Things They Never Taught Us About Motors

    what they don't teach you about motors in school

    Author: Aaron Schnelle

    Some of us were sitting around a table recently discussing work, trading light banter and someone threw out the phrase “I wish I’d known then what I know now”. That set off a round of comic relief about our professional and personal lives. One of us confessed that he “wished he didn’t know now what he didn’t know then”.  Eventually things moved away from cliché and jest and settled down to a real conversation about things we’d all learned over the years and then someone asked the question “what did you have to learn on your own that you wish they’d have taught you in school?”

    Oh sure, they taught us about electrical potential difference, electron flow, direct current, and alternating current. They taught us about resistance, inductance, capacitance, impedance, flux, permitivity, and reluctance. They taught us about the right hand rule, the left hand rule. They taught us the dark science of imaginary numbers phase shifting, and vector analysis. And then they taught us that electrons don’t really flow. No, actually it’s the empty spaces where the electrons used to be that are really moving, and in the opposite direction at that. They taught us band gap theory and semi-conductor design.

    In the end, we all agreed that the single most important thing that they didn’t teach us about electrical machines is that they live in the wild. They don’t live in a lab, or in a shop, but in the wild. They live in mines in craggy mountains where the air is so thin that it doesn’t cool them adequately. They live in rain forests where the moisture and vegetation are constantly at work trying to reclaim the metals used to make them for the earth. They live and do work in manufacturing environments hotter and colder than can comfortably be imagined. They can do jobs so simple and uncritical that they can be installed with a pair of slip joint pliers, or so delicate and complex that it requires lasers and precision machine tools. They can be controlled by a simple switch, or by a digital computer. They do jobs as easy as gently moving air and as hard as crushing limestone boulders. Some of them live in holes thousands of feet deep in the earth. And they fail. They fail for reasons, and in ways that can’t be mistaken, and they fail in ways that are difficult to detect and understand.

    We were all of one mind that we were taught the basics of how motors are supposed to work, but given little knowledge of why they fail, how that failure will present itself, and how to predict when that failure might.


    Use the Empowering Motors’ Industry Forum to share your thoughts about “motor lessons” that you have learned over the years. What were the most important lessons you have learned?


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