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What Is an Inductor Coil?

Helen Akers
Helen Akers

An inductor coil is part of an electrical system. It normally is shaped like a circle and is made up of copper wire. The coil receives electrical current and creates an electromagnetic field. Storing energy is one of the main capabilities of an inductor coil.

Electric current can take a while to build up in an inductor coil. While an inductor is accumulating energy, it tends to restrict the amount that flows through its wires. When an inductor coil has built up enough energy to create a strong enough field, the current is allowed to fully pass through. Inductors have a tendency to resist any changes in the flow of energy. The coiled design is what helps create the magnetic field.

Coils of copper wire are commonly used in electrical inductors.
Coils of copper wire are commonly used in electrical inductors.

An inductor coil does not actively seek out energy. It is considered to be passive in the sense that the electrical current must come from another source. While inductor coils accept, build up and regulate energy, they will remain dormant if the coils do not receive any current. Inductors are used in all types of electrical equipment, including computers, radios, and mobile devices.

Most inductor coils that deal with high frequency currents contain a ferrite core. This core is made up of magnetic material, such as iron oxide. The copper wire is typically wrapped around the core. Some inductors have exposed wire while others do not.

Lower energy frequencies usually respond better to inductors that contain some type of laminated core. Rather than using magnetic material, steel is used to create a center. The steel is usually insulated to prevent energy from escaping.

Inductor coils do not work alone. They are part of an electrical system that regulates the flow of energy from a power source. The source may be a battery or electrical outlet. There is usually some type of wiring or circuit board connection that directs the electrical current from the power source through the coil.

In most designs, the electrical current will run through the inductor, but in several directions. It has the ability to send electrical current from both sides to an object that needs power, such as a light bulb, computer monitor, or stereo. One side of the inductor will simultaneously receive current from the power source while also sending it towards a switch.

Power can be regulated through the use of a switch in the majority of electrical system designs. Most do not think of switches as being the power or on/off button on an electrical device, but that is exactly what a switch is. It allows the energy that is being sent from the inductor coil to return to the power source. The switch also has the ability to interrupt that same energy flow.

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    • Coils of copper wire are commonly used in electrical inductors.
      By: Andrzej Thiel
      Coils of copper wire are commonly used in electrical inductors.