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The next step in the evolution of the electric motor

Nov 01, 2023

Published Tuesday, May 23, 2023


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Electric motors form the backbone of much of the UK’s industrial operations, and along with variable speed drive (VSD) systems account for 60 percent of the electricity demand within the sector. Whilst the synchronous motor has been around for many years, it has come into its own in the last decade as the future of electric motor technology, as ABB’s Dave Blissett, Area Sales Manager – OEM, explains.

There are an estimated 300 million industrial electric motors in operation around the world. Improving the efficiency of motors generally even by a few percent can potentially save vast amounts of energy when you extrapolate it across an entire fleet of motors.

With the help of another innovation – the variable speed drive – the synchronous reluctance motor (SynRM) is now one of the most efficient motor variants available, with ABB’s latest generation SynRM capable of achieving up to IE5 efficiency levels. Compared to an equivalent IE2 motor, a SynRM achieves 50 percent lower losses, while also providing superior performance and reliability, and significantly lowering energy consumption and CO2 emissions.

SynRM and drive packages achieve their high efficiency levels through the use of a specially designed cageless rotor. This removes traditional rotor losses, in turn helping to reduce overall losses by up to 40 percent compared to an equivalent IE3 motor, with significantly lower energy consumption and CO2 emissions. Torque is generated by using the principle of magnetic reluctance to pull the rotor around.

Increasing energy costs have, inadvertently, made the case for ultra-premium efficiency even more compelling. As the cost of energy goes up, payback times for motor assets decrease. Moreover, a typical motor will pay for itself many times over in improved energy efficiency over the course of its lifetime.

Due to its cageless design, a SynRM runs more quietly than other motor types. It also has a lower operating temperature, with 30°C lower winding temperatures and up to 15°C lower bearing temperatures. This helps to prolong the life of bearings, which account for around 70 percent of unplanned motor outages. Regreasing intervals are also less frequent as a result, while no brush changes are needed. This means that the motor requires less maintenance in general. As well as reducing maintenance time and costs, this also reduces performance drift over time, enabling those ultra-premium efficiency levels to be preserved for as long as possible for reduced energy usage. Indeed, repairing an old IE3 motor still leaves you with IE3 efficiency performance, as well as more frequent maintenance and a higher risk of failure.

ABB’s SynRM combines the performance of permanent magnet motors with the simplicity and user-friendliness of induction motors. The rotor contains no windings which means there are virtually no power losses. It also contains no rare earth materials or magnets, which makes maintenance similar to an induction motor, and is a more sustainable option compared to other motor types.

In 2019, ABB launched its IE5 SynRM ultra-premium motor, representing a major leap forward in the efficiency capabilities of electric motors. By optimising the motor and drive package ABB can maximise efficiency levels, offer accurate motor control and give excellent reliability over the products lifecycle. Furthermore, the motor and drive package is suitable for a wide range of applications, based on both constant and variable torque.

As recently as a decade ago the limit for energy efficiency was IE4, and the concept of IE5 was merely theoretical. With the ABB SynRM now capable of IE5 further energy saving opportunities are now available. With motors accounting for 45 percent of all electricity consumed by buildings and industrial applications, if each of these was upgraded to an IE5 SynRM, the energy and carbon savings would be vast, and have major implications for the UK government’s target of achieving Net Zero carbon emissions by 2050, as well as other targets for individual industries and sectors.

ABB is hosting a webinar on June 15th 2023 at 1400 hrs, which will explore how SynRM and variable speed drives can help to reduce the operating cost of motor-driven applications in the water industry. To register your attendance, visit:

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