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What Is Magnetic Separation?

Mary McMahon
By
Updated May 17, 2024
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Magnetic separation is an industrial process where ferromagnetic contaminants are recovered from materials on the production line. Manufacturers use this to extract useful metal, separate recycling, purify materials, and perform a wide variety of other tasks. Manufacturers of magnetic separation equipment may have a range of products available for sale for different applications, including an assortment of sizes with strong and weak magnetic fields to attract different kinds of magnetic material.

The magnetic separator consists of a large rotating drum that creates a magnetic field. Materials enter the separator and fall out through mesh at the base if they are not magnetic. Sensitive particles respond to the magnetism and cling to the sides of the container. The drums can be used in continuous processing of materials as they move along the assembly line, or in batch jobs, where a single batch is run through all at once.

One common use for magnetic separation is to remove unwanted metal from a shipment of goods. Magnetic separation can help companies keep materials pure, as well as remove things like nails and staples that may have crept into a shipment. The equipment can also purify ores, separate components for recycling, and perform a variety of other tasks where metals need to be separated or isolated. Equipment can range in size from a desktop unit for a lab that needs to process small amounts of material to huge drums used in scrap metal recycling centers.

Manufacturers of magnetic separation equipment typically provide specifications for their products for the benefit of prospective customers. Consumers may need equipment that targets a specific range of metals, or could require large size or high speed capacity. It may be possible to rent or lease equipment for some applications, or if a factory wants to try a device before committing to a purchase. Used equipment is also available.

A gentler form of magnetic separation can be used for delicate tasks like removing magnetic materials from cremated remains or finds at an archaeological site. In these situations, a technician carefully moves a magnet over the material to pull out materials like staples and jewelry. At a crematorium, this is necessary before ashes are ground, as metal objects can damage the equipment. For archaeologists, it can provide a mechanism for carefully separating materials at a find and documenting the position and location of various objects as the archaeologist uncovers them on site or in a lab.

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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 Mammmood — On Jan 31, 2012

@allenJo - I do believe they use these systems in water treatment systems. I don’t know the mechanisms used but it is used from what I’ve heard. Water should give up its magnetic particles quite easily, I would think, since the metals are just floating about like flotsam and jetsam in the ocean.

By allenJo — On Jan 30, 2012

@Charred - Those are two very good points, and I am sure that they are accounted for. The uses described in the article suggest scenarios where the metals are rather loosely fitting, so I think the cleanup job would be thorough.

What I wonder about is if this process can be adapted to water treatment? Since magnetic separation systems can be used to sift through fluids, could they purify water as well?

That seems to be an obvious application. Where I live the tap water has a lot of metals and so we generally don’t drink it. I already have three metal fillings; I don’t need more metal in my body.

By Charred — On Jan 29, 2012

I see two things here that are necessary for magnetic separation to work well. First, the metals must be easily dislodged from whatever material or goop they happen to be sitting in. Otherwise, they’ll just remain stuck, and the separation will be less than effective in pulling out all the metals.

Second, the magnetic drum separator itself must be sufficiently strong. I think that’s obvious, and the second point is related to the first. If the separating device is not strong it won’t dislodge the metals; but there may be situations where the device is strong, but the metals are just stuck and won’t budge.

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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