A generator is an important device for producing electrical energy through the conversion of mechanical energy by means of electromagnetic induction. Generators vary in design and components; however, specific types of generators will contain the same basic components. For this blog, we will be focusing on key parts that make up an AC generator, also known as an alternator. When in use, this type of generator converts mechanical energy into AC voltage and current, and it differs from a DC generator in its use of alternating current rather than direct current. The basic components of an AC generator include field windings, an armature, slip rings, and brushes.
In order to perform electromagnetic induction, a generator requires either an electromagnet, or the less popular alternative, a permanent magnet. However, most generators make use of an electromagnet or a field winding to produce a stationary magnetic field. Unlike permanent magnets, electromagnets must be supplied with current. In an alternator, two field windings with opposing magnetic forces are situated across from one another to create a magnetic field. The magnetic field works in tandem with the electricity generated by the armature, that of which is situated in the center of the two field windings. An armature is the electrically-charged, movable coil of wire in a generator that rotates to simultaneously cut the magnetic lines of force in different directions. The electric charge of the armature paired with the magnetic field generated by the field windings work to produce electromagnetic induction.
The armature receives its voltage through its attachment to slip rings and brushes. While the looped part of the armature sits in the magnetic field, its two arms extend outwards to attach to the slip rings. Slip rings are used to connect the induced voltage to the brushes. When the armature is rotated in the magnetic field, a voltage is generated in each half of the armature coil. Meanwhile, the brushes are sliding contacts that ride against the slip rings to connect the armature to the external circuit or load. Unlike a DC generator, an AC generator’s slip rings do not reverse the polarity of the output voltage produced by the generator. The result is an alternating sine wave output.
The total voltage produced by a full rotation of the armature is twice the voltage of each coil half because the two sides of the armature simultaneously produce equal and opposite voltages. Since the two halves of the coil are connected in a closed-loop, the voltages add to each other. This voltage is then released to the external circuit through the brushes and slip rings.
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