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Differences between AC and DC solenoids

At the most basic level, the operation of DC solenoids is relatively straightforward -


the solenoid may be energized, allowing the magnetic force generated by the
solenoid to overcome spring resistance and moving the armature towards the center
of the coil, or de-energized, allowing the spring force to push the armature back to
the starting position.
With AC solenoids, the theory of operation is slightly more complicated. AC current
can be approximated using a sinusoidal waveform. As a consequence, twice per
period the current has a zero-crossing, meaning that the current flowing through the
coil at that point in time is equal to zero.

Since the magnetic force generated by the solenoid is in direct proportion to the
current flowing through the solenoid coil, the spring force will overcome the force
generated by the solenoid for a short period of time, twice per period. This is a
problem which manifests as a vibration of the armature, which produces a humming
sound and can cause stress on solenoid valve components. To avoid this issue, a
simple conductive ring, termed a shading ring, is installed near the coil around the
armature. The shading ring is usually made from copper. The function of a shading
ring is to store magnetic field energy and release it with a 90 degree phase
difference.
The effect of a shading ring is that while the magnetic field generated by the primary
coil decreases towards zero, the magnetic field generated by the shading ring peaks,
effectively filling in the gap in the magnetic field amplitude during zero crossings,
eliminating the vibrations. Most solenoid valves that can be used with different coil
voltages have a built-in shading ring.
If dirt collects around the armature, the effect of the shading ring may be limited and
another solution is required. An example of another solution is the use of an
electronic circuit which filters the solenoid current, so that there are no zero-
crossings. This circuitry can be embedded into the solenoid valve coil itself or it can
be built externally. It is usually implemented using rectifier diodes and a filtering
capacitor in a full-wave rectifier topology.

Using AC coils with DC current and vice versa


In some cases, coils rated for AC current can be used with DC power supplies and
vice versa. However, there are some limitations to keep in mind.
Using a coil rated for AC current with a DC supply is possible, but the voltage (and
the current) must be limited or else the solenoid might burn out. The reason for this
is that in AC regime, coils have an inductive reactance that adds up with the
electrical resistivity of the coil. As a result, the impedance of a coil is several times
higher in AC regime than in DC regime. As an example, using a 24 VAC rated
solenoid valve with a 24 VDC power supply would most likely damage the solenoid
because the effective current flowing through the solenoid would be much higher
with DC voltage.
Unfortunately, there is no fixed factor for derating the power supply voltage. The
effective current should be measured in AC regime, and that current should be set
as a target for DC regime as well. Some ways to achieve that target would be
reducing the supply voltage or using a current-limiting resistor.
Using a coil rated for DC current with an AC power supply, imposes the risk of
vibrations since DC solenoid valves might not contain a shading ring or a rectifier
circuit. These vibrations might damage the solenoid by stressing the components
over time, and they can contribute to noise levels in the room. This can be worked
around by using an external full-wave rectifier circuit with a capacitive filter.
Another problem is that the effective current will be several times lower in this case,
and the magnetic force generated by the coil might not be large enough to move the
armature from its resting position. A solution would be to use a larger voltage so that
the effective current matches the rated current of the solenoid.

AC vs. DC solenoid design considerations


Ideally, when a solenoid valve goes from OFF to ON state, the solenoid should
initially generate more force in order to overcome spring tension combined with
hydraulic pressure acting against the valve. Once flow is established, hydraulic
forces acting on the valve mechanism decrease, and the solenoid can decrease the
generated force in order to reduce power consumption and heating.
AC solenoids follow this ideal behaviour more closely than DC solenoids. In DC
solenoids, when the solenoid is turned on, the current rises asymptotically towards a
certain value depending on the resistivity of the coil. This translates to a lower initial
current (and lower initial force leading to slower valve opening). Once the valve is
open, the current draw remains at a constant value which is larger than needed to
keep the valve open. As a result, DC solenoids without any external circuitry will
waste a considerable amount of power in the open state.
AC solenoids can run the risk of burning out if they malfunction and remain stuck in the open
(full-current) position for too long. The current that runs through an AC solenoid starts with a
first rush of extremely strong current, then drops to a lower, normal level. If the solenoid
stays open too long and receives too much of this first wave of maximum current, it can
permanently damage the device. By contrast, DC solenoids experience no alteration in
currents and do not run the risk of being damaged by the current.