How real electric motors work

John Storey


9. Taking motors apart.

This is not an exhaustive list. Always take extreme care when working around machinery. Wear protective glasses and think before you act. Below are a few safety tips that are important to observe when working with electric motors.

1. Before disassembling an electric motor, make sure you have owner's permission. This is really important – especially if you don't succeed in getting it back together again before they find out.

2. Disconnect the motor from the source of electricity. In necessary, cut wires off to ensure there can be no accidental reconnection. Never fool about with the mains.

3. In the case of permanent magnet motors, the magnets can be extremely powerful. Parts of the motor can unexpectedly slam together, trapping fingers and other sensitive body parts, or striking the eyes with metal splinters.

4. In many permanent magnet motors, simple disassembly and reassembly, even if you do it 100% right, will result in the magnetic field being weaker than before. Paradoxically, the motor will now spin faster than it did previously. This could lead to alarming results if, for example, the motor is part of your grandmother's electric wheel chair.

5. This one applies to any large inductor, including the windings of an electric motor. If you suddenly interrupt a current that is passing through an inductor (for example, if you are testing a winding with a battery and then disconnect the battery) a high voltage will appear briefly across the winding (V = -LdI/dt). This can kill you. Really. Ensure that you are not holding the bare wires when you are experimenting, even if the DC voltage is only 12 volts or so.

6. All rotating shafts are potentially dangerous - never be complacent where exposed shafts are concerned. Even a clean, smooth shaft can easily grab hair or clothing and cause serious injury. An induction motor inside a vacuum cleaner is pretty harmless (unless you're a mouse), but the same motor sitting on a bench is potentially lethal. For a start it's more powerful than you. Second, it has no common sense. Finally, remember that the torque the casing exerts on the rotor is exactly equal (and opposite) to the torque the rotor exerts on the casing. So, if the rotor is heavy (and it usually is), when you first switch the motor on the rotor tends to stay put while the casing rotates. Bolt it down first!





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