The heating element is the primary part of any electrical heat-producing product. From hair dryers to toasters and industrial iron smelts, an electric heating element helps each one get to the proper temperature. Commonly produced from a metallic amalgam called nichrome, heating elements come in many types, but they all serve a single purpose. There are other materials used to create heating elements, each with unique characteristics that aid in a particular style of heating.
A basic heating element is anything that electricity passes through and encounters a resistance and then produces heat. The amount of heat given off depends on the amount of electricity that passes through the electric heating element and the amount of resistance. For example, an element that passes a great deal of electricity but does not provide much resistance will give off a small amount of heat. On the other hand, something that uses a lot of electricity and incorporates a large amount of resistance will give off more heat.
Nichrome is the most common domestic heating element and is found in many household products. Commonly, items such as toasters, hair dryers and heaters use nichrome coils to pass electricity and give off heat. Nichrome is made of 80 percent nickel and 20 percent chromium, and its high melting point of 1,400 degrees Celsius (2,552 degrees Fahrenheit) makes it a perfect electric heating element.
Nichrome also is used in a tubular electric heating element. This tightly wound coil packs a larger amount of heating wire in a smaller space to create higher temperatures. The curvy bars of an electric stove heating element are a great example.
A ceramic heating element, commonly known as PTC ceramic, acts as its own thermostat, as opposed to an electrical heating element composed of nichrome that must be manually controlled. The ceramic heating element's resistant temperature threshold comes because ceramics allow electricity to pass easily when cool but not when hot. This lets designers set a maximum temperature more easily, and it is used for items such as rear window defrosters in automobiles.
An electric heating element that needs to reach much higher temperatures, such those used in iron production, commonly use materials other than nichrome and ceramics. An industrial heating element can be comprised of materials such as platinum, molybdenum or silicone carbide. The furnace elements reach enormous temperatures and allow many industries to melt metals down into their liquid form so they can be poured into molds or used in other ways.