Slowly but surely electronic devices have become a gradual aspect of our everyday functions. From our cars, phones, TVs, home appliances, and many more electronic devices, they are essential. Different electrical systems use a combination of electrical components each playing a unique role of its own and helping the electrical system run. In this article we will break down the fundamental electrical components that everyone should know and their uses.
First and foremost, a component that is familiar to all. The wire forms the backbone of any electrical system. Wires can either be solid or stranded, each with its own advantage and disadvantage. A solid wire is thick whereas a stranded wire is made up of multiple thin long materials. Both are electrical conducting metals that transport electricity from one end to another. Wires are mostly covered in non-conducting material (dielectric) such as plastic to avoid the misplacement of electricity when traveling through.
Wires are ductile materials. This gives it a means of being shaped and bended whilst avoiding breakage easily. Some of the most common materials used to make wires are copper, aluminum, and silver. Each material has its own advantages and disadvantages. Copper is by far the most commonly used material. Copper has wide availability which makes it more cost effective for manufactures. It is ductile and provides optimal electricity flow due to its low resistivity and high conductivity. These factors all make it a versatile material that can be found in nearly any utility.
Aluminum is another alternative for wires. It has a higher resistivity than copper which makes it not very efficient for electricity flow. Aluminum is more prone to thermal expansion. When under high temperature conditions, aluminum can expand causing it to lose its original shape which is not favorable for electrical flow. However, aluminum is a much more cost-effective solution than copper, largely due to its abundancy.
Silver is the most conductive out of all wire materials. It offers low resistance to electricity flow, making it one of the best materials that can be used in any electrical system. The biggest disadvantage of copper is its low availability causing it to have the highest price among all materials. So silver is not very cost effective for manufacturers.
A switch is another electrical component that is easily recognizable and very simple in its function. It can either be on or off. So, either breaking or connecting electrical current in a system. The switch is made up of multiple electrical contacts that are conducting materials which when connected let electric current flow through and when disconnected halts electrical flow.
Various switches have different configurations of contacts and each configuration allows for slight change in operation. A switch can either be manual operated or automated. An example of a manually operated switch can be something like the light switch in our homes. This switch can also be a one-way or a two-way switch. The difference is distance. The one-way switch can be turn on or off but only in the location of that switch. A two-way switch is located in two places and can be controlled from either of the two locations. For example you might have a light switch on one side of a door which turns off or on, but what if you go on the other side of the door and want to switch the light on or off, another switch can be used to control the same component (in this example, a light bulb) in a two-way switch.
An automated switch is a switch that is based on a sensor. This sensor senses changes in varied quantities such as voltage, force, temperature, current, pressure, and flow. An example of an automated switch might be a temperature sensitive electric kettle. You will notice that the kettle automatically switches off after reaching the boiling point of water. Well, this is thanks to the temperature sensitive switch. This can be observed in many modern electric kettles.
As the name suggests, a resistor resists electricity. A resistor is an electrical component that regulates the flow of electricity in an electrical system. Like a wire, a resistor can also be made up of several different materials. Each with its benefits and drawbacks such as cost effectiveness, conductivity, and insulation. A resistors value and tolerance can be concluded through its color code. Each color band on a resistor has a value and these values can be found in the chart below.
On a standard resistor with four bands, the first two color bands give the resistance value, the third band is a multiplier, and the fourth band is the tolerance of the resistor.
Resistors are of two types. A fixed and variable resistor. A fixed resistor is simply a resistor with a pre-determined resistance or ohmic value. This value cannot be changed. Fixed resistors are also by far the most used type of resistor.
A variable resistor is a type of resistor which can be tuned to any ohmic value within a given range of the resistor. Due to this factor, a variable resistor can be further divided into a potentiometer, rheostat, and digital resistor. Each with its own unique purpose in an electrical system.
The resistance of a resistor is measured in ohms (Ω). Resistance is given by the current flowing in a circuit divided by the total voltage. This formula is also known as Ohm’s Law and can be expressed as:
R = V/I
R = resistance (Ohms / Ω)
V = voltage (Volts / V)
I = current (Amps / A)
Capacitors are special devices that have the function of storing electrical charge similar to a battery. What makes capacitors distinct to a battery is through the process and material by which they store energy. Capacitors are preferred when it comes to quick energy release and short-term storage, while batteries have a more stable voltage output as well as a long-term energy storage.
A capacitor is a two terminal device that comprises of two electrical conductors with opposite charges. Between these two conductors is an insulating material, more commonly known as the dielectric. Capacitors come in all types of shapes and sizes, but the simplest is a parallel plate capacitor. This type of capacitor has two metal plates that are parallel to one another separated by a dielectric. When connected to a voltage source, each plate becomes either positively or negatively charged depending on the end of the voltage source. When current flows, an electric field forms across the capacitor causing each plate to accumulate its own respective charge. Through this process, the capacitor is able to hold its maximum charge per its capacitance. When the voltage source is removed from the capacitor, the capacitor discharges its stored up electrical energy to a load until all energy dissipates.
The capacitance of a capacitor is measured in Farads (F). It can be calculated by dividing the voltage across capacitor by the total charge stored. This can be expressed by the following formula:
C = Q/V
C = capacitance (Farads / F)
Q = charge (Coulombs / C)
V = voltage (Volts / V)
Diodes are electrical components that allow electric current to flow in only a singe direction. This mechanism allows for the conversion of alternating current (AC) to direct current (DC). One of the most common type of Diode is a light emitting diode, more popularly known as an LED. Other types of diodes include the Laser diode, Avalanche diode, Zener diode, Schottky diode, Photodiode, PN junction diode. All these types of diodes are a bit different in structure, but all have the same fundamental function.
A light bulb is another universally recognizable component serving in countless applications. It’s main function is to provide a source of illumination or light. The light bulb has evolved over time, making it more efficient, cost effective, and overall, better. The LED for example is a much more efficient type of light bulb as it allows only a specific color of light to be emitted. Due to this, LEDs use less electricity than typical light bulbs.
The light bulb is fundamentally made up of a filament, typically made of tungsten, encased within a glass structure. The filament emits light when electrical current passes through it. The versatility of light bulbs makes it an indispensable electrical component. They can be compact for illumination in more confined spaces or larger for broader illumination.
Together, These basic electrical components form the backbone of any electrical system each playing a distinct role in their functions. It is important to understand the structure of each component and how it functions. Doing this can help anyone form a better understanding of the intricacies of any electrical system. But, these are not the only components. Electrical components are vast and are always expanding due to advances in technology. Keeping a curious mind and a determination for gaining new knowledge will help you in mastering the different electrical components.