Basic Properties,Terminology and Theory
What is an AC Drive?
An AC Drive is an electronic device that converts a fixed frequency and voltage to an adjustable
frequency and AC voltage source. It controls the speed, torque, horsepower and direction of an AC
motor. AC Drive is also a term used for an AC inverter and is sometimes used to describe a particular
section of an AC drive. The section uses the DC voltage from a previous circuit stage (DC Bus) to produce
an AC current or voltage having the desired frequency.
AC Drives are also referred to as Variable Frequency Drives (VFD's)
or Adjustable Speed Drives (ASD's). These drives are gaining in
popularity due to the energy savings that can be obtained related
to the AC technology. In addition, AC motors are simpler than DC
and usually an "off-the-shelf" item compared to DC motors.
Advances in technology have made the size, cost, reliability and
performance of AC drives very appealing in industrial variable speed
The AC Drive system is very simple. It consists of three components:
AC Motor - Usually NEMA Design B, squirrel cage induction, 3-phase motor
Motor Control Section (also called Inverter section)
The operator control allows the operator to command the motor to function as desired through the use
of motor control inputs and outputs.
The motor control section controls the motor's speed by converting utility power into adjustable
The AC motor drives the device (fan, pump, etc.) by converting the electrical power to mechanical
AC Drives convert a fixed, 3 phase voltage and 60Hz frequency source into a variable voltage and
frequency source. In order to control the speed of the motor, the frequency applied to the motor must
also be controlled. The formula for this is N=120 x F/P. N=Speed in RPM, F=Frequency in Hz, and
P=Number of pole pairs.
Since the number of poles is relatively constant, the only convenient factor to vary is the frequency.
Frequency determines motor speed. However, the motor needs to supply rated torque, no matter what
the speed is.
In order for rated torque to occur, it is necessary to keep the voltage and frequency in a constant
relationship. This is called the Volts per Hertz relationship and is in the following proportions:
230 VAC Input: 230V/60Hz = 3.83V/1Hz
460 VAC Input: 460V/60Hz=7.67V/1Hz
As seen in the proportions, there is a specific voltage to frequency relationship that exists in an AC
motor. With this relationship supplied to the motor, the motor will be able to develop rated torque at all
speeds. There is one exception - low speed operation.
At low speeds, the stator losses tend to rob the motor of its full torque producing capability. In order for
the motor to compensate for this problem, additional voltage must be supplied by the drive.
AC Drive Advantages:
Versatile - more than motor control, this device has self-diagnostics, current status, multi-use
programmability, and precise speed control
Energy Savings - reduces peak energy demands by ramping up power drawn from the motor &
maximizes energy put through the unit
Performance - simple operation, fast motor load change response (small setpoint for precise
Reliability - solid-state unit, no external controls
Size - lighter and smaller than most other methods of speed control
AC Drive Applications:
Conveyors, belts, chains, screws, bulk/packaged material handlers
Fans, blowers, compressors, pumps
Machine tools, grinders, lathes, stamping presses
Custom machines, labelers, bottle washers, wire drawing, textiles, etc.
Extruders, process machinery, kilns, grinders, blenders, agitators
AC Drives are available 110, 240, 480 and 575 voltages, and .25-500 HP in continuous or variable torque
styles. Select from a variety of NEMA types to fit your application.
Find more information on AC Drives at the Galco Industrial Electronics website