Electronically commutated motors (ECM) revolutionized the motor market when they hit the shelf in 1987. Thanks to Genteq, industries such as commercial HVAC/R found a new alternative to the standard induction motor using permanent magnet technology. That means more applications saw greater control over the output and performance of their motors. With that control came greater energy and cost savings.
Now, the origin of ECM technology sounds great, but what actually is an ECM motor and why do we still care about them in the market?
What is an ECM Motor?
First and foremost, ECM motors are permanent magnet motors, but that doesn’t mean all permanent magnet motors are ECM motors…
We start to see a divide in the two motor types in terms of control. ECM motors have an integrated control that converts AC line voltage to a DC bus voltage and then inverts that DC bus voltage back into a simulated AC signal. The motor control is typically pre-programmed to meet specific outputs and performance criteria. For instance, it may be set to regulate and modify operations to ensure either consistent torque or consistent speed in an application.
For example, if the microprocessor is programmed around speed and airflow, the speed of the motor will fluctuate and adapt to meet the load demands. This situational adaption leads to energy-saving opportunities.
Why Do We Still Care?
Over the last 30 years, this “newer” technology has shifted from commercial furnaces and leveraged affinity laws to break into a range of air moving and pump applications. So what’s the big deal with these motors?
Well, for starters ECM motors running variable speed typically see an average 25-30% energy savings* increase when set against a comparable standard induction model.
Not to mention, using an integrated ECM package eliminates complexity of a separate VFD and can help make it easier to implement the motor into applications.
Yes, the energy savings and efficiencies are a significant value proposition for ECM motors, but they’re not the only spotlight feature to mention. Enhanced magnetic flux translates to a more power-dense motor, reducing not only losses but motor footprint as well.
Impact of ECM Motors on the Market
Since starting as residential furnace motors, ECM motors have been adopted into commercial ventilation and pump applications as these spaces have more exposure to variable speed and variable torque conditions.
An obstacle for ECM technology is penetrating other markets and industries to adopt the technology. As efficiency regulations continue to standardize and become more strict, and as IoT grows, there will be more applications that can be fulfilled using permanent magnet technology. ECM motors already fulfill requirements around energy efficiencies that are being developed so in many ways they raise the bar for what we expect of motor output.
What is the Future of ECM Technology?
The Internet of Things (IoT) continues to evolve and find home in more commercial and industrial applications with ECM motors as the latest to step foot into the game. There’s an evolving push for IoT-ready products that communicate, analyze trends, predict maintenance, and identify cost-saving opportunities in applications. With valuable information broadcast from these motors, there is huge potential around monitoring conditions that impact motor efficiency.
As the world continues focus on clean energy, ECM technology is again brought into the conversation. Thanks to reduced footprint and efficiencies, there is tremendous opportunity within the fan and pump markets and other untapped markets to adopt.
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