Posts Tagged ‘emergency stop button’

Industrial Control Basics – Motor Overload

Sunday, March 4th, 2012

     Last summer my wife and I did a lot of work in the garden.  Many holes were dug, bags of garden soil lifted, and plants planted.  It’s a new garden, and my wife has very big plans for it, so needless to say there was a lot of work to be done.  On more than one occasion we would end the day moaning about our body aches and how we had overdone it.  The next day we would hurt even worse, and we’d end up taking time off to recuperate.  Pain is your body’s way of telling you that it needs attention, and you’d better listen to it or you may have an even heavier price to pay down the road. 

      Electric motors can get overworked, just like our bodies.  Motors are often placed into situations where they are expected to perform tasks beyond their capability.  Sometimes this happens through poor planning, sometimes due to wishful thinking on the user’s part.  Motors can sustain damage when stressed in this way, but they don’t have a pain system to tell them to stop.  Instead, motors benefit by a specific type of electric relay known as an overload relay.  But before we get into how an overload relay works, let’s get a better understanding of how overloads happen.

     Suppose we’re back in the telephone factory discussed in previous blogs, watching a conveyor belt move phones through the manufacturing process.  An electric motor drives the conveyor belt by converting electrical energy into mechanical energy.  Everything is moving along normally when all of a sudden a machine malfunctions.  Telephones start piling up on a belt, and the pile up gets so bad the belt eventually gets jammed and its motor overloaded.  If the electricity flow to the motor isn’t shut down promptly by means of a nearby emergency stop button or an astute operator sitting in central control, then an even bigger problem is in the making, that of a potential fire. 

     When electricity is applied to motors they begin to operate, and their natural tendency is to want to keep operating.  They do so by continuously drawing energy from the electric current being supplied to them.  The greater the workload demand on the motor, the more current it requires to operate. 

     When motors become overloaded as in the scenario presented above, they continue to draw energy unless forced to a stop.  The result is an overabundance of current flowing through the motor and no outlet for its task of converting electrical energy into mechanical energy.  And where is all that pent up energy to go?  It becomes heat energy trapped inside the motor itself, and this heat can build up to the point where the motor becomes damaged or even bursts into flames.

     Next time we’ll look at how overload relays work to keep electric motors from overheating, just as our body’s pain sensors protect us from overdoing it. 



Industrial Control Basics – Emergency Stops

Sunday, February 26th, 2012
     Ever been in the basement when you heard a loud thud followed by a scream by a family member upstairs?  You run up the stairs to see what manner of calamity has happened, the climb seeming to take an eternity.  Imagine a similar scenario taking place in an industrial setting, where distances to be covered are potentially far greater and the dangerous scenarios numerous.

     Suppose an employee working near a conveyor system notices that a coworker’s gotten caught in the mechanism.  The conveyor has to be shut down fast, but the button to stop the line is located far away in the central control room.  This is when emergency stop buttons come to the rescue, like the colorful example shown in Figure 1.

emergency stop pushbutton

Figure 1


     Emergency stop buttons are mounted near potentially dangerous equipment in industrial settings, allowing workers in the area to quickly de-energize equipment should a dangerous situation arise.  These buttons are typically much larger than your standard operational button, and they tend to be very brightly colored, making them stick out like a sore thumb.  This type of notoriety is desirable when a high stress situation requiring immediate attention takes place.  They’re easy to spot, and their shape makes them easy to activate with the smack of a nearby hand, broom, or whatever else is convenient. 

     Figure 2 shows how an emergency stop button can be incorporated into a typical motor control circuit such as the one we’ve been working with in previous articles.

emergency stop button in motor control circuit

Figure 2


     An emergency stop button has been incorporated into the circuit in Figure 2.  It depicts what happens when someone depresses Button 1 on the conveyor control panel.  The N.C. contact opens, and the two N.O. contacts close.  The motor starts, and the lit green bulb indicates it is running.  The electric relay is latched because its wire coil remains energized through one N.O. contact.  It will only become unlatched when the flow of current is interrupted to the wire coil, as is outlined in the following paragraph.  The red lines denote areas with current flowing through them.

     Both Button 2 and the emergency stop button typically reside in normally closed positions.  As such electricity will flow through them on a continuous basis, so long as neither one of them is re-engaged.  If either of them becomes engaged, the same outcome will result, an interruption in current on the line.  The relay wire coil will then become de-energized and the N.O. contacts will stay open, preventing the wire coil from becoming energized again after Button 2 or the emergency stop are disengaged.  Under these conditions the conveyor motor stops, the green indicator bulb goes dark, the N.C. contact closes, and the red light comes on, indicating that the motor is not running.  This sequence, as it results from hitting the emergency stop button, is illustrated in Figure 3.

emergency stop button unlatches electric relay

Figure 3


     We now have the means to manually control the conveyor from a convenient, at-the-site-of-occurrence location, which allows for a quick shut down of operations should the need arise.

     So what if something else happens, like the conveyor motor overheats and catches on fire and no one is around to notice and hit the emergency stop?  Unfortunately, in our circuit as illustrated thus far the line will continue to operate and the motor will continue to run unless we incorporate an additional safeguard, the motor overload relay.  We’ll see how that’s done next time.