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Home / Technical Articles / Major difference between a 2-phase and a 3-phase stator

Rotor Behavior In a Rotating field

For purposes of explaining rotor movement, let’s assume that we can place a bar magnet in the center of the stator diagrams of figure 0. We’ll mount this magnet so that it is free to rotate in this area.

What is the major difference between a two-phase and a three-phase stator?
What is the major difference between a two-phase and a three-phase stator?

Let’s also assume that the bar magnet is aligned so that at point 1 its south pole is opposite the large N of the stator field.

You can see that this alignment is natural. Unlike poles attract, and the two fields are aligned so that they are attracting. Now, go from point 1 through point 7. As before, the stator field rotates clockwise. The bar magnet, free to move, will follow the stator field, because the attraction between the two fields continues to exist. A shaft running through the pivot point of the bar magnet would rotate at the same speed as the rotating field.

This speed is known as synchronous speed. The shaft represents the shaft of an operating motor to which the load is attached.

Figure 0. - Three-phase rotating-field polarities and input voltages
Figure 0. – Three-phase rotating-field polarities and input voltages

Remember, this explanation is an oversimplification. It is meant to show how a rotating field can cause mechanical rotation of a shaft. Such an arrangement would work, but it is not used. There are limitations to a permanent magnet rotor.

Practical motors use other methods, as we shall see in the next paragraphs.

Synchronous Motors

The construction of the synchronous motors is essentially the same as the construction of the salient-pole alternator. In fact, such an alternator may be run as an ac motor.

It is similar to the drawing in figure 2. Synchronous motors have the characteristic of constant speed between no load and full load. They are capable of correcting the low power factor of an inductive load when they are operated under certain conditions. They are often used to drive dc generators. Synchronous motors are designed in sizes up to thousands of horsepower. They may be designed as either single-phase or multiphase machines.

The discussion that follows is based on a three-phase design.

Figure 1. - Revolving-field synchronous motor.
Figure 1. – Revolving-field synchronous motor.

To understand how the synchronous motor works, assume that the application of three-phase ac power to the stator causes a rotating magnetic field to be set up around the rotor. The rotor is energized with dc (it acts like a bar magnet). The strong rotating magnetic field attracts the strong rotor field activated by the dc. This results in a strong turning force on the rotor shaft. The rotor is therefore able to turn a load as it rotates in step with the rotating magnetic field.

It works this way once it’s started. However, one of the disadvantages of a synchronous motor is that it cannot be started from a standstill by applying three-phase ac power to the stator. When ac is applied to the stator, a high-speed rotating magnetic field appears immediately. This rotating field rushes past the rotor poles so quickly that the rotor does not have a chance to get started. In effect, the rotor is repelled first in one direction and then the other.

A synchronous motor in its purest form has no starting torque. It has torque only when it is running at synchronous speed.

A squirrel-cage type of winding is added to the rotor of a synchronous motor to cause it to start. The squirrel cage is shown as the outer part of the rotor in figure 2. It is so named because it is shaped and looks something like a turnable squirrel cage. Simply, the windings are heavy copper bars shorted together by copper rings. A low voltage is induced in these shorted windings by the rotating three-phase stator field. Because of the short circuit, a relatively large current flows in the squirrel cage. This causes a magnetic field that interacts with the rotating field of the stator.

Because of the interaction, the rotor begins to turn, following the stator field; the motor starts. We will run into squirrel cages again in other applications, where they will be covered in more detail.

Figure 2. - Self-starting synchronous ac motor
Figure 2. – Self-starting synchronous ac motor

To start a practical synchronous motor, the stator is energized, but the dc supply to the rotor field is not energized. The squirrel-cage windings bring the rotor to near synchronous speed. At that point, the dc field is energized. This locks the rotor in step with the rotating stator field. Full torque is developed, and the load is driven. A mechanical switching device that operates on centrifugal force is often used to apply dc to the rotor as synchronous speed is reached.

The practical synchronous motor has the disadvantage of requiring a dc exciter voltage for the rotor. This voltage may be obtained either externally or internally, depending on the design of the motor.

SOURCE: Introduction to Motor and Generator

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Edvard Csanyi

Electrical engineer, programmer and founder of EEP. Highly specialized for design of LV/MV switchgears and LV high power busbar trunking (<6300A) in power substations, commercial buildings and industry facilities. Professional in AutoCAD programming.


  1. wes holcomb
    Nov 21, 2017

    can you explain the difference between single phase, two phase, three phase motors. maybe explaining what phase itself means would help me understand. talk in simple words that are understandable for todays teaching. phase one is this, phase two is this, phase three is this. I have tried to read up on some of this, but no one that I find has actually explained the difference. thanks wes.

    • brian sheehy
      Feb 26, 2021


    May 26, 2017

    sorry but i would love to know what make 3 fhase different i know there is one ground
    and one hot or 120 volt on single phase .
    ps WOULD PLEASE SHOW THIS one lost mechanic
    GOD BLESS YOU . it just a big black spot up stares for me.

  3. Jatson. t .james
    Dec 07, 2013

    1.will the three phase motor work without motor,how? there any risk in safety?

  4. a.sravani
    Mar 09, 2013

    when the induction motor is at standstill

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