Electrical steel

Electrical steel

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Electrical steel, also called lamination steel, silicon electrical steel, silicon steel, relay steel or transformer steel, is specialty steel
Steel is an alloy that consists mostly of iron and has a carbon content between 0.2% and 2.1% by weight, depending on the grade. Carbon is the most common alloying material for iron, but various other alloying elements are used, such as manganese, chromium, vanadium, and tungsten...

 tailored to produce certain magnetic properties, such as a small hysteresis
Hysteresis is the dependence of a system not just on its current environment but also on its past. This dependence arises because the system can be in more than one internal state. To predict its future evolution, either its internal state or its history must be known. If a given input alternately...

 area (small energy dissipation per cycle, or low core loss) and high permeability
Permeability (electromagnetism)
In electromagnetism, permeability is the measure of the ability of a material to support the formation of a magnetic field within itself. In other words, it is the degree of magnetization that a material obtains in response to an applied magnetic field. Magnetic permeability is typically...


The material is usually manufactured in the form of cold-rolled strips less than 2 mm thick. These strips are called laminations when stacked together to form a core. Once assembled, they form the laminated cores of transformer
A transformer is a device that transfers electrical energy from one circuit to another through inductively coupled conductors—the transformer's coils. A varying current in the first or primary winding creates a varying magnetic flux in the transformer's core and thus a varying magnetic field...

s or the stator
The stator is the stationary part of a rotor system, found in an electric generator, electric motor and biological rotors.Depending on the configuration of a spinning electromotive device the stator may act as the field magnet, interacting with the armature to create motion, or it may act as the...

 and rotor
Rotor (electric)
The rotor is the non-stationary part of a rotary electric motor, electric generator or alternator, which rotates because the wires and magnetic field of the motor are arranged so that a torque is developed about the rotor's axis. In some designs, the rotor can act to serve as the motor's armature,...

 parts of electric motor
Electric motor
An electric motor converts electrical energy into mechanical energy.Most electric motors operate through the interaction of magnetic fields and current-carrying conductors to generate force...

s. Laminations may be cut to their finished shape by a punch and die, or in smaller quantities may be cut by a laser, or by wire erosion.


Electrical steel is an iron alloy which may have from zero to 6.5% silicon (Si:5Fe). Silicon significantly increases the electrical resistivity of the steel, which decreases the induced eddy current
Eddy current
Eddy currents are electric currents induced in conductors when a conductor is exposed to a changing magnetic field; due to relative motion of the field source and conductor or due to variations of the field with time. This can cause a circulating flow of electrons, or current, within the body of...

s and thus reduces the core loss. Manganese and aluminum can be added up to 0.5%.

Increasing the amount of silicon inhibits eddy currents and narrows the hysteresis loop of the material, thus lowering the core losses. However, the grain structure hardens and embrittles the metal, which adversely affects the workability of the material, especially when rolling it. When alloying, the concentration levels of carbon
Carbon is the chemical element with symbol C and atomic number 6. As a member of group 14 on the periodic table, it is nonmetallic and tetravalent—making four electrons available to form covalent chemical bonds...

, sulfur
Sulfur or sulphur is the chemical element with atomic number 16. In the periodic table it is represented by the symbol S. It is an abundant, multivalent non-metal. Under normal conditions, sulfur atoms form cyclic octatomic molecules with chemical formula S8. Elemental sulfur is a bright yellow...

, oxygen
Oxygen is the element with atomic number 8 and represented by the symbol O. Its name derives from the Greek roots ὀξύς and -γενής , because at the time of naming, it was mistakenly thought that all acids required oxygen in their composition...

 and nitrogen
Nitrogen is a chemical element that has the symbol N, atomic number of 7 and atomic mass 14.00674 u. Elemental nitrogen is a colorless, odorless, tasteless, and mostly inert diatomic gas at standard conditions, constituting 78.08% by volume of Earth's atmosphere...

 must be kept low, as these elements indicate the presence of carbides, sulfides, oxides and nitrides. These compounds, even in particles as small as one micrometer in diameter, increase hysteresis losses while also decreasing magnetic permeability. The presence of carbon has a more detrimental effect than sulfur or oxygen. Carbon also causes magnetic
Magnetism is a property of materials that respond at an atomic or subatomic level to an applied magnetic field. Ferromagnetism is the strongest and most familiar type of magnetism. It is responsible for the behavior of permanent magnets, which produce their own persistent magnetic fields, as well...

 aging when it slowly leaves the solid solution and precipitates as carbides, thus resulting in an increase in power loss over time. For these reasons, the carbon level is kept to 0.005% or lower. The carbon level can be reduced by annealing
Annealing (metallurgy)
Annealing, in metallurgy and materials science, is a heat treatment wherein a material is altered, causing changes in its properties such as strength and hardness. It is a process that produces conditions by heating to above the recrystallization temperature, maintaining a suitable temperature, and...

 the steel in a decarburizing atmosphere, such as hydrogen
Hydrogen is the chemical element with atomic number 1. It is represented by the symbol H. With an average atomic weight of , hydrogen is the lightest and most abundant chemical element, constituting roughly 75% of the Universe's chemical elemental mass. Stars in the main sequence are mainly...


Iron-Silicon Relay Steel Composition

Steel Type Nominal Composition Alternate Description
1 1.1% Si-Fe Silicon Core Iron "A"
1F 1.1% Si-Fe free machining Silicon Core Iron "A-FM"
2 2.3% Si-Fe Silicon Core Iron "B"
2F 2.3% Si-Fe free machining Silicon Core Iron "B-FM"
3 4.0% Si-Fe

Physical properties examples

Melting point
Melting point
The melting point of a solid is the temperature at which it changes state from solid to liquid. At the melting point the solid and liquid phase exist in equilibrium. The melting point of a substance depends on pressure and is usually specified at standard atmospheric pressure...

: ~1,500 °C (example for ~3.1% silicon content)

The mass density or density of a material is defined as its mass per unit volume. The symbol most often used for density is ρ . In some cases , density is also defined as its weight per unit volume; although, this quantity is more properly called specific weight...

: 7,650 kg/m3 (example for 3% silicon content)

Electrical resistivity is a measure of how strongly a material opposes the flow of electric current. A low resistivity indicates a material that readily allows the movement of electric charge. The SI unit of electrical resistivity is the ohm metre...

: 47.2×10−8 (Ω·m) (example for 3% silicon content)

Grain orientation

Electrical steel made without special processing to control crystal orientation, non-oriented steel, usually has a silicon level of 2 to 3.5% and has similar magnetic properties in all directions, i.e., it is isotropic
Isotropy is uniformity in all orientations; it is derived from the Greek iso and tropos . Precise definitions depend on the subject area. Exceptions, or inequalities, are frequently indicated by the prefix an, hence anisotropy. Anisotropy is also used to describe situations where properties vary...

. Cold Rolled Non Grain-oriented steel is often abbreviated to CRNGO.

Grain-oriented electrical steel usually has a silicon level of 3% (Si:11Fe). It is processed in such a way that the optimum properties are developed in the rolling direction, due to a tight control (proposed by Norman P. Goss
Norman P. Goss
Norman P. Goss was an inventor and researcher from Cleveland, Ohio, USA.He graduated from Case Institute of Technology in 1925. He made significant contributions to the field of metals research, and in 1935 he published a paper and patented a method to obtain so-called grain-oriented electrical...

) of the crystal orientation relative to the sheet. The magnetic flux
Magnetic flux
Magnetic flux , is a measure of the amount of magnetic B field passing through a given surface . The SI unit of magnetic flux is the weber...

 density is increased by 30% in the coil rolling direction, although its magnetic saturation
Saturation (magnetic)
Seen in some magnetic materials, saturation is the state reached when an increase in applied external magnetizing field H cannot increase the magnetization of the material further, so the total magnetic field B levels off...

 is decreased by 5%. It is used for the cores of power and distribution transformer
A transformer is a device that transfers electrical energy from one circuit to another through inductively coupled conductors—the transformer's coils. A varying current in the first or primary winding creates a varying magnetic flux in the transformer's core and thus a varying magnetic field...

s, Cold Rolled Grain-oriented steel is often abbreviated to CRGO.

CRGO is usually supplied by the producing mills in coil form and it has to be cut into "laminations" which are then used to form a transformer core, which is an integral part of any transformer. Grain-oriented steel is used in large power and distribution transformers, and certain audio output transformers. .

CRNGO is less expensive than CRGO, and is used when cost is more important than efficiency, and for applications where the direction of magnetic flux is not constant, as in electric motors and generators with moving parts. It can be used when there is insufficient space to orient components to take advantage of the directional properties of grain-oriented electrical steel.

Amorphous steel

Transformers with amorphous steel cores
Amorphous metal transformer
Amorphous Metal Transformer is a type of energy efficient transformer found on electric grids. The magnetic core of this transformer is made with amorphous metal , which is easily magnetized / demagnetized. Typically, core loss can be 70–80% less than its traditional counterpart...

 can have core losses of one-third that of conventional steels.
This material is a metallic glass
Amorphous metal
An amorphous metal is a metallic material with a disordered atomic-scale structure. In contrast to most metals, which are crystalline and therefore have a highly ordered arrangement of atoms, amorphous alloys are non-crystalline...

 prepared by pouring molten alloy steel onto a rotating cooled wheel, which cools the metal at a rate of about one megakelvin per second, so fast that crystals do not form. Amorphous steel has poorer mechanical properties and costs about twice as much as conventional steel, making it cost-effective only for some large distribution-type transformers.

Lamination coatings

Electrical steel is usually coated to increase electrical resistance between laminations, reducing eddy currents, to provide resistance to corrosion
Corrosion is the disintegration of an engineered material into its constituent atoms due to chemical reactions with its surroundings. In the most common use of the word, this means electrochemical oxidation of metals in reaction with an oxidant such as oxygen...

 or rust
Rust is a general term for a series of iron oxides. In colloquial usage, the term is applied to red oxides, formed by the reaction of iron and oxygen in the presence of water or air moisture...

, and to act as a lubricant during die cutting. There are various coatings, organic and inorganic, and the coating used depends on the application of the steel. The type of coating selected depends on the heat treatment of the laminations, whether the finished lamination will be immersed in oil, and the working temperature of the finished apparatus. Very early practice was to insulate each lamination with a layer of paper or a varnish coating, but this reduced the stacking factor of the core and limited the maximum temperature of the core.

Magnetic properties

The magnetic properties of electrical steel are dependent on heat treatment
Heat treatment
Heat treating is a group of industrial and metalworking processes used to alter the physical, and sometimes chemical, properties of a material. The most common application is metallurgical. Heat treatments are also used in the manufacture of many other materials, such as glass...

, as increasing the average crystal size decreases the hysteresis loss. Hysteresis loss is determined by a standard test and for common grades of electrical steel may range from about 2 to 10 watts per kilogram (1 to 5 watts per pound) at 60 Hz and 1.5 tesla magnetic field strength. Semi-processed electrical steels are delivered in a state that, after punching the final shape, a final heat treatment develops the desired 150-micrometer grain size. The fully processed steels are usually delivered with insulating
Electrical insulation
thumb|250px|[[Coaxial Cable]] with dielectric insulator supporting a central coreThis article refers to electrical insulation. For insulation of heat, see Thermal insulation...

 coating, full heat treatment, and defined magnetic properties, for applications where the punching operation does not significantly degrade the material properties. Excessive bending, incorrect heat treatment, or even rough handling of core steel can adversely affect its magnetic properties and may also increase noise due to magnetostriction
Magnetostriction is a property of ferromagnetic materials that causes them to change their shape or dimensions during the process of magnetization. The variation of material's magnetization due to the applied magnetic field changes the magnetostrictive strain until reaching its saturation value, λ...


Magnetic properties of electrical steels are tested using the internationally standardised Epstein frame
Epstein frame
Epstein frame or Epstein square is a standardised measurement device for measuring the magnetic properties of soft magnetic materials, especially used for testing of electrical steels....


Practical concerns

Core steel is much more costly than mild steel—in 1981 it was more than twice the cost per unit weight.

The size of magnetic domains in the sheet can be reduced by scribing the surface of the sheet with a laser, or mechanically. This greatly reduces the hysteresis losses in the assembled core.

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