How Electric Motors Work

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Putting It All Together


When you put all of these parts together, what you have is a complete electric motor:

In this figure, the armature winding has been left out so that it is easier to see the commutator in action. The key thing to notice is that as the armature passes through the horizontal position, the poles of the electromagnet flip. Because of the flip, the north pole of the electromagnet is always above the axle so it can repel the field magnet's north pole and attract the field magnet's south pole.

If you ever have the chance to take apart a small electric motor, you will find that it contains the same pieces described above: two small permanent magnets, a commutator, two brushes, and an electromagnet made by winding wire around a piece of metal. Almost always, however, the rotor will have three poles rather than the two poles as shown in this article. There are two good reasons for a motor to have three poles:

  • It causes the motor to have better dynamics. In a two-pole motor, if the electromagnet is at the balance point, perfectly horizontal between the two poles of the field magnet when the motor starts, you can imagine the armature getting "stuck" there. That never happens in a three-pole motor.
  • Each time the commutator hits the point where it flips the field in a two-pole motor, the commutator shorts out the battery (directly connects the positive and negative terminals) for a moment. This shorting wastes energy and drains the battery needlessly. A three-pole motor solves this problem as well.

It is possible to have any number of poles, depending on the size of the motor and the specific application it is being used in.