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What are Magnetic Separators?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 17, 2024
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Magnetic separators are devices which are designed to assist with the purification and separation of process streams. They are used in industries like mining, and smaller versions are utilized in scientific labs to process some types of samples. Numerous companies make magnetic separators for various applications, and there are several different styles available for people to choose from, depending on the application and their needs. This type of equipment is available from companies which specialize in industrial processing equipment, and it can also be ordered directly from manufacturers, in cases where people have customized needs.

A basic magnetic separator consists of a magnet of some kind. As materials are passed below, over, through, or around the magnetic separator, it attracts undesirable impurities, pulling them out and cleaning the process stream. Magnetic separators may be ferromagnetic or paramagnetic, depending on the needs, and in some cases materials will be passed through both types of magnetic separators. These devices can vary in size from tabletop separators used in labs to massive drums utilized in recycling facilities.

One of the common uses for a magnetic separator is the removal of so-called tramp metal, undesirable iron which can foul a process stream. Magnetic separators are also used to remove materials which could damage or foul equipment, in a pre-processing step. Separators can also be used to sort various types of metal, with a series of separators varying in intensity to pull out strongly and weakly magnetic materials at different times.

Some design styles include overhead magnets, which hover over a process stream, and magnetic plates, which allow materials to flow over the plate while pulling out magnetic materials. Magnetic separators can also take the form of drums, grates, and stacked drawers which material flows through. In the laboratory, a magnetic separator may be designed to accommodate flasks and other containers used to hold material in the lab, to reduce the risk of cross-contamination.

Like other devices used in processing materials, a magnetic separator must be properly maintained and operated as directed in order to be effective. Maintenance includes clearing the separator to remove magnetic materials it has collected, along with periodically oiling moving parts. In the case of electromagnets, it is also necessary to make sure that emergency shutoffs and other safety features are in operational condition, so that the magnet can be turned off in the event that a problem develops on the production line.

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Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a About Mechanics researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments

By anon284703 — On Aug 11, 2012

In a steam line, how should we locate the magnetic separator to separate the bronze particles? How can we find the best location and what is the best method to locate it and the best type of separator to use?

By miriam98 — On Jul 25, 2011

@Mammmood - From what I understand, they do use some magnetic separation in the food industry, although I don’t know if they use it for mercury in tuna.

Some food companies use magnetic separators that resemble cooking grates and these are used to capture metals that fall through the production line.

These could be trace metals that could come off the assembly line equipment. The magnets trap these metals so that they never reach the food.

Whether they do anything to actively remove metal that is already in the food, I don’t know, but I don’t imagine that it would be hard to retrofit existing technology to do that.

By Mammmood — On Jul 24, 2011

I wonder if magnetic separation has any application in the food industry. I ask because I’ve heard from some health experts that canned tuna sometimes has high levels of mercury.

These practitioners recommend going through some kind of chelation therapy which is supposed to remove the trace metals from your blood stream.

Perhaps there is a process in the food industry where they could use magnets to separate the mercury from the tuna. That process may already exist, I don’t know, but I think that it would be an excellent application of the technology.

Mary McMahon

Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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