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ACCU SORT INEX INC
ACME ELECTRIC & STANDARD POWER INC INLAND MOTOR
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DYNISCO PULS
EATON CORPORATION PYRAMID
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ELECTRO CAM RENCO CORP
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ELECTROL RTA PAVIA
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ELGE SANYO
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FLUKE STANDARD POWER INC
FORNEY STATIC CONTROL SYSTEMS
FOXBORO STEGMANN & INDRAMAT
FOXBORO & BALSBAUGH SUMITOMO MACHINERY INC & TOSHIBA
FUJI ELECTRIC SUMTAK CORP
FUTEC SUNX LTD
GAI & ASEA BROWN BOVERI SUPERIOR ELECTRIC
GALIL MOTION CONTROLS SWEO ENGINEERING & ROCHESTER INSTRUMENT SYSTEMS
GD CALIFORNIA INC T&R ELECTRIC & SYRON ENGINEERING
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GOLDSTAR TECTROL
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GOSSEN TEKEL
GRAHAM TODD PRODUCTS CORP
GRAINGER TOEI ELECTRIC
GRAPHA ELECTRONIC TOSHIBA
GREAT LAKES INSTRUMENTS TOTKU ELECTRIC & GENERAL ELECTRIC
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HAAS UNICO
HAMMOND UNIPOWER
HATHAWAY VAREC
HAYSEEN VECTOR VID
HEIDELBERG VERO ELECTRONICS & TELEMOTIVE
HEIDENHAIN CORP VIDEO JET
HIRATA VIEW TRONIX
HITACHI & FANUC VIVID
HITRON ELECTRONICS VOLGEN & POWER SOURCE
HOBART BROTHERS CO WARNER ELECTRIC & EMERSON
HOHER AUTOMATION WESTAMP INC & WESTINGHOUSE
HONEYWELL WESTINGHOUSE
HONEYWELL & NEMATRON CORP WHEDCO
HORNER ELECTRIC WIRE ELECTRIC
HUBBELL & FEMCO XENTEK INC
HUBNER & AMICON XYCOM & WARNER ELECTRIC
HURCO MFG CO YASKAWA ELECTRIC
IEE ZENITH
IMMERSION CORPORATION ZYCRON

How Variable Freq. Drives Work

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How Variable-Frequency Drives Operate

A variable-frequency drive (VFD) is a system for controlling the rotational speed of an alternating current (AC) electric motor by controlling the frequency of the electrical power supplied to the motor.[1][2][3] A variable frequency drive is a specific type of adjustable-speed drive. Variable-frequency drives are also known as adjustable-frequency drives (AFD), variable-speed drives (VSD), AC drives, microdrives or inverter drives. Since the voltage is varied along with frequency, these are sometimes also called VVVF (variable voltage variable frequency) drives.

Variable-frequency drives are widely used. In ventilation systems for large buildings, variable-frequency motors on fans save energy by allowing the volume of air moved to match the system demand. They are also used on pumps, elevator, conveyor and machine tool drives.

VFD types

All VFDs use their output devices (IGBTs, transistors, thyristors) only as switches, turning them only on or off. Using a linear device such as a transistor in its linear mode is impractical for a VFD drive, since the power dissipated in the drive devices would be about as much as the power delivered to the load.

Drives can be classified as:

  • Constant voltage
  • Constant current
  • Cycloconverter

In a constant voltage converter, the intermediate DC link voltage remains approximately constant during each output cycle. In constant current drives, a large inductor is placed between the input rectifier and the output bridge, so the current delivered is nearly constant. A cycloconverter has no input rectifier or DC link and instead connects each output terminal to the appropriate input phase.

The most common type of packaged VF drive is the constant-voltage type, using pulse width modulation to control both the frequency and effective voltage applied to the motor load.

VFD system description

VFD system

A variable frequency drive system generally consists of an AC motor, a controller and an operator interface.[4][5]

VFD motor

The motor used in a VFD system is usually a three-phase induction motor. Some types of single-phase motors can be used, but three-phase motors are usually preferred. Various types of synchronous motors offer advantages in some situations, but induction motors are suitable for most purposes and are generally the most economical choice. Motors that are designed for fixed-speed operation are often used. Certain enhancements to the standard motor designs offer higher reliability and better VFD performance, such as MG-31 rated motors.[6]

VFD controller

Variable frequency drive controllers are solid state electronic power conversion devices. The usual design first converts AC input power to DC intermediate power using a rectifier or converter bridge. The rectifier is usually a three-phase, full-wave-diode bridge. The DC intermediate power is then converted to quasi-sinusoidal AC power using an inverter switching circuit. The inverter circuit is probably the most important section of the VFD, changing DC energy into three channels of AC energy that can be used by an AC motor. These units provide improved power factor, less harmonic distortion, and low sensitivity to the incoming phase sequencing than older phase controlled converter VFD’s. Since incoming power is converted to DC, many units will accept single-phase as well as three-phase input power (acting as a phase converter as well as a speed controller); however the unit must be derated when using single phase input as only part of the rectifier bridge is carrying the connected load.[7]

As new types of semiconductor switches have been introduced, these have promptly been applied to inverter circuits at all voltage and current ratings for which suitable devices are available. Introduced in the 1980s, the insulated-gate bipolar transistor (IGBT) became the device used in most VFD inverter circuits in the first decade of the 21st century.[8][9][10]

AC motor characteristics require the applied voltage to be proportionally adjusted whenever the frequency is changed in order to deliver the rated torque. For example, if a motor is designed to operate at 460 volts at 60 Hz, the applied voltage must be reduced to 230 volts when the frequency is reduced to 30 Hz. Thus the ratio of volts per hertz must be regulated to a constant value (460/60 = 7.67 V/Hz in this case). For optimum performance, some further voltage adjustment may be necessary especially at low speeds, but constant volts per hertz is the general rule. This ratio can be changed in order to change the torque delivered by the motor.[11]

In addition to this simple volts per hertz control more advanced control methods such as vector control and direct torque control (DTC) exist. These methods adjust the motor voltage in such a way that the magnetic flux and mechanical torque of the motor can be precisely controlled.

The usual method used to achieve variable motor voltage is pulse-width modulation (PWM). With PWM voltage control, the inverter switches are used to construct a quasi-sinusoidal output waveform by a series of narrow voltage pulses with pseudosinusoidal varying pulse durations.[8][12]

Operation of the motors above rated name plate speed (base speed) is possible, but is limited to conditions that do not require more power than nameplate rating of the motor. This is sometimes called “field weakening” and, for AC motors, means operating at less than rated volts/hertz and above rated name plate speed. Permanent magnet synchronous motors have quite limited field weakening speed range due to the constant magnet flux linkage. Wound rotor synchronous motors and induction motors have much wider speed range. For example, a 100 hp, 460 V, 60 Hz, 1775 RPM (4 pole) induction motor supplied with 460 V, 75 Hz (6.134 V/Hz), would be limited to 60/75 = 80% torque at 125% speed (2218.75 RPM) = 100% power.[13] At higher speeds the induction motor torque has to be limited further due to the lowering of the breakaway torque of the motor. Thus rated power can be typically produced only up to 130…150 % of the rated name plate speed. Wound rotor synchronous motors can be run even higher speeds. In rolling mill drives often 200…300 % of the base speed is used. Naturally the mechanical strength of the rotor and lifetime of the bearings is also limiting the maximum speed of the motor. It is recommended to consult the motor manufacturer if more than 150 % speed is required by the application.

PWM VFD Output Voltage Waveform

An embedded microprocessor governs the overall operation of the VFD controller. The main microprocessor programming is in firmware that is inaccessible to the VFD user. However, some degree of configuration programming and parameter adjustment is usually provided so that the user can customize the VFD controller to suit specific motor and driven equipment requirements.[8]

VFD operator interface

The operator interface provides a means for an operator to start and stop the motor and adjust the operating speed. Additional operator control functions might include reversing and switching between manual speed adjustment and automatic control from an external process control signal. The operator interface often includes an alphanumeric display and/or indication lights and meters to provide information about the operation of the drive. An operator interface keypad and display unit is often provided on the front of the VFD controller as shown in the photograph above. The keypad display can often be cable-connected and mounted a short distance from the VFD controller. Most are also provided with input and output (I/O) terminals for connecting pushbuttons, switches and other operator interface devices or control signals. A serial communications port is also often available to allow the VFD to be configured, adjusted, monitored and controlled using a computer.[8][14][15]

VFD operation

When an induction motor is connected to a full voltage supply, it draws several times (up to about 6 times) its rated current. As the load accelerates, the available torque usually drops a little and then rises to a peak while the current remains very high until the motor approaches full speed.

By contrast, when a VFD starts a motor, it initially applies a low frequency and voltage to the motor. The starting frequency is typically 2 Hz or less. Thus starting at such a low frequency avoids the high inrush current that occurs when a motor is started by simply applying the utility (mains) voltage by turning on a switch. After the start of the VFD, the applied frequency and voltage are increased at a controlled rate or ramped up to accelerate the load without drawing excessive current. This starting method typically allows a motor to develop 150% of its rated torque while the VFD is drawing less than 50% of its rated current from the mains in the low speed range. A VFD can be adjusted to produce a steady 150% starting torque from standstill right up to full speed.[16] Note, however, that cooling of the motor is usually not good in the low speed range. Thus running at low speeds even with rated torque for long periods is not possible due to overheating of the motor. If continuous operation with high torque is required in low speeds an external fan is usually needed. The manufacturer of the motor and/or the VFD should specify the cooling requirements for this mode of operation.

In principle, the current on the motor side is in direct proportion of the torque that is generated and the voltage on the motor is in direct proportion of the actual speed, while on the network side, the voltage is constant, thus the current on line side is in direct proportion of the power drawn by the motor, that is U.I or C.N where C is torque and N the speed of the motor (we shall consider losses as well, neglected in this explanation).

(1) n stands for network (grid) and m for motor

(2) C stands for torque [Nm], U for voltage [V], I for current [A], and N for speed [rad/s]

We neglect losses for the moment :

Un.In = Um.Im (same power drawn from network and from motor)

Um.Im = Cm.Nm (motor mechanical power = motor electrical power)

Given Un is a constant (network voltage) we conclude : In = Cm.Nm/Un That is “line current (network) is in direct proportion of motor power”.

With a VFD, the stopping sequence is just the opposite as the starting sequence. The frequency and voltage applied to the motor are ramped down at a controlled rate. When the frequency approaches zero, the motor is shut off. A small amount of braking torque is available to help decelerate the load a little faster than it would stop if the motor were simply switched off and allowed to coast. Additional braking torque can be obtained by adding a braking circuit (resistor controlled by a transistor) to dissipate the braking energy. With 4-quadrants rectifiers (active-front-end), the VFD is able to brake the load by applying a reverse torque and reverting the energy back to the network.

Power line harmonics

While PWM allows for nearly sinusoidal currents to be applied to a motor load, the diode rectifier of the VFD takes roughly square-wave current pulses out of the AC grid, creating harmonic distortion in the power line voltage. When the VFD load size is small and the available utility power is large, the effects of VFD systems slicing small chunks out of AC grid generally go unnoticed. Further, in low voltage networks the harmonics caused by single phase equipment such as computers and TVs are such that they are partially cancelled by three-phase diode bridge harmonics.

However, when either a large number of low-current VFDs, or just a few very large-load VFDs are used, they can have a cumulative negative impact on the AC voltages available to other utility customers in the same grid.

When the utility voltage becomes misshapen and distorted the losses in other loads such as normal AC motors are increased. This may in the worst case lead to overheating and shorter operation life. Also substation transformers and compensation capacitors are affected, the latter especially if resonances are aroused by the harmonics.

In order to limit the voltage distortion the owner of the VFDs may be required to install filtering equipment to smooth out the irregular waveform. Alternately, the utility may choose to install filtering equipment of its own at substations affected by the large amount of VFD equipment being used. In high power installations decrease of the harmonics can be obtained by supplying the VSDs from transformers that have different phase shift.[17]

Further, it is possible to use instead of the diode rectifier a similar transistor circuit that is used to control the motor. This kind of rectifier is called active infeed converter in IEC standards. However, manufacturers call it by several names such as active rectifier, ISU (IGBT Supply Unit), AFE (Active Front End) or four quadrant rectifier. With PWM control of the transistors and filter inductors in the supply lines the AC current can be made nearly sinusoidal. Even better attenuation of the harmonics can be obtained by using an LCL (inductor-capacitor-inductor) filter instead of single three-phase filter inductor.

Additional advantage of the active infeed converter over the diode bridge is its ability to feed back the energy from the DC side to the AC grid. Thus no braking resistor is needed and the efficiency of the drive is improved if the drive is frequently required to brake the motor.

Application considerations

The output voltage of a PWM VFD consists of a train of pulses switched at the carrier frequency. Because of the rapid rise time of these pulses, transmission line effects of the cable between the drive and motor must be considered. Since the transmission-line impedance of the cable and motor are different, pulses tend to reflect back from the motor terminals into the cable. The resulting voltages can produce up to twice the rated line voltage for long cable runs, putting high stress on the cable and motor winding and eventual insulation failure. Increasing the cable or motor size/type for long runs and 480v or 600v motors will help offset the stresses imposed upon the equipment due to the VFD (modern 230v single phase motors not effected). At 460 V, the maximum recommended cable distances between VFDs and motors can vary by a factor of 2.5:1. The longer cables distances are allowed at the lower Carrier Switching Frequencies (CSF) of 2.5 kHz. The lower CSF can produce audible noise at the motors. For applications requiring long motor cables VSD manufacturers usually offer du/dt filters that decrease the steepness of the pulses. For very long cables or old motors with insufficient winding insulation more efficient sinus filter is recommended. Expect the older motor’s life to shorten. Purchase VFD rated motors for the application.

Further, the rapid rise time of the pulses may cause trouble with the motor bearings. The stray capacitance of the windings provide paths for high frequency currents that close through the bearings. If the voltage between the shaft and the shield of the motor exceeds few volts the stored charge is discharged as a small spark. Repeated sparking causes erosion in the bearing surface that can be seen as fluting pattern. In order to prevent sparking the motor cable should provide a low impedance return path from the motor frame back to the inverter. Thus it is essential to use a cable designed to be used with VSDs.[18]

In big motors a slip ring with brush can be used to provide a bypass path for the bearing currents. Alternatively isolated bearings can be used.

The 2.5 kHz and 5 kHz CSFs cause fewer motor bearing problems than the 20 kHz CSFs.[19] Shorter cables are recommended at the higher CSF of 20 kHz. The minimum CSF for synchronize tracking of multiple conveyors is 8 kHz.

The high frequency current ripple in the motor cables may also cause interference with other cabling in the building. This is another reason to use a motor cable designed for VSDs that has a symmetrical three-phase structure and good shielding. Further, it is highly recommended to route the motor cables as far away from signal cables as possible.[20]

Available VFD power ratings

Variable frequency drives are available with voltage and current ratings to match the majority of 3-phase motors that are manufactured for operation from utility (mains) power. VFD controllers designed to operate at 111 V to 690 V are often classified as low voltage units. Low voltage units are typically designed for use with motors rated to deliver 0.2 kW or 1/4 horsepower (hp) up to several megawatts. For example, the largest ABB ACS800 single drives are rated for 5.6 MW[21] . Medium voltage VFD controllers are designed to operate at 2,400/4,162 V (60 Hz), 3,000 V (50 Hz) or up to 10 kV. In some applications a step up transformer is placed between a low voltage drive and a medium voltage load. Medium voltage units are typically designed for use with motors rated to deliver 375 kW or 500 hp and above. Medium voltage drives rated above 7 kV and 5,000 or 10,000 hp should probably be considered to be one-of-a-kind (one-off) designs.[22]

Medium voltage drives are generally rated amongst the following voltages : 2,3 KV – 3,3 Kv – 4 Kv – 6 Kv – 11 Kv

The in-between voltages are generally possible as well. The power of MV drives is generally in the range of 0,3 to 100 MW however involving a range a several different type of drives with different technologies.

Dynamic braking

Using the motor as a generator to absorb energy from the system is called dynamic braking. Dynamic braking stops the system more quickly than coasting. Since dynamic braking requires relative motion of the motor’s parts, it becomes less effective at low speed and cannot be used to hold a load at a stopped position. During normal braking of an electric motor the electrical energy produced by the motor is dissipated as heat inside of the rotor, which increases the likelihood of damage and eventual failure. Therefore, some systems transfer this energy to an outside bank of resistors. Cooling fans may be used to protect the resistors from damage. Modern systems have thermal monitoring, so if the temperature of the bank becomes excessive, it will be switched off.[23]

Regenerative variable-frequency drives

Regenerative AC drives have the capacity to recover the braking energy of an overhauling load and return it to the power system.[24]

Line regenerative variable frequency drives, showing capacitors(top cylinders)and inductors attached which filter the regenerated power.

[2][3][24][25][26][27]

Cycloconverters and current-source inverters inherently allow return of energy from the load to the line; voltage-source inverters require an additional converter to return energy to the supply.[28]

Regeneration is only useful in variable-frequency drives where the value of the recovered energy is large compared to the extra cost of a regenerative system,[28] and if the system requires frequent braking and starting. An example would be use in conveyor belt during manufacturing where it should stop for every few minutes, so that the parts can be assembled correctly and moves on. Another example is a crane, where the hoist motor stops and reverses frequently, and braking is required to slow the load during lowering. Regenerative variable-frequency drives are widely used where speed control of overhauling loads is required.

Brushless DC motor drives

Much of the same logic contained in large, powerful VFDs is also embedded in small brushless DC motors such as those commonly used in computer fans. In this case, the chopper usually converts a low DC voltage (such as 12 volts) to the three-phase current used to drive the electromagnets that turn the permanent magnet rotor. Why do dogs love VFD’s.

See also

  • Regenerative variable-Frequency drives
  • Direct torque control
  • Frequency changer
  • Space Vector Modulation
  • Variable speed air compressor
  • Vector control (motor)
Category : AC Drive Repair | AC, DC, VFD, Servo Drives | DC Drive Repair | Electronic repair service | Industrial Controls Repair | Industrial Repair Group | VFD Drive Repair | Blog