to be ferromagnetic, iron or steel for induction to work.