Electric motors transform electrical energy into mechanical energy by harnessing magnetic fields to apply torque, or rotational force. Electric motors can be brushed, meaning they use additional parts to generate a current, or brushless, which use permanent electromagnets instead. They can run on direct current or alternate current. Some electric motors are even “unrolled” and apply linear force rather than rotational force. No matter the differences in specifications, operating an electric motor—or any electric equipment—requires the utmost safety. While most people can operate their electric motors for everyday use without incident, most safety issues arise during attempts to repair them. In this guide to how to safely use an electric motor, we will go over some of the dos and don’ts of motor operation and maintenance for all the different variations of electric motors.

Keep a Clean Area

The components of an electric motor are sensitive. Instrumental in ensuring that they can operate at peak performance is not allowing the motor’s environment to become dirty. If components become jammed with dirt, dust, debris, or aerosolized oil, they have to work harder, which can significantly shorten your motor’s lifespan. Before you start to worry about taking a motor apart to keep it clean, you can preempt a great deal of that down-and-dirty repair work by keeping the area directly around the motor clean. This will introduce fewer problems.

Keep the Work Area Well-Lit

When working with electric motors, precision matters. In order to work with maximum precision, always be sure to operate your machinery under adequate lighting. This is just as fundamental to operations as maintaining clean surroundings. Whether this means using a powerful flashlight or lighting the entire room, don’t operate or repair your electric motors under anything less than sufficient illumination. Not being able to see what you’re doing could do serious damage to your motor or physical harm to you.

Don’t Let Wires Get Exposed

Working with electricity can be a dangerous thing, even if you’re an experienced worker. AC motors, which often receive their power directly from your power grid, pose a particular risk of shock or electrocution due to faulty wiring. Wires are insulated for good reasons, and a tear in that insulation can be extremely dangerous. If you see that the insulated wiring in your electric motor has failed and left the metal exposed, repair or replace the wiring to prevent an unfortunate incident.

Use Glue With Caution

Some repairs to electric motors may only necessitate powerful instant-bonding agents, better known to civilians as super glue. These strong adhesives often come in repair kits for your motors, but you should never underestimate the power of a good super glue. Remember that a little goes a long way, and that you should never let this adhesive make contact with your skin. Point your applicator away from the body and do not squeeze the tube hard, as this would run the risk of discharging far more glue than you need.

Beware of Overheating

All electric motors are designed to operate within a safe operating temperature. After continued usage or difficult tasks, electric motors are prone to overheating. If they start to overheat, you should be able to smell that something is amiss. Do not operate an electric motor that cannot properly regulate its temperature. Keep a nose peeled for the telltale odor of burning components and be prepared to take your motor out of commission if this is the case. Accumulation of dirt, dust, and debris, especially around your motor’s cooling fan, can also lead to a foul burning smell. If this accumulation should block your cooling fan and impede proper temperature control, make sure to clean the motor with a vacuum or by gently wiping down the affected areas.

Listen for Something Wrong

Just as you should be able to smell when something is wrong, you should be able to hear when something is wrong as well. Corrosion, dirt buildup, and other forms of degradation in an electric motor will cause unfamiliar noises and vibrations that indicate unsafe operation due to either a mechanical or electrical issue with the motor. If your DC motor uses brushes and a commutator, these additional parts can fail and interrupt or even halt operation. If you hear unusual noises from your motor, check for misaligned or imbalanced parts.

Wear Your Goggles

Electric motors work at high speeds. DC servomotors can approach 17,000 revolutions per minute. When you’re working with an electric motor in a CNC mill or lathe, these high speeds can send plastic dust and other dangerous byproducts your way. Always remember to use eye protection when working with the motors that power CNC equipment.

Schedule Routine Maintenance

Everyone knows that you should try to make a visit to your physician every year for a routine physical. By the same token, your most important electric motors should receive professional oversight from time to time as well. By taking a preventative maintenance approach to your motors, you can anticipate breakdowns and save money on lost productivity and outright replacements. A routine inspection often includes testing connections, circuit breakers, and load imbalances. Such an audit of your electric motors will make sure that you can operate them safely and effectively.

Know When Not To Go Under the Hood

Over the course of usage, the moving parts of electric motors can wear down and cause the motor to fail. At the first sign of motor failure, your impulse may be to get in there and try to fix it yourself. In the technology world, there’s a term known as “bricking,” which is when ill-advised and ill-fated modifications to an electronic device cause it to irreparably fail—effectively transforming it into a plastic brick. Just as one might brick a smartphone or laptop with unqualified repairs, you can brick your motor by doing the same. Part of how to safely use an electric motor is knowing when to defer. For extensive electric motor repair, whether it’s your DC motor gearbox or the motor itself, turn to the experts at Moley Magnetics to perform the repairs you need.

How To Safely Use an Electric Motor