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Upon completion of this chapter you will be able to:

  • State the factors that determine the direction of rotation in a dc motor.
  • State the right-hand rule for motors.
  • Describe the main differences and similarities between a dc generator and a dc motor.
  • Describe the cause and effect of counter emf in a dc motor.
  • Explain the term "load" as it pertains to an electric motor.
  • List the advantages and disadvantages of the different types of dc motors.
  • Compare the types of armatures and uses for each.
  • Discuss the means of controlling the speed and direction of a dc motor.
  • Describe the effect of armature reaction in a dc motor.
  • Explain the need for a starting resistor in a dc motor.


The dc motor is a mechanical workhorse, that can be used in many different ways. Many large pieces of equipment depend on a dc motor for their power to move. The speed and direction of rotation of a dc motor are easily controlled.

This makes it especially useful for operating equipment, such as winches, cranes, and missile launchers, which must move in different directions and at varying speeds.


The operation of a dc motor is based on the following principle:

A current-carrying conductor placed in a magnetic field, perpendicular to the lines of flux, tends to move in a direction perpendicular to the magnetic lines of flux. There is a definite relationship between the direction of the magnetic field, the direction of current in the conductor, and the direction in which the conductor tends to move. This relationship is best explained by using the RIGHT-HAND RULE FOR MOTORS (fig. 2-1).

Figure 2-1. - Right-hand rule for motors.

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To find the direction of motion of a conductor, extend the thumb, forefinger, and middle finger of your right hand so they are at right angles to each other.

If the forefinger is pointed in the direction of magnetic flux (north to south) and the middle finger is pointed in the direction of current flow in the conductor, the thumb will point in the direction the conductor will move.

Stated very simply, a dc motor rotates as a result of two magnetic fields interacting with each other. The armature of a dc motor acts like an electromagnet when current flows through its coils. Since the armature is located within the magnetic field of the field poles, these two magnetic fields interact.

Like magnetic poles repel each other, and unlike magnetic poles attract each other. As in the dc generator, the dc motor has field poles that are stationary and an armature that turns on bearings in the space between the field poles.

The armature of a dc motor has windings on it just like the armature of a dc generator. These windings are also connected to commutator segments. A dc motor consists of the same components as a dc generator. In fact, most dc generators can be made to act as motors, and vice versa.

Look at the simple dc motor shown in figure 2-2.

It has two field poles, one a north pole and one a south pole. The magnetic lines of force extend across the opening between the poles from north to south.

Figure 2-2. - Dc motor armature rotation.

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The armature in this simple dc motor is a single loop of wire, just as in the simple armature you studied at the beginning of the chapter on dc generators.

The loop of wire in the dc motor, however, has current flowing through it from an external source. This current causes a magnetic field to be produced.

This field is indicated by the dotted line through the loops. The loop (armature) field is both attracted and repelled by the field from the field poles. Since the current through the loop goes around in the direction of the arrows, the north pole of the armature is at the upper left, and the south pole of the armature is at the lower right, as shown in figure 2-2, (view A).

Of course, as the loop (armature) turns, these magnetic poles turn with it.

Now, as shown in the illustrations, the north armature pole is repelled from the north field pole and attracted to the right by the south field pole. Likewise, the south armature pole is repelled from the south field pole and is attracted to the left by the north field pole. This action causes the armature to turn in a clockwise direction, as shown in figure 2-2 (view B).

After the loop has turned far enough so that its north pole is exactly opposite the south field pole, the brushes advance to the next segments. This changes the direction of current flow through the armature loop. Also, it changes the polarity of the armature field, as shown in figure 2-2 (view C). The magnetic fields again repel and attract each other, and the armature continues to turn.

In this simple motor, the momentum of the rotating armature carries the armature past the position where the unlike poles are exactly lined up. However, if these fields are exactly lined up when the armature current is turned on, there is no momentum to start the armature moving. In this case, the motor would not rotate. It would be necessary to give a motor like this a spin to start it. This disadvantage does not exist when there are more turns on the armature, because there is more than one armature field. No two armature fields could be exactly aligned with the field from the field poles at the same time.

Q.1 What factors determine the direction of rotation in a dc motor?
Q.2 The right-hand rule for motors is used to find the relationship between what motor characteristics?
Q.3 What are the differences between the components of a dc generator and a dc motor?

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