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issue: October 2009 APPLIANCE Magazine

Cover Story: Motors and Air-Moving Devices
Motors Moving Forward

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Motors manufacturers are looking beyond gloomy economic times to the high-efficiency future.

Dyson’s DC31 handheld vacuum is powered by the new V2 motor, designed by the company’s in-house motor engineering team to operate at up to 104,000 rpm.

As of this time last year, the global economy was entering its deepest recession since the post WWII-era. In the United States, once-strong housing sales plummeted, stock prices fell, and financial institutions crumbled. One year later, economic conditions are showing signs of improvement. In late September, Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke said that the recession was “very likely over.” Many people breathed a sign of relief, albeit a cautious one.

No one expects a quick recovery. Given that the recession was caused largely by a financial crisis, the process of economic recovery will be slowed, some economists suggest, because households and businesses will need time to work off what became unsustainable levels of debt. Job growth typically lags behind other signs of improvement after recession, and it could be many months before the job market starts improving. While segments of the U.S. economy such as homebuilding and consumer spending are showing signs of stabilization and very slight growth, others such as nonresidential construction activity are showing no measurable improvement or even continuing to worsen.

Motors manufacturers certainly felt the downturn. The U.S.-based National Electrical Manufacturers Association’s Motors Shipments Index declined for the third consecutive quarter in 2Q 2009, contracting 10.5% compared with the first three months of this year and nearly 25% versus 2Q 2008. After climbing sharply to a cyclical peak in 2006 and remaining at a high level through mid-2008, the NEMA said the index has plunged 28% in the past nine months and is now at its lowest level since the beginning of 2005. Demand for both fractional and integral horsepower motors weakened, with both categories registering large year-over-year declines in shipments.

That fall in the Index follows a decline for 1Q 2009, in which NEMA reported a 9% drop versus 4Q 2008 and 23.4% on a year-over-year basis. Fractional and integral horsepower motors both saw market demand weaken, but the decline in fractional units was appreciably weaker compared with 1Q 2008.

NEMA—like most other watchers of the economy—believes a modest recovery is within sight. It expects its Motors Shipments Index to decline through the end of 2009 before beginning what should be a tepid rebound.


S-Force Radial Blowers are equipped with a new high-powered motor that enables it to reach performance levels not yet seen in the market. ebm-papst Inc. (Farmington, CT, U.S.; www.ebmpapst.us) engineered the blowers with nominal speeds of up to 4600 rpm and airflow of up to 988 cfm. The S-Force radial blowers are standard with PWM control input and speed signal. Optional features include speed monitoring, closed-loop speed control, operating monitoring, integrated or external temperature sensor, or microprocessor-controlled motor management for software-controlled operation.

Saving Money and Energy

The economy has made consumers more cost-conscious, and their frugality is not going to evaporate, even when the recovery is in full swing. This new outlook is driving new housing trends. In the United States, new homes are being made smaller to be more economical. The appliances that go into these new homes, even if they are premium appliances, have to have benefits and features that appeal to the new attitude of thriftiness.

So what do appliance OEMs want from their motor suppliers?

According to John Morehead, vice president of strategic planning and marketing for Bison Gear & Engineering Corp. (www.bisongear.com) in St. Charles, IL, U.S., “The holy grail remains the same: more power in a smaller package, longer maintenance-free life, and lower cost.”

Commercial appliance makers are particularly cognizant of the cost of inefficiency—and the cost of every square foot of real estate. “It’s understandable…when you realize that with more fast food restaurants operating 24 hours a day that their energy costs are an increasingly important expense,” Morehead says. “With quick serve restaurants expanding their menu offerings, while maintaining the same footprint, it’s critical that our customers are able to reduce the size of their equipment. Downtime in fast food is not only costly from the skilled repair labor standpoint, but can be devastating to an operation’s customer following and profits.”

Bison is a supplier to many commercial foodservice equipment makers, and Morehead says it is crucial for them to understand their customers’ customers—the restaurateurs. “That helps drive our own product development and manufacturing improvement initiatives.”

The Difficult Question of Cost

Cost is a complex equation in the motor industry, in part because of raw material prices. “As soon as copper goes down, steel goes up or vice-versa,” Morehead says. He says components from low-cost countries like China have been subject to price increases that are greater than those that have been necessary in North America and Europe in the past 12–18 months.

Price decreases are always on the minds of motors buyers, but not always No. 1 on the priority list. “While purchasing departments will continue to parrot the lower cost request, we find that increasingly they want their motor and gearmotor suppliers to add value by actively participating in their design teams. This has been enhanced due to overall corporate down-sizing as well.”

Julie Heinrichs, marketing manager, Heating, Ventilation, Air Conditioning, and Refrigeration for A. O. Smith (Tipp City, OH, U.S.; www.aosmithmotors.com), says that motor costs will continue to drive to lower levels. Still, the major reductions will be in the overall system cost reductions. “Lower global costs are what our customers request on a day-to-day basis,” she says. “A. O. Smith’s global manufacturing facility footprint in Asia, Europe, and North America helps manage costs on a worldwide basis. Material cost fluctuation of copper, aluminum, and steel has significantly impacted price globally over the past six years.”

Heinrichs says that when appliance OEMs are still looking for motors and blowers that are quiet, energy-efficient, innovative, and cost-competitive, “the solution sometimes comes with the most cost-competitive product, but many times equates to an innovative, energy-efficient system solution that not only saves our customer money, but saves the end-consumer energy,” she says.


A. O. Smith’s iMotor evaporative fan replacement provides refrigeration energy savings.

Energy Savings/Cost Savings

Because the motor is often the biggest energy-using component in an appliance, increasing efficiency is key to designing and manufacturing new appliance motors. Motor suppliers are ramping up their efficiency R&D. For example, A.O. Smith is expanding its engineered approach to achieve increased energy efficiency applied to its blowers and motors. Mike Metzler, general manager for Heating, Ventilation, Air-Conditioning, and Refrigeration for the company, says, “Integrated and remote electronics are being applied to HVAC/R applications. A. O. Smith is maximizing the design and materials going into energy-efficient motors and blower systems.”

Oftentimes, making the appliance more efficient means transitioning to new motor types. Integrated circuit (IC) supplier Allegro MicroSystems Inc. (Worcester, MA, U.S.; www.allegromicro.com) is helping customers re-engineer their appliance models to replace their ac motors with variable-speed dc motors, using inverter motor driver ICs. “For some models, the appliance makers expect their energy efficiency rate to go up by over 300%,” says Allegro’s Stephanie A. Fennelly. “These ICs incorporate three pairs of high-side and low-side IGBTs inside one package. In comparison with designing with discrete components, these ICs allow the appliance makers to reduce the design to market time and minimize the use of product design resources that are in short supply.”

Fraser McHenry of Freescale Semiconductor (Austin, TX, U.S.; www.freescale.com) explains that his company is helping appliance OEMs meet energy efficiency needs through its portfolio of microcontrollers (MCUs) and digital signal controllers (DSCs) that enable more-advanced energy-efficient motor control solutions. The portfolio starts with entry-level 8-bit MCUs for cost-sensitive applications such as fans, pumps, and compressors. The MCUs have dedicated PWM (pulse width modulation) modules with integrated analog digital convertors and high-speed comparators to provide fast, efficient control of the inverter stages without CPU intervention.

The next level includes a family of 16-bit DSCs with dedicated motor control peripherals for advanced appliance applications such as variable-speed compressor control, or sensorless BLDC motor control. “DSCs with MAC instruction sets can perform high-speed accurate positional vector control of three-phase motors,” he says. “Freescale also has a dedicated systems team developing advanced motor control algorithms to help manufacturers get the best efficiency performance from their designs.”

Bison also employs what it calls Robusticity design principles to help it develop gearmotors that won’t fail within the life of a customer’s product. The supplier is adding more three-phase ac motors to its fractional-horsepower gearmotor offering because they offer inherently higher efficiency than single-phase models. “In that regard, more of our customers are designing their equipment for three-phase power or are employing variable-frequency drives with single-phase power so they can run three-phase motors and have the additional energy saving benefit of variable speed,” says Morehead. The company is also introducing new brushless dc gearmotors and continues to develop gear trains that are more efficient than existing alternatives. “For example, our offset parallel-shaft gearmotors utilize helical gearing that is much more efficient than the traditional right-angle worm gears they often replace…sometimes less than 50% efficient.”


Bison’s 500 Series parallel-shaft ac gearmotor is designed for applications requiring robust torque, such as ice machines.

Greener Motors

Appliance companies are embracing “green” even if there is, as yet, no hard-and-fast definition as to what constitutes a green product. Making an appliance more energy-efficient is an obvious and significant step, but it’s just one slice of the environmental pie. There is opportunity and need for motors to be part of the sustainability solution.

“A. O. Smith has seen the push for ‘green’ motors, just as the industry has for green appliances,” says Heinrichs. She points to restrictions that have limited the use of certain materials. The RoHS (Restriction of Hazardous Substances) and REACH (Registration, Evaluation, Authorization and Restriction of Chemical substances) regulations have become law in Europe, naturally having an impact on suppliers in the region that use any of the controlled materials. Similar materials use restrictions will undoubtedly proliferate worldwide.

“A. O. Smith sees an even greater push in the future, and has taken aggressive steps, going beyond the SVHC list of substances listed in the REACH Guidance,” says Heinrichs. “We are working to eliminate or regulate quantities allowable by ROHS for prohibited and declarable chemicals (listed in the GADSL). We believe these regulations will quickly become global standards.”

On the environmental front, meeting substance restriction standards may be a far easier challenge than the issue of recycling, which is likely to become a requirement in more markets worldwide. Morehead of Bison notes, “By their nature, electric motors are not easily broken down into discrete component commodity materials for recycling.” Bison, he says, is engaged with the Electric Motor Education & Research Foundation (EMERF). The organization is mounting a collaborative pre-competitive research program with American motor manufacturers to address not only end of life, but also production costs and increased energy efficiency to further the global competitiveness of the small electric motor industry.


Models ECR 82P and 92P are electronically commutated motor (ECM) refrigeration motor fans with the same exterior design as 5-W shaded pole motors, but engineered for higher efficiency and power. Wellington Drive Technologies (www.wdtl.com) says the motors are the first to be enclosed in a body of advanced polymers, giving them high moisture resistance in refrigeration and vending applications.

Read these additional sidebars:

104,000 RPM

Starting from Scratch

APPLIANCE EngineerĀ® Motor Technology Online:

BLDC blowers allow custom control


Compact, high-performance fans are adaptable to a variety of cooling applications


An EC motor for efficient commercial refrigeration



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