Factors In Motor Life Expectancy

“How long will my motor live?” This age-old question is at the heart of every motor purchase. Most of the time, it’s near impossible to accurately predict motor life. Every application presents a unique set of circumstances for an electric motor. However, there are key factors that play an important role in motor life expectancy. By keeping these factors in mind, you can identify areas of opportunity and recognize signs that may signal the end of your motor's lifespan.

How Applications Affect Life Expectancy

Every motor operates under a specific set of constraints that can impact the longevity of your motor. Paying attention to these important and unique circumstances can help you get the most out of your motor. These factors can also help you understand why certain motor applications last longer than others.

Frequent Starts and Stops

Capacitor starts are engineered to deliver around 500,000 starts for a motor. In applications requiring consistent start and stop operation, customers often run the risk of capacitor failure. The good news? You can replace capacitors within the motor. However, the motor will be inoperable until the you replace the capacitor. The number of across-the-line starts affects the life of a motor. Because of this, keep across-the-line starts to a minimum and do not exceed NEMA MG1-12.54 guidelines. Meeting the above conditions will help you estimate the insulation life of the motor with reasonable accuracy.

Motor Sizing

Motors of the incorrect size or type for their application will instinctively have shorter lives. This can create issues related to operational factors like torque, speed, and horsepower. These issues can lead the motor to run hotter or experience an overload. 

Radial (Overhung) and Axial (Thrust) Load

The force of the load imposed on the motor shaft determines the rigidness of the shaft and any impact it will have on the bearings. If your motor application has higher radial or axial load, you will need to size your bearings to compensate for the increased force.

Environment And Life Expectancy

A motor must be installed in an environment appropriate for the motor enclosure. Environmental factors (and how to mitigate them) include:

  • Ambient temperature: Keep between  0°C and 40°C.
  • Elevation: Install at 3300 feet or less.
  • Motor ventilation: Do not obstruct ventilation.
  • Mechanical shock and vibration: Keep to a minimal level.

Each environment, factory, and business is different. Insight on the following will allow you to consider whether you have the proper motor type or configuration for your operations.

Industry Needs

Depending on the industry, one motor could be operated in many configurations and scheduled cycles. Factors in different industries affect a motor's life. For example, farm and agriculture industry motors tend to turn over much faster than a standard garage door motor. That's because of increased dust, dirt, and moisture found on farms and agricultural locations.

Moisture Prone Environments

Not all motors are designed the same. Varying degrees of Ingress Protection (IP) ratings show how some motors are better suited for certain environments than others. Ensuring proper insulation and protection is essential to the longevity of any motor. Environments prone to moisture or humidity present the following issues that can lessen motor life:

  • Rust buildup within a motor can become a problem for the windings and rotor shaft. With enough buildup, a motor will eventually lock up. This will lead to some of the most integral components within the motor breaking.

  • Insulation breakdown caused by moisture can lead to a higher motor temperature. The disproportionate ratio between conductors and insulators causes increased temperatures. Motor heat not only has an impact on the internal windings and rotor but also the grease within the motor bearings. The warmer the motor runs, the faster grease in the pre-lubricated bearings tends to wear.

  • Electricity and water are a chaotic pairing. Hardly anything good comes out of their interaction (unless the motor is designed to operate in washdown environments). As a conductor of electricity, water creates several concerns. The danger presented by the combination is not just a concern for equipment, but more importantly, those working in the vicinity.


Airflow and cooling can help determine if a motor's internal components can operate in certain environments. Some motors can maintain their own cooling temperature regulation. Others will need to be placed within the airflow of an application. Considering features like enclosure design or insulation materials will give you an idea of where to place a motor.

Motor Operation

External factors may impact a motor's internal components. Yet, internal components will pose their own threats to motor longevity over time. Engineers have more confidence predicting life expectancy when a motor operates under ideal conditions. Here are the manufacturer-designed specifications engineers consider:

Bearing Maintenance

Bearings are arguably one of the most important components of a motor. Along with pre-lubricated grease, bearings play an important role in ensuring proper operation. Users need to:

  • Lubricate motor bearings per IOM published guidelines.
  • Keep water and contaminants to a minimum.
  • Control bearing loads to provide a minimum B-10 life of 25,000 hours.
  • Replace bearings periodically to prevent permanent motor damage.
  • Limit shaft voltages (caused by unbalanced line voltage or operation from inverter power) to 0.5 volts peak. .
    • Temperature and contaminants that get into the bearing will shorten grease life. Factors like motor environment play a huge role in how warm or cool the motor runs. These factors directly impact the efficiency of the grease.

    • Motor components are directly impacted when bearings begin to fail, making them a high-risk concern for the motor. Bearing failure will lead to issues like rotor strikes, shaft erosion and lockups. These issues will render the motor inoperable and lead to replacement.

Supply Voltage and Frequency

NEMA MG1-12.44.1 stipulates that motors must tolerate +-10% voltage variation and +-5% frequency variation. However, users should operate a motor at nameplate voltage and frequency for optimum life.

    • Supply source voltage waveforms should be sinusoidal, balanced within 1%, per NEMA MG1-12.45, with rising times greater than 2 milliseconds and contain less than 2% total harmonic voltage distortion (typical of ‘clean’ utility power). This reduces turn-to-turn, coil-to-coil, and phase-to-ground voltage stress and prolongs motor insulation life. Equip hard-switching solid-state inverters with output-side inductive filters with >5% impedance. This will provide a comparable waveform..

Service Factor

Just because a motor lists a certain horsepower (HP) doesn’t mean it only operates within that specific HP. Specifications like service factor (SF) indicate the range and maximum limit a motor can tolerate. For example, a 2 HP motor that has a service factor of 1.5 is technically capable of operating at 3 HP (2 HP x 1.5 SF = 3 THP). Yet, that doesn’t mean the motor should operate at a 3HP capacity. Doing so places more stress on the motor than it was designed to tolerate. In turn, this will reduce the motor's lifetime compared to if it had been running at 2 HP.

Resources to Help Predict Life Expectancy

To predict the most accurate life expectancy, ensure your motor meets the demands of the environment and application it’s powering. Engineers can only consider so many specific or definite purpose applications when designing motors without custom designing motors for every niche application. 

You can find information on getting the most out of your motor by reviewing a motor's nameplate or supplied operation manual. You can also check out a product listing on Regalrexnord.com for resources to get the best output of your motor. For all inquiries into motor life expectancy, finding a solution that meets your application and industry needs, and how to get the most out of your motor, Contact Our Experts below.

Talk to one of our expert sales professionals about how our solutions can efficiently power your business.

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