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How a Slip Ring Works

A slip ring is an electrical connector designed to carry current or signals from a

stationary wire into a rotating device. Typically, it consists of a stationary
graphite or metal contact (brush) which rubs on the outside diameter of a
rotating metal ring.

How can I get electricity to a continuously rotating part of my assembly? For example, if I
want power available in a tank turret, how can I enable the turret to rotate without limits?
Use a sliding contact slip ring!
Slip rings enable the transfer of electric power or signal circuits across a rotating surface,
such as those found in radar antennae, gun turrets, periscopes, electro-optic sensor gimbals
and space satellites. The sliding contact is established by a brush that presses against a metal
ring. The brush can look like a brush made from metal fibers, but more often it looks like a
single wire or a spring with a pad of material affixed to the end that contacts the ring. Figure
1 below shows a brush block for a four pass slip ring. Each ring on this design has two
brushes. In this unit brushes for two of the rings have a yellow plastic shield to isolate high
voltage circuits. Next to the brushes you can see a cylindrical drum with four silver rings.
Figure 2 shows these two components arranged as they would be inside the housing of the
slip ring so that the pads at the end of each brush are pressed against the rings. Wires lead
from the brushes and from the rings, and these are used to connect the electrical circuits.
You can see that the cylinder holding the rings is free to rotate while the brushes press against
the rings. In this design each ring has a single brush with two contacts.

Figure 1

Figure 2

Figure 3
Housings provide a framework to keep these components in relative position. Figure 3 shows
an assembled slip ring with the cover removed. You can see the drum (properly called a
rotor assembly) with the tips of brushes pressing against them. The housing can be designed
to protect the working parts from dust and moisture. Bearings are usually employed at both
ends of the drum to provide structural stability and easy rotation. Customers often require
connectors on the lead wires to enable them to install the slip ring into their systems.
Slip rings can be designed in a variety of configurations. For example they can provide an
open through-bore to accommodate other components such as a fluid joint or a wave guide.
Instead of a drum the rings can be configured in a platter or pancake. This is appropriate if
the space available for the slip ring is short and wide instead of tall and narrow.

Pancake or platter configuration for rings.

A critical aspect of slip ring design is the materials used to make the rings and the brushes.
After World War II manufacturers responded to requirements from the emerging electronics
industry with gold plated rings using gold wire brushes. Up until the 1970s many slip rings
used copper rings and graphite brushes. Copper is smooth and conducts electricity well.
Graphite conducts well, it is soft, and it does not abrade the copper rings. But for advanced
applications such as space satellites and missiles, graphite brushes were inadequate. There
was a burst of research and invention in the early years of the space program to address
emerging needs, mostly in space and missile programs, that produced advanced gold on gold
alloy systems and systems that employed silver alloy rings with brush tips made from silver
graphite mixtures. Today these two systems, gold-on-gold and silver/silver-graphite, are the
mainstays of the slip ring industry. Gold-on-gold systems are often used for low current
signal circuits because they are compact. Silver/Silver-graphite systems are often selected for
higher current power circuits because in these applications they are more economical, and
have long service life.

"A split-ring commutator makes the current change direction every half-rotation,
whereas a slip-ring commutator merely maintains a connection between the
moving rotor and the stationary stator."
So, slip rings are useful for DC motors where the current has to change direction
every half revolution whereas split rings are used to make constant current
connection to a commutator, which is what you want for an AC motor

Difference between slip rings and split rings

Slip rings are used to supply A.C. voltage where ever we need, while
split rings are used to get pulsating voltage generally in case of D.C.

In A. C generator, the brushed run on slip rings which maintain a

constant connection between the rotating coil and the external circuit. It
means that as the induced emf changes polarity with every half-turn of
the coil, the voltage in the external circuit varies like a sine wave and
the current alternats the direction.

The split ring commutator reverses the flow of current every half turn. If
it will not happen, the torque generated by the currents's movement
through the magnetic field simply hold the motor in place, which is
opposie of what we want to get. Reversing the current, with a small
period of time allows the armature to keep spinning in the correct

1. How could you adapt the simple DC motor to use AC?

Connect the coil in the stator in series with the coil in the rotor via a slip-ring commutator.
This must be in the correct direction to ensure that the fields created by the two parts of the
coil are constantly repelling each other, rather than constantly attracting each other.

The one shown is a split-ring commutator. It has two halves, each connected to the power
supply, completing the coil circuit. The coil is able to turn smoothly around it.
In the vertical position there is no current as the coil has lost its connections to the
commutator. Since the coil was already moving, it keeps turning. Think about riding a bike stop pedalling and you don't stop moving for quite some time.
Once the coil rotates past the vertical position, it reconnects to the circuit. The difference now
is that the direction of the current in the coil is reversed. This results in a change in the
direction of the forces on each section of the coil. The coil keeps turning in the original
Summary points: split-ring commutators reverse the direction of the current in the coil each
half turn. This allows the motor coil to rotate continuously in one direction.