An electric motor is an apparatus that uses electrical energy to produce mechanical energy, through the interaction of magnetic fields and current-carrying conductors.
An electric motor uses electrical energy to produce mechanical energy. The reverse process, that of using mechanical energy to produce electrical energy, is accomplished by a generator or dynamo. Traction motors used on locomotives often perform both tasks if the locomotive is equipped with dynamic brakes. Electric motors are found in household appliances such as fans, refrigerators, washing machines, pool pumps, floor vacuums, and fan-forced ovens.
Most electric motors work by electromagnetism, but motors based on other electromechanical phenomena, such as electrostatic forces and the piezoelectric effect and thermal motors, also exist. The fundamental principle upon which electromagnetic motors are based is that there is a mechanical force on any current-carrying wire contained within a magnetic field. The force is described by the Lorentz force law and is perpendicular to both the wire and the magnetic field. Most magnetic motors are rotary, but linear motors also exist. In a rotary motor, the rotating part (usually on the inside) is called the rotor, and the stationary part is called the stator. The rotor rotates because the wires and magnetic field are arranged so that a torque is developed about the rotor's axis. The motor contains electromagnets that are wound on a frame. Though this frame is often called the armature, that term is often erroneously applied. Correctly, the armature is that part of the motor across which the input voltage is supplied. Depending upon the design of the machine, either the rotor or the stator can serve as the armature.
Electric motors are found in applications as diverse as industrial fans, blowers and pumps, machine tools, household appliances, power tools, and disk drives. They may be powered by direct current (for example a battery powered portable device or motor vehicle), or by alternating current from a central electrical distribution grid. The smallest motors may be found in electric wristwatches. Medium-size motors of highly standardized dimensions and characteristics provide convenient mechanical power for industrial uses. The very largest electric motors are used for propulsion of large ships, and for such purposes as pipeline compressors, with ratings in the millions of watts. Electric motors may be classified by the source of electric power, by their internal construction, and by their application.
History and development
The principle of conversion of electrical energy into mechanical energy by electromagnetic means was demonstrated by the British scientist Michael Faraday in 1821 and consisted of a free-hanging wire dipping into a pool of mercury. A permanent magnet was placed in the middle of the pool of mercury. When a current was passed through the wire, the wire rotated around the magnet, showing that the current gave rise to a circular magnetic field around the wire. This motor is often demonstrated in school physics classes, but brine (salt water) is sometimes used in place of the toxic mercury. This is the simplest form of a class of electric motors called homopolar motors. A later refinement is the Barlow's Wheel. These were demonstration devices, unsuited to practical applications due to limited power.
The first commutator-type direct-current electric motor capable of a practical application was invented by the British scientist William Sturgeon in 1832. Following Sturgeon's work, a commutator-type direct-current electric motor made with the intention of commercial use was built by the American Thomas Davenport and patented in 1837. Although several of these motors were built and used to operate equipment such as a printing press, due to the high cost of primary battery power, the motors were commercially unsuccessful and Davenport went bankrupt. Several inventors followed Sturgeon in the development of DC motors but all encountered the same cost issues with primary battery power. No electricity distribution had been developed at the time. Like Sturgeon's motor, there was no practical commercial market for these motors.
The modern DC motor was invented by accident in 1873, when Zénobe Gramme connected the dynamo he had invented to a second similar unit, driving it as a motor. The Gramme machine was the first electric motor that was successful in the industry.
In 1888 Nikola Tesla invented the first practicable AC motor and with it the polyphase power transmission system. Tesla continued his work on the AC motor in the years to follow at the Westinghouse company.
Classification of electric motors
The classic division of electric motors has been that of DC types vs AC types. This is more a de facto convention, rather than a rigid distinction. For example, many classic DC motors run happily on AC power.
The ongoing trend toward electronic control further muddles the distinction, as modern drivers have moved the commutator out of the motor shell. For this new breed of motor, driver circuits are relied upon to generate sinusoidal AC drive currents, or some approximation of. The two best examples are: the brushless DC motor, and the stepping motor, both being polyphase AC motors requiring external electronic control.
A more clear distinction is between synchronous and asynchronous types. In the synchronous types, the rotor rotates in synchrony with the oscillating field or current (eg. permanent magnet motors). In contrast, an asynchronous motor is designed to slip; the most ubiquitous example being the common AC induction motor which must slip in order to generate torque.
A DC motor is designed to run on DC electric power. Two examples of pure DC designs are Michael Faraday's homopolar motor (which is uncommon), and the ball bearing motor, which is (so far) a novelty. By far the most common DC motor types are the brushed and brushless types, which use internal and external commutation respectively to create an oscillating AC current from the DC source -- so they are not purely DC machines in a strict sense.
Brushed DC motors: The classic DC motor design generates an oscillating current in a wound rotor with a split ring commutator, and either a wound or permanent magnet stator. A rotor consists with a coil wound around a rotor which is then powered by any type of battery. This type of DC motor needs brushes to press against the commutator in order to rotate.
Brushless DC motors: Many of the limitations of the classic commutator DC motor are due to the need for brushes to press against the commutator. This creates friction. At higher speeds, brushes have increasing difficulty in maintaining contact. Brushes may bounce off the irregularities in the commutator surface, creating sparks. This limits the maximum speed of the machine. The current density per unit area of the brushes limits the output of the motor. The imperfect electric contact also causes electrical noise. Brushes eventually wear out and require replacement, and the commutator itself is subject to wear and maintenance. The commutator assembly on a large machine is a costly element, requiring precision assembly of many parts. These problems are eliminated in the brushless motor. In this motor, the mechanical "rotating switch" or commutator/brushgear assembly is replaced by an external electronic switch synchronised to the rotor's position. Brushless motors are typically 85-90% efficient, whereas DC motors with brushgear are typically 75-80% efficient.
Brushless DC motors are commonly used where precise speed control is necessary, computer disk drives or in video cassette recorders the spindles within CD, CD-ROM (etc.) drives, and mechanisms within office products such as fans, laser printers and photocopiers.
Modern DC brushless motors range in power from a fraction of a watt to many kilowatts. Larger brushless motors up to about 100 kW rating are used in electric vehicles. They also find significant use in high-performance electric model aircraft.
Coreless DC motors: Nothing in the design of any of the motors described above requires that the iron (steel) portions of the rotor actually rotate; torque is exerted only on the windings of the electromagnets. Taking advantage of this fact is the coreless DC motor, a specialized form of a brush or brushless DC motor. Optimized for rapid acceleration, these motors have a rotor that is constructed without any iron core. The rotor can take the form of a winding-filled cylinder inside the stator magnets, a basket surrounding the stator magnets, or a flat pancake (possibly formed on a printed wiring board) running between upper and lower stator magnets. The windings are typically stabilized by being impregnated with epoxy resins.
A typical AC motor consists of two parts:
- An outside stationary stator having coils supplied with AC current to produce a rotating magnetic field, and;
- An inside rotor attached to the output shaft that is given a torque by the rotating field.
Torque motors: A torque motor is a specialized form of induction motor which is capable of operating indefinitely at stall (with the rotor blocked from turning) without damage. In this mode, the motor will apply a steady torque to the load (hence the name). A common application of a torque motor would be the supply- and take-up reel motors in a tape drive. In this application, driven from a low voltage, the characteristics of these motors allow a relatively-constant light tension to be applied to the tape whether or not the capstan is feeding tape past the tape heads. Driven from a higher voltage, (and so delivering a higher torque), the torque motors can also achieve fast-forward and rewind operation without requiring any additional mechanics such as gears or clutches. In the computer world, torque motors are used with force feedback steering wheels.
The slip ring or wound rotor motor is an induction machine where the rotor comprises a set of coils that are terminated in slip rings to which external impedances can be connected. The stator is the same as is used with a standard squirrel cage motor. By changing the impedance connected to the rotor circuit, the speed/current and speed/torque curves can be altered.
A stepper motor (or step motor) is a brushless, synchronous electric motor that can divide a full rotation into a large number of steps. The motor's position can be controlled precisely without any feedback mechanism (see Open-loop controller), as long as the motor is carefully sized to the application. Stepper motors are similar to switched reluctance motors (which are very large stepping motors with a reduced pole count, and generally are closed-loop commutated.)
A linear motor or linear induction motor is an alternating current (AC) electric motor that has had its stator "unrolled" so that instead of producing a torque (rotation) it produces a linear force along its length. The most common mode of operation is as a Lorentz-type actuator, in which the applied force is linearly proportional to the current and the magnetic field (F = qv × B).
A variant of the wound field DC motor is the universal motor. The name derives from the fact that it may use AC or DC supply current, although in practice they are nearly always used with AC supplies. The principle is that in a wound field DC motor the current in both the field and the armature (and hence the resultant magnetic fields) will alternate (reverse polarity) at the same time, and hence the mechanical force generated is always in the same direction. In practice, the motor must be specially designed to cope with the AC current (impedance must be taken into account, as must the pulsating force), and the resultant motor is generally less efficient than an equivalent pure DC motor. Operating at normal power line frequencies, the maximum output of universal motors is limited and motors exceeding one kilowatt are rare. But universal motors also form the basis of the traditional railway traction motor in electric railways. In this application, to keep their electrical efficiency high, they were operated from very low frequency AC supplies, with 25 Hz and 16 2/3 hertz operation being common. Because they are universal motors, locomotives using this design were also commonly capable of operating from a third rail powered by DC.
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