A Day in the Life of Fractional Horsepower Motors

by Amy Harris, IQS Editor

If I asked you what a fractional horsepower motor is, you could probably deduce fairly easily from its name that it is a motor with less than one horsepower’s worth of power. If I asked you to suggest where I could find a fractional horsepower (FHP) motor, it’s possible you would find it a little trickier to come up with an answer. However, the chances are that before you sat down to read this article today, you have already come across and used numerous FHP motors. From the mechanism in an electric toothbrush, to the pump in the coffee machine sitting on the kitchen counter, to the small motors that move the windows and locks in our cars, we are surrounded by fractional horsepower motors in most stages of our lives. These miniature motors keep our refrigerators and washing machines running, and power our windshield wipers and air-conditioning units and office machinery. In truth, we would be hard-pressed to get through the day without them.

Photo courtesy of Pro-Dex, Inc.

Contrary to many terms that have no connection to their literal meaning, horsepower was originally used as a means of talking about the power of draft horses compared with the engines that were being developed to replace them. Today, however, we have all heard of horsepower mentioned in terms of engines, typically for cars and boats. We know the higher the horsepower, the faster the machine can go and vast amounts of power are required in order to move our vehicles at the speed which we would like them to move. High-performance vehicles, such as a Bugatti or Ferrari, can have more than 400 horsepower in their engines, and a standard sedan typically measures about 100-150 horsepower. A boat motor, on the other hand, can measure on a broader range from an outboard engine as small as 8 horsepower to a larger speedboat with hundreds of horsepower.

Photo courtesy of Dumore Corporation.

Unlike these powerful engines however, the small electric motors found in fractional horsepower engines commonly measure ½ horsepower or ¼ horsepower. FHP electric motors typically work in the same way as larger electric motors, either direct current (DC) or alternating current (AC), and although they’ve been around since the early 1900s, it was the rise of consumerism after World War II that saw these small motors firmly embedded in modern lifestyles. Measurements of ½ and ¼ may not sound impressive after the car and boat motor numbers, but FHP motors are actually the most common size of electric motors made today.

The largest markets for fractional horsepower motors are in the accessories side of the automotive industry, such as electric seats and wing mirrors, and in the countless domestic appliances like vacuum cleaners, pumps, and blenders etc. which are scattered around our houses. These all rely on miniature motors to help us achieve the tasks which make our chores and activities more convenient and enjoyable. While these small fractional horsepower motors are certainly not a high-performance vehicle parked in your driveway or a luxury speedboat docked in the marina, and you might not want to go boasting to your neighbor about the size of the motor in your electric razor, they are still a very useful part of our everyday lives; and now, if ever asked about fractional horsepower motors, you can confidently point in the direction of the nearest small appliance.

Photo courtesy of Dumore Corporation.

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