Posts Tagged ‘heater’

Industrial Control Basics – Motor Overload Relay In Action

Sunday, March 18th, 2012

    Last week we explored the topic of thermal expansion, and we learned how the bimetal contacts in a motor overload relay distort when heated.  We also discussed how the overload relay comes into play to prevent overheating in electric motor circuits.  Now let’s see what happens when an overload situation occurs.

motor overload relay

Figure 1


     Figure 1 shows a motor becoming overloaded, as it draws in abnormally high amounts of electric current.  Since this current also flows through the electric heater in the overload relay, the heater starts producing more heat than it would if the motor were running normally.  This abnormally high heat is directed towards the bimetal switch contacts, causing them to curl up tightly until they no longer touch each other and open up.  They will only close again when the overload condition is cleared up and the heater cools back down to normal operating temperature.

     Let’s now take a look at Figure 2 to see how the motor overload relay fits into our example of a conveyor belt motor control circuit.  Once again, the path of electric current flow is denoted by red lines.

motor overload relay

Figure 2


     The circuit in Figure 2 represents what happens after Button 1 is depressed.  That is, the electric relay has become latched and current flows between hot and neutral sides through one of the N.O. contacts along the path of the green indicator bulb, the motor overload relay heater, and the conveyor belt motor.  The current also flows through the other N.O. contact, the Emergency Stop button, Button 2, the electric relay’s wire coil, and the motor overload relay bimetal contacts.  The motor becomes overloaded, causing the overload relay heater to produce abnormally high heat.  This heat is directed towards the bimetal contacts, also causing them to heat up.

industrial control

Figure 3


     In Figure 3 the bimetal contacts have heated to the point that they have curled away from each other until they no longer touch.  With the bimetal contacts open, electric current is unable to flow through to the electric relay’s wire coil.  This in turn ends the magnetic attraction which formerly held the relay armatures against the N.O. contacts.  The spring in the electric relay has pulled the armatures up, causing the N.O. contacts to open, simultaneously closing the N.C. contact. 

     These actions have resulted in a loss of current to the green indicator bulb and electric motor.  The red indicator bulb is now activated, and the conveyor motor is caused to automatically shut down to prevent damage and possible fire due to overheating.  This means that even if the conveyor operator were to immediately press Button 1 in an attempt to restart the line, he would be prevented from doing so.  Under these conditions the electric relay is prevented from latching, and the motor remains shut down because the bimetal contacts have been separated, preventing current from flowing through to the wire coil. 

     The bimetal contacts will remain open until they once again cool to normal operating temperature.  Once cooled, they will once again close, and the motor can be restarted.  If the cause of the motor overload is not diagnosed and its ability to recur eliminated, the automatic shutdown process will repeat this cycle. 

     Next time we’ll see how the overload relay is represented in a ladder diagram.  We’ll also see how switches can be added to the circuit to allow maintenance staff to safely work.



Industrial Control Basics – Thermal Expansion Effect on Overload Relays

Sunday, March 11th, 2012
     Imagine driving on steel tires, not rubber.  Don’t think it would work too well?  On asphalt highways maybe not, but on the steel rails that steam locomotives travel upon, steel wheels work surprisingly well and it’s due in large part to the principles of thermal expansion and the different rates at which metal alloys expand and contract.  Allow me to explain by analyzing how a locomotive“tire” is changed.

     As you can imagine changing locomotive tires isn’t easy.  Firstly, locomotive shop mechanics have to actually build a fire around the steel tire to heat it up.  The intense heat causes its steel tire to thermally expand, meaning its steel molecules become energized by the heat and begin to vibrate.  This causes the molecules to move away from each other, and this results in the tire actually growing slightly in size.  This enlargement is just enough to enable mechanics to slip the tire back onto the locomotive’s wheel.  Now in place, the tire is allowed to cool back down to ambient air temperatures.  Cooling results in the tire’s steel molecules relaxing and moving closer to each other.  The tire shrinks back to its original preheated size and tightly wraps itself around the wheel. 

     Thermal expansion properties of metals comes into play in many other instances, including the workings of motor overload relays.  Please refer to Figure 1.

motor overload relay

Figure 1


     Here overload relay components are shown in the foreground box.  We see that the relay includes an electric heater and a set of two peculiar looking curved objects.  These are bimetal switch contacts, so named because each is made of two, that’s the “bi” part, metal strips with different thermal properties.  These strips are positioned back to back, then bonded together and curved into a shape resembling a question mark.

     Each of the two metals has different properties, namely, one expands at a faster rate and to a greater extent than the other when heated.  This differing rate of expansion is indicative of the two metals’ diverse thermal properties.  When the bimetal contact is exposed to heat, one metal strip wants to expand a lot, but it is bonded to the other metal strip which only wants to expand a little.  The end result is that their point of contact distorts and changes shape.  When allowed to cool back down, the metal strips contract and the contact point returns to its original shape.  In our next blog we’ll see how the contact shape changes and why this shape change is important.

     In Figure 1 the motor is running normally and there is no overload situation.  Under these conditions the motor draws electric current within the normal limits of its design.  That current also flows through the heater in the overload relay causing it to generate heat, but in this situation the heat change is small enough that it doesn’t affect the bimetal switch contacts and cause them to change shape.  The temperature at which the switch contacts will warp depends on the overall design of the overload relay as well as its application.

     Next time we’ll see what part a motor overload plays in conjunction with the overload relay’s heater and bimetal contacts.