Explanation of Relays and Solenoids

Relays and solenoids are two devices used throughout the electronics industry. While the two are similar, there are important differences between the two that should be noted. In this blog, we will cover the basic functions of both relays and solenoids.

A relay is an electrically operated switch consisting of a set of input terminals for a single or multiple control signals, and a set of operating contact terminals. The switch can have any number of contacts in multiple contact forms, including make contacts, break contacts, or a combination thereof. Relays are commonly used in applications where it is necessary to control a circuit by an independent low-power signal, or where many circuits must be controlled by one signal.  They were first used in long-distance telegraph circuits where they functioned as signal repeaters.

In its traditional form, a relay uses an electromagnet to open or close the contacts, although other operating principles, such as in solid-state relays, have been developed. Solid-state relays use semiconductor properties for control without relying on moving parts. Relays with calibrated operating characteristics are used to protect electrical circuits from overloads or faults. These are known as protective relays.

A solenoid is a type of electromagnet used to generate a controlled magnetic field through a coil wound into a tightly packed helix. The coil can be arranged to produce a uniform magnetic field in a volume of space when an electric current passes through it. In electromagnetism, a solenoid is a coil with a length significantly greater than diameter. The term solenoid could also refer to a transducer device that converts energy into linear motion.

In simplest terms, a solenoid works by converting electrical energy into mechanical work. Solenoid may also refer to a solenoid valve, an integrated device containing an electromechanical solenoid that controls a pneumatic or hydraulic valve or solenoid switch. A solenoid switch is a specific type of relay that uses an internal electromechanical solenoid to operate an electrical switch.

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