Quantcast Practical Alternators alternators actually in use in the civilian community, as well as aboard Navy ships and aircraft. ">

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The alternators described so far in this chapter are ELEMENTARY in nature; they are seldom used except as examples to aid in understanding practical alternators.

The remainder of this chapter will relate the principles of the elementary alternator to the alternators actually in use in the civilian community, as well as aboard Navy ships and aircraft. The following paragraphs in this chapter will introduce such concepts as prime movers, field excitation, armature characteristics and limitations, single-phase and polyphase alternators, controls, regulation, and parallel operation.


A typical rotating-field ac generator consists of an alternator and a smaller dc generator built into a single unit. The output of the alternator section supplies alternating voltage to the load. The only purpose for the dc exciter generator is to supply the direct current required to maintain the alternator field. This dc generator is referred to as the exciter. A typical alternator is shown in figure 3-3, view A; figure 3-3, view B, is a simplified schematic of the generator.

Figure 3-3. - Ac generator pictorial and schematic drawings.

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The exciter is a dc, shunt-wound, self-excited generator. The exciter shunt field (2) creates an area of intense magnetic flux between its poles. When the exciter armature (3) is rotated in the exciter-field flux, voltage is induced in the exciter armature windings. The output from the exciter commutator (4) is connected through brushes and slip rings (5) to the alternator field. Since this is direct current already converted by the exciter commutator, the current always flows in one direction through the alternator field (6). Thus, a fixed-polarity magnetic field is maintained at all times in the alternator field windings. When the alternator field is rotated, its magnetic flux is passed through and across the alternator armature windings (7).

The armature is wound for a three-phase output, which will be covered later in this chapter. Remember, a voltage is induced in a conductor if it is stationary and a magnetic field is passed across the conductor, the same as if the field is stationary and the conductor is moved. The alternating voltage in the ac generator armature windings is connected through fixed terminals to the ac load.

Q.5 Most large alternators have a small dc generator built into them. What is its purpose? answer.gif (214 bytes)


All generators, large and small, ac and dc, require a source of mechanical power to turn their rotors. This source of mechanical energy is called a prime mover.

Prime movers are divided into two classes for generators-high-speed and low-speed. Steam and gas turbines are high-speed prime movers, while internal-combustion engines, water, and electric motors are considered low-speed prime movers.

The type of prime mover plays an important part in the design of alternators since the speed at which the rotor is turned determines certain characteristics of alternator construction and operation.


There are two types of rotors used in rotating-field alternators.
They are called the turbine-driven and salient-pole rotors.

As you may have guessed, the turbine-driven rotor shown in figure 3-4, view A, is used when the prime mover is a high-speed turbine. The windings in the turbine-driven rotor are arranged to form two or four distinct poles. The windings are firmly embedded in slots to withstand the tremendous centrifugal forces encountered at high speeds.

Figure 3-4. - Types of rotors used in alternators.

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The salient-pole rotor shown in figure 3-4, view B, is used in low-speed alternators. The salient-pole rotor often consists of several separately wound pole pieces, bolted to the frame of the rotor.

If you could compare the physical size of the two types of rotors with the same electrical characteristics, you would see that the salient-pole rotor would have a greater diameter. At the same number of revolutions per minute, it has a greater centrifugal force than does the turbine-driven rotor.

To reduce this force to a safe level so that the windings will not be thrown out of the machine, the salient pole is used only in low-speed designs.


Alternators are rated according to the voltage they are designed to produce and the maximum current they are capable of providing. The maximum current that can be supplied by an alternator depends upon the maximum heating loss that can be sustained in the armature. This heating loss (which is an I2R power loss) acts to heat the conductors, and if excessive, destroys the insulation. Thus, alternators are rated in terms of this current and in terms of the voltage output - the alternator rating in small units is in volt-amperes; in large units it is kilovolt-amperes.

When an alternator leaves the factory, it is already destined to do a very specific job. The speed at which it is designed to rotate, the voltage it will produce, the current limits, and other operating characteristics are built in. This information is usually stamped on a nameplate on the case so that the user will know the limitations.

Q.6 How are alternators usually rated? answer.gif (214 bytes)
Q.7 What type of prime mover requires a specially designed high-speed alternator? answer.gif (214 bytes)
Q.8 Salient-pole rotors may be used in alternators driven by what types of prime movers? answer.gif (214 bytes)

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