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The noise of variable frequency drive fed motors

The rotating electrical machines have basically three noise sources:
  • The ventilation system
  • The rolling bearings
  • Electromagnetic excitation
Bearings in perfect conditions produce practically despicable noise, in comparison with other sources of the noise emitted by the motor.

In motors fed by sinusoidal supply, especially those with reduced pole numbers (higher speeds), the main source of noise is the ventilation system. On the other hand, in motors of higher polarities and lower operation speeds often stands out the electromagnetic noise.

However, in variable frequency drive (VFD) systems, especially at low operating speeds when ventilation is reduced, the electromagnetically excited noise can be the main source of noise whatever the motor polarity, owing to the harmonic content of the voltage.
Higher switching frequencies tend to reduce the magnetically excited noise of the motor.

Criteria regarding the noise emitted by motors on variable frequency drive applications
Results of laboratory tests (4 point measurements accomplished in semi-anechoic acoustic chamber with the variable frequency drive out of the room) realized with several motors and variable frequency drives using different switching frequencies have shown that the three phase induction motors, when fed by VFDs and operating at base speed (typically 50 or 60 Hz), present and increment on the sound pressure level of 11 dB(A) at most.

Considerations about the noise of variable frequency drive fed motors
  • NEMA MG1 Part 30 – the sound level is dependent upon the construction of the motor, the number of poles, the pulse pattern and pulse frequency, and the fundamental frequency and resulting speed of the motor. The response frequencies of the driven equipment should also be considered. Sound levels produced thus will be higher than published values when operated above rated speed. At certain frequencies mechanical resonance or magnetic noise may cause a significant increase in sound levels, while a change in frequency and/or voltage may reduce the sound level. Experience has shown that (...) an increase of up to 5 to 15 dB(A) can occur at rated frequency in the case when motors are used with PWM controls. For other frequencies the noise levels may be higher.
  • IEC 60034-17 – due to harmonics the excitation mechanism for magnetic noise becomes more complex than for operation on a sinusoidal supply. (...) In particular, resonance may occur at some points in the speed range. (...) According to experience the increase at constant flux is likely to be in the range 1 to 15 dB(A).
  • IEC 60034-25 – the variable frequency drive and its function creates three variables which directly affect emitted noise: changes in rotational speed, which influence bearings and lubrication, ventilation and any other features that are affected by temperature changes; motor power supply frequency and harmonic content which have a large effect on the magnetic noise excited in the stator core and, to a lesser extent, on the bearing noise; and torsional oscillations due to the interaction of waves of different frequencies of the magnetic field in the motor air gap. (...) The increment of noise of motors supplied from PWM controlled variable frequency drives compared with the same motor supplied from a sinusoidal supply is relatively small (a few dB(A) only) when the switching frequency is above about 3 kHz. For lower switching frequencies, the noise increase may be tremendous (up to 15 dB(A) by experience). In some circumstances, it may be necessary to create "skip bands" in the operating speed range in order to avoid specific resonance conditions due to the fundamental frequency.

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