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How do electric motors work?

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Electric motors work by placing the opposite poles of an electromagnet that is fixed onto a spindle or axle near to either end of a fixed magnet. This causes the moving electromagnet to spin slightly then come to a halt. If, at the correct time, the battery or other source of current feeding the electromagnet is flipped - thus reversing the polarity - it will complete another slight spin in the same direction. The repitition of this action provides the movement required to make the spindle of the motor rotate.

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What makes a motor turn is based on the fact that magnetic fields produce physical force that can move things. If you have ever played with magnets you have seen this in action as you use one magnet to attract another magnet or force it to move without touching it, depending on how you line up their poles.

All magnets have a north pole and a south pole. Like poles repel each other and unlike poles attract each other.

So, in a motor, electricity is used to create magnetic fields that oppose each other and cause something to move, which happens to the motor's rotating part, called the "rotor".

On the rotor there are loops of wiring - called "windings" - that have an opposing magnetic field to a magnetic field produced in the housing of the motor that does not move, which is called the "stator". Its magnetic field is produced either, in the case of a very small motors, by permanent magnets or, for most other sizes of electric motor, by loops of wiring called"field windings".

It is the repelling action of the opposing magnetic fields which causes the rotor to turn inside the stator.

In heavy electric motors having field windings, big problems can arise from excessive heat buildup - including a high risk of the motor's windings and/or its power input cables catching on fire - if something ever prevents the rotor from turning whilst it is still being supplied with electricity. If properly-sized circuit breakers are not installed to give the motor adequate overcurrent protection, any general overloading of the motor or siezed rotor shaft bearings can easily cause such problems.

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Electric motors convert electrical energy to mechanical energy.

Inside the cover of any electric motor there are 2 kinds of magnets:
  • One does not move and is called the "stator".

    On some kinds of electric motors the stator can be a permanent magnet and on others it can be an electromagnet.

  • The other kind of magnet is called the "rotor" because it rotates inside the stator.

    The rotor is always an electro-magnet and when you give it electricity, its copper coils make its metal pieces (which are in the middle of the coils) magnetic.
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