From Electric Cars to Electric Can-Openers: The Many Sides of the Electric Motor

by Breana Cronk, IQS Editor

While the first crude models were developed in the mid 1800’s, it was not until the mid 1990’s that the electric car was introduced into mainstream modern America. Running completely off of electric motors, these cars provided pollution free, low impact transportation and a smooth quiet ride to boot. By 2003, however, these cars had all but disappeared from the roadways, seemingly consumed by the gasoline engine yet again. While many focus on this unfortunate loss of technology, there is reason to celebrate once more. This year at auto-shows across the country and around the world, several of the nations leading automakers introduced new lines of the electric car which are already backlogged for delivery. While this revisited application for the electric motor is met with great fanfare, the devices are actually exceedingly diverse instruments common to the everyday life of the average American.

The sleek electric car motor compared to a gasoline engine.

It is easy to see the allure of electrical motors. With rechargeable and efficient battery cells, zero-pollution and quiet, almost silent operation these devices are increasingly affordable, easy to maintain and well suited to many applications. In fact, the average individual likely encounters electric motors several times a day. Small motors power kitchen appliances such as blenders, can-openers, mixers and food processors as well as more recreational devices like CD players, personal computers, exercise machines and even wristwatches. Larger scale motors operate off of electricity to propel vehicles, electric wheelchairs and scooters. In addition to these domestic applications, big industry is actually one of the largest forums for electric motor use, powering everything from hand operated drills, saws and other power tools to heavy duty machinery such as ship propulsion systems, lifts, blowers, automatic guided vehicles and robotics.

Although these applications may seem disparate, the basic operation of the electric motor unites them. The purpose of these devices is to convert electrical energy into mechanical energy or force. Using electrical current carrying conductors and magnetic fields, these motors are configured to produce one of two types of usable electricity. The direct current of DC motors offers an efficient, precise and cost effective power source, but it weakens quickly, limiting the length of operation. These devices, which may be brush or brushless motors, are used in many of the smaller and short term applications mentioned above while AC motors are more common in operations requiring more power upfront. The main attraction of alternating current, in addition to the initial power it provides, is its sustainability, or ability to maintain optimal function for long periods or stretches. Multi-phase or single phase motors offering this type of current are common in industrial and vehicular applications, providing them with fast, quiet and emissions free energy.

A large AC motor compared to the smaller DC motor.

As concerns for the climate change mount, the re-emergence of the clean electric car is certainly cause for excitement. The electric motor that powers it, however, has infinitely more reasons to be celebrated. Without these devices, the daily lives of millions would be severely disrupted. While other power sources are widely available, the electric motor offers the clean, reliable and rechargeable operation necessary and keenly sought after in many applications. Even those who prefer a gasoline engine to the sleek electric car cannot deny the presence and importance of the electric motor in their daily lives.

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