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A NECESSARY EVIL: THE AIR GAP IN ROTATING MACHINES

NOT TOO BIG, NOT TOO SMALL. THE ESSENtial air gap separating rotor from stator in any electric motor or generator has several important influences on machine performance-nevertheless, in any design discussion, few essential details get less attention than the air gap. Air offers much higher resistance to the passage of magnetic flux than the so-called "magnetic materials." Such materials allow a far more intense field to pass through a given space with a relatively lower driving potential (what we call magnetomotive force or mmf). That force is measured in ampere-turns within the electrical circuit causing the magnetization. Naturally, then, we want to minimize the intervention of air into the magnetic field path. Yet it can't be omitted. It can't be too small. Discontinuities or joints in the magnetic core material are necessary also in a transformer or other "solid-state" electromagnetic apparatus, but are kept small or in staggered locations, to minimize their influence. Special demands of motors and generators The electric motor (or generator) presents the unique necessity for an air gap fully separating a rotating magnetic structure from a stationary one. Not only must the separation be complete; it must be large enough so that manufacturing tolerances will not allow the separated components to come into damaging contact during machine operation. In most textbooks on electric machinery design and performance, the air gap is considered a "given." Much attention is paid to calculation of losses and performance involving air gap flux density and ampere-turns, reactances, excitation requirements, and so on. But mention is almost never made of either the rationale for choosing air gap size, or the range of sizes typically used in design. One of the more popular texts, first published in 1936, offers only this advice: ". . . it is necessary (for low magnetizing current) to use small (but not too small) air gap length. . . . The [air gap] must be so selected that the exciting current and machine reactances conform to the performance desired. Reduced gaps may increase motor noise and tooth-face losses. . . ." According to another design textbook, "It is impossible at the present time to derive a satisfactory equation, directly from theoretical considerations, for determining the proper length of gap." This "empirical" (based on experience) equation is often considered accurate enough: Air gap, inch = 0.005 0.0003D 0.001 L 0.003V in which D = rotor O.D., inches L = core stack length, inches

In any event. . the increased gap means more rotor field ampere-turns (and current) are required to drive the desired flux across that gap.) Obviously. Grinding. as we've seen. several other consequences can be expected as well). That decreases the rotor slot reactance (and. the difference being that the main field is stationary while the armature rotates. either procedure presents problems for squirrel-cage machines. an air gap variation of even 20% is unlikely to make a significant change in locked-rotor performance. a machine is designed and built for a larger gap. is possible by either boring out the stator or turning down the rotor. and can escalate surface losses enough to bring the steel to red heat. but also spread a film of aluminum over the finished surface. forming an even more troublesome conductive layers. But the amount of change is highly variable depending upon slot dimensions and stator winding configuration.and V = rotor peripheral velocity in thousands of ft/min. the slot configuration-and the associated reactance-can remain unchanged despite a smaller rotor diameter.= D(RPM/12. If. except in d-c machines. armature reaction of the same sort takes place. however. That increases both power usage and cost of the field winding. decreasing the original air gap is impossible. the answer is "not much.000) As in the induction machine. as well as the short-circuit current the machine will supply to a fault on the power supply circuit." The relationship is not simple. while other components are unaffected. To see why. consider some readings for a hypothetical machine. However. of course. How does the air gap influence locked-rotor current (and torque)? For gap values within a range that's practical in view of the other limitations discussed here. rather than turning. (Contrast that with Figure 4. Typical values in industrial d-c motors range from 1/8 to 1/4 inch. machining the stator in any way risks damage to the slot wedges. That effectively short-circuits the interlaminar insulation. A common limit on measured air gap variation in an assembled motor is ±10% of the average. however. Again. The first is the tendency for adjacent laminations to "smear" together at the surface during machining. close examination of that requirement reveals that it is not as simple as it seems. "Increasing the air gap" often implies simply machining an existing rotor to a smaller diameter. If the rotor contains a cast aluminum cage in partially open slots. Several components of both stator and rotor reactance are inversely proportional to the air gap. Regardless of the reasons for doing so. achieving the desired motor performance requires a relatively large air gap. the machining operation may not only smear the laminations themselves. is less likely to cause trouble. However. where pole shims can be used. with a given stator and rotor. Increasing the gap. That's not a concern for a squirrel-cage rotor-where two other related problems may arise. In a d-c motor.

070 Ignored in most redesign or costing procedures. We multiply the effect of a force by using a longer lever arm.061. We would then get this new set of measurements: 0. 0. Rather.050." Such a misunderstanding probably arises from the general knowledge that the maximum stress caused by a given force increases as the distance of that force from the stressed location. Nailen. An obvious solution is machining. no bending takes place. The greater that length for a given deflection. P. the force is not a constant.052. Two of the measurements fall below the minimum. the deflection of the bars-the amount of end ring expansion--is the constant. to enlarge the gap. subject only to purely bending forces. internal ventilation. however. which is unacceptable. EA Engineering Editor Can Rotor Bars be 'Too Long'? Material cost. Some authorities have claimed that the stress increases with bar extension length.06 inch. the air gap in a motor or generator is nevertheless clearly important to machine performance. we get 0.006.065. When the extension length becomes quite short. Now suppose a series of measurements yields these actual values: 0. In the extreme case (almost never encountered except with some aluminum rotor cages) of zero extension length. 0. The 10% variation allows readings to be anywhere from 0. 0. Therefore. and 0. That is true only if the bars can be treated as cantilever beams..067. the lower the force on the bar associated with that deflection.Suppose the gap intended by design is 0.059 (quite close to the design figure). the lower the bar bending stress caused by ring expansion.E. In the rotor. and will be the same regardless of extension length. and the relationship changes. within rather broad limits.064 What is the "average"? Adding all four readings together and dividing by 4.058. 0. full-load slip. and manufacturing methods all influence the length of squirrel-cage rotor bar extensions between the core ends and the rings joining the bars together. Those extensions are stressed by expansion and contraction of the rings under thermal and centrifugal forces. that is no longer true. the longer the extension. seemingly not a direct influence on temperature or torque characteristics. warning against making the extensions "too long. and 0. It should not be overlooked. Assume the possibility of an increase by 0. By Richard L. . acceleration characteristics.054 to 0.056.

S. a complaint to the DOE initiates a sampling process imposed upon the manufacturer. The U. and minimum efficiencies within the NEMA requirement. it cannot be verified by testing any single unit. which must be calculated differently. representing a motor loss 20% greater than that associated with the nominal efficiency. Verifying Motor Efficiency: No Easy Task Most standard general purpose three-phase induction motors sold in the United States (regardless of where they're manufactured) must now exhibit full-load efficiencies as tabulated in the Energy Policy Act (EPACT) of 1992. but most will supply whichever one best suits the application. Can the stiffness of the bar ends themselves exert enough restraining force to prevent thermal or centrifugal ring expansion? No. In between. To achieve the same accelerating torque. A user concerned about the efficiency of a single motor must understand that because the nominal efficiency is an average value. Several motors are tested and the results analyzed according to a complex statistical procedure. The same efficiencies are required by standards of the National Electrical Manufacturers Association (NEMA). If a user has reason to believe (usually from a laboratory test) that a motor does not meet the law's requirement. and safe stall time. The differences between the two materials normally render impossible any direct replacement of one by the other in the same large motor." such an efficiency represents an average for a large number of motors of identical design. and physical strength. structural integrity. Comparisons between copper and aluminum have emphasized differences in melting point. Some agencies have evaluated motor performance by a test program classifying motor designs into three categories. copper or aluminum? Because of cost. standard squirrel-cage motors up to several hundred kilowatts in rating are universally manufactured with die-cast aluminum rotor conductors. fabricated cages (made up of individual bars and end rings) use either aluminum or copper and its alloys. high-speed machines). Defined as "nominal. Only the DOE sampling procedure can evaluate performance in that category. locked-rotor current. Department of Energy (DOE) has therefore established an efficiency enforcement procedure. in the plane of the core end. copper and aluminum rotor bars must have quite different shapes and areas. Calculations show that this cannot happen until extension length becomes extremely short. Some manufacturers have standardized on one or the other. Which rotor design. specific heat. a "yellow" group meets the NEMA minimum efficiency. However. the NEMA standards also tabulate a required "minimum" efficiency. and design flexibility. most such comparisons are seriously flawed. In larger sizes where that is impractical. A fully acceptable "green" group exhibits nominal afficiencies meeting both NEMA and EPACT levels. An unacceptable "red" group fails both of those criteria. . For each individual motor. but testing indicates that an average (nominal) efficiency may be too low. efficiency. The rings can therefore be expected to expand freely to the extent consistent with the temperature rise and centrifugal force (normally a concern only in large.Ring expansion subjects each bar to shearing stress only. a decision is then made as to whether or not the product complies with the law. conductivity. and are to be marked on the motor nameplate.

a concern in rotating systems is torsional resonance--a coincidence between some exciting force and a natural response frequency. such as switchgear. except that the non-uniform rotor magnetic field exaggerates the effect. Oscillations may far exceed the full-load torque. But the difference is slight. Just as with liner vibration and the so-called "critical speed" problem. suppliers. and some grinding mills and crusher generate steady-state torque pulsations at various frequencies--and of destructive magnitudes even without resonance. power factor. during heating and cooling. either version can provide long service life. Torsional vibration (the twisting and untwisting of shafts) is less well understood. most vibration technology deals with linear vibration--movement of a backand-forth nature. an aluminum bar does expand lengthwise in the slot more than copper. As in other electrical apparatus.[is] somewhat higher than copper" (the reverse is true for the commonly used aluminum alloy). Yet uncontrolled torsional vibration can quickly cause catastrophic equipment failure. Those variations affect full-load speed. Synchronous motors. behave similarly. For example. aluminum can function as well as copper in many motor applications. Reciprocating compressors.Even the depth of current penetration at locked rotor (the "deep bar effect") differs between the two materials (regardless of bar shape or size). Measurement methods are more complex. Torsional Vibration & Oscillation in Electric Motors Specifiers. log chippers.. During acceleration. A second source of trouble is the driven machine itself.. Causes such as unbalance and misalignment are well known. "Yield strength of.aluminum. "Copper is 300% stronger than aluminum" (untrue. and is controlled by various manufacturing techniques equally usable for aluminum. Several vibration sources exist. and operators are all familiar with the problem of rotating machine vibration. and stray load loss as well as temperature rise. the difference ranges from 0% to 40% depending upon the type of applied stress). Limits are not standardized. . induction motors exhibit torque oscillations at line frequency. However. 2. Depending upon the specific performance requirements. Among the many conflicting and misleading statements made in comparing copper and aluminum rotors are these: 1. Finally. the problem has always existed for copper.. Other claims are valid but insignificant... starting as induction machines. some electronic inverters generate oscillating motor torques at frequencies dependent upon speed. Such resonance can greatly amplify an otherwise harmless vibration.

for one manufacturer. a slot combination successful in one frame size. That will vary with motor construction. but no more than 25 to 30 percent. in magnitude and frequency. and require careful analysis of the results. For example. Service shops asked to convert a single-speed motor to a two-speed rating can seldom assure that the slot combination will not cause operating problems at one speed or the other. have appeared over the past century. the effect may not be objectionable because of structural damping in the assembly. or both.and cures for -. in which damper winding configuration cannot be greatly varied. Many published guidelines. Wound-rotor motors pose special problems because. The number of stator slots. may be unacceptable elsewhere. by adding energy-absorbing damping.electromagnetic noise. and torque irregularities. One method uses either shaft-mounted strain gages or encoder/resolver devices. the number of rotor slots N2 must then avoid relationships with N1 which theory or experience indicate will produce objectionable harmonic force waves in the magnetic field of the machine. . Synchronous machines. to show the varying position of a fixed point on the shaft. Slotting used at one polarity may not suit two or more speeds.As with other forms of resonance. Whatever the method. Ideally. The Importance of 'Slot Combination' in A-C Motor Design Since the earliest years of a-c machinery. designers often contend that N1 should always be larger than N2. the more usual choice is an elastomeric coupling between motor and driven machine. accurate results are difficult to obtain. the rotor must contain a balanced polyphase winding. Although inertia changes are sometimes possible. vibration. N1 is evenly divisible by the product of phases and poles. Complying with all the rules is seldom possible. not divisible by the number of poles. and torque anomalies arising from the interaction between stator and rotor slots. Others claim that N2 should always be an even number. Even when an N1 and N2 combination does produce a frequency that excites stator core resonance. To minimize noise. also may require values of N1 not used for induction machines. Heat dissipation is also a concern. destructive forces are minimized by changing the rotating system response frequency. Thus. some of them contradictory. and that the two numbers should be separated by at least 15 percent. That changes system stiffness as well as adding damping. motor designers have struggled with prediction of -. Another involves scanning with a strobe light. Torsional vibration is evaluated by measuring the variation in angular twist in a shaft. is chosen mainly for flexibility in winding configuration. whereas linear vibration readings are easily taken and easily interpreted. N1. vibration. Several variations of that method are possible. unlike the squirrel-cage.

That further restricts N1 (best chosen to be integrally divisible by the number of segments) and therefore N2 as well. and the designer is likely to make N2 larger than N1 -.In large machines. At higher motor voltages.at the price of higher stray load loss. when stator core diameters exceed the available sheet steel width. choosing the best slot combination for any motor is no simple task. thicker insulation dictates fewer (and larger) stator slots. heat transfer areas relative to heat-producing conductor material will decrease. each lamination circle is made up of segments. In both stator and rotor. If N2 remains smaller than N1. Thus. particularly above 4000. . the rotor cage bars may become unacceptably large. Accurate predictions of the effect of even slight changes continue to be difficult.