Active Magnetic Bearings – When Magic Serves Engineers

From the beginning of the turbomachinery era, in the 19th century, engineers have been thinking about ways to reduce losses in rotating machines. Losses connected with fluid motion or producing the useful effects are related to the main purpose of machine operation,while losses in rotor bearings are just annoying and inevitable. Fluid film and rolling element bearings are effective solutions, but their operational principles cause increased friction – the best predictor of losses. But what if we could reduce the losses in rotating machines by avoiding the friction in required supports? What if a rotor could levitate and rotate in the air held by some magic forces? And furthermore, what if this magic could give us even bigger dividends, for example, enabling variable stiffness of rotor supports and safe passing through resonances? Luckily, engineers have already invented how to turn this magic into reality with active magnetic bearings.

The early patents of active magnetic bearings principles were recorded during the World War II, but the decisive breakthrough in production and applications of them were made during the the last three decades when the latest research about the active magnetic bearing operation and control made utilization feasible and economically viable [1].

The early patents of active magnetic bearings principles were recorded during the World War II, but the decisive breakthrough in production and applications of them were made during the the last three decades when the latest research about the active magnetic bearing operation and control made utilization feasible and economically viable [1].

Active Magnetic Bearing and its Components
Active Magnetic Bearing and its Components [2]
The main idea of an active magnetic bearing is based on the electromagnetic processes. Electrical current passing through densely wound copper coils creates magnetic fields which interact with a magnetized sleeve connected to the rotor.

Sounds pretty simple, right? But why on Earth did it take so much time to go from the general ideas to a real industrial application of active magnetic bearings? Read More