Theory of Operation
In the study of alternating current, basic generator principles were introduced to explain the generation of an AC voltage by a coil rotating in a magnetic field. Since this is the basis for all generator operation, it is necessary to review the principles of generation of electrical energy.
When lines of magnetic force are cut by a conductor passing through them, voltage is induced in the conductor. The strength of the induced voltage is dependent upon the speed of the conductor and the strength of the magnetic field. If the ends of the conductor are connected to form a complete circuit, a current is induced in the conductor. The conductor and the magnetic field make up an elementary generator.
This simple generator is illustrated in Figure 12-269, together with the components of an external generator circuit which collect and use the energy produced by the simple generator. The loop of wire [Figure 12-269A and B] is arranged to rotate in a magnetic field.
When the plane of the loop of wire is parallel to the magnetic lines of force, the voltage induced in the loop causes a current to flow in the direction indicated by the arrows in Figure 12-269. The voltage induced at this position is maximum, since the wires are cutting the lines of force at right angles, thus cutting more lines of force per second than in any other position relative to the magnetic field. As the loop approaches the vertical position shown in Figure 12-270, the induced voltage decreases because both sides of the loop (A and B) are approximately parallel to the lines of force and the rate of cutting is reduced.
When the loop is vertical, no lines of force are cut since the wires are momentarily traveling parallel to the magnetic lines of force, and there is no induced voltage. As the rotation of the loop continues, the number of lines of force cut increases until the loop has rotated an additional 90° to a horizontal plane. As shown in Figure 12-271, the number of lines of force cut and the induced voltage once again are maximum.
The direction of cutting, however, is in the opposite direction to that occurring in Figures 12-269 and 12-270, so the direction (polarity) of the induced voltage is reversed. As rotation of the loop continues, the number of lines of force having been cut again decreases, and the induced voltage becomes zero at the position shown in Figure 12-272, since the wires A and B are again parallel to the magnetic lines of force.
If the voltage induced throughout the entire 360° of rotation is plotted, the curve shown in Figure 12-273 results. This voltage is called an alternating voltage because of its reversal from positive to negative value—first in one direction and then in the other.
To use the voltage generated in the loop for producing a current flow in an external circuit, some means must be provided to connect the loop of wire in series with the external circuit. Such an electrical connection can be effected by opening the loop of wire and connecting its two ends to two metal rings, called slip rings, against which two metal or carbon brushes ride. The brushes are connected to the external circuit. By replacing the slip rings of the basic AC generator with two half cylinders, called a commutator, a basic DC generator is obtained. [Figure 12-274]
In this illustration, the black side of the coil is connected to the black segment, and the white side of the coil to the white segment. The segments are insulated from each other. The two stationary brushes are placed on opposite sides of the commutator and are so mounted that each brush contacts each segment of the commutator as the latter revolves simultaneously with the loop. The rotating parts of a DC generator (coil and commutator) are called an armature.
The generation of an emf by the loop rotating in the magnetic field is the same for both AC and DC generators, but the action of the commutator produces a DC voltage.
Generation of a DC Voltage
Figure 12-275 illustrates in an elementary, step-by-step manner, how a DC voltage is generated. This is accomplished by showing a single wire loop rotating through a series of positions within a magnetic field.
The loop starts in position A and is rotating clockwise. However, no lines of force are cut by the coil sides, which means that no emf is generated. The black brush is shown coming into contact with the black segment of the commutator, and the white brush is just coming into contact with the white segment.
In position B, the flux is now being cut at a maximum rate, which means that the induced emf is maximum. At this time, the black brush is contacting the black segment, and the white brush is contacting the white segment. The deflection of the meter is toward the right, indicating the polarity of the output voltage.
At position C, the loop has completed 180° of rotation. Like position A, no flux lines are being cut and the output voltage is zero. The important condition to observe at position C is the action of the segments and brushes. The black brush at the 180° angle is contacting both black and white segments on one side of the commutator, and the white brush is contacting both segments on the other side of the commutator. After the loop rotates slightly past the 180° point, the black brush is contacting only the white segment, and the white brush is contacting only the black segment.
Because of this switching of commutator elements, the black brush is always in contact with the coil side moving downward, and the white brush is always in contact with the coil side moving upward. Though the current actually reverses its direction in the loop in exactly the same way as in the AC generator, commutator action causes the current to flow always in the same direction through the external circuit or meter.
At position D, commutator action reverses the current in the external circuit, and the second half cycle has the same waveform as the first half cycle. The process of commutation is sometimes called rectification, since rectification is the converting of AC voltage to DC voltage.
The Neutral Plane
At the instant that each brush is contacting two segments on the commutator [Figure 12-275A, C, and E], a direct short circuit is produced. If an emf were generated in the loop at this time, a high current would flow in the circuit, causing an arc and thus damaging the commutator. For this reason, the brushes must be placed in the exact position where the short occurs when the generated emf is zero. This position is called the neutral plane. If the brushes are installed properly, no sparking occurs between the brushes and the commutator. Sparking is an indication of improper brush placement, which is the main cause of improper commutation.
The voltage generated by the basic DC generator in Figure 12-275 varies from zero to its maximum value twice for each revolution of the loop. This variation of DC voltage is called “ripple,” and may be reduced by using more loops, or coils, as shown in Figure 12-276A. As the number of loops is increased, the variation between maximum and minimum values of voltage is reduced [Figure 12-276B], and the output voltage of the generator approaches a steady DC value.
In Figure 12-276A, the number of commutator segments is increased in direct proportion to the number of loops; that is, there are two segments for one loop, four segments for two loops, and eight segments for four loops.
The voltage induced in a single turn loop is small. Increasing the number of loops does not increase the maximum value of generated voltage, but increasing the number of turns in each loop increases this value. Within narrow limits, the output voltage of a DC generator is determined by the product of the number of turns per loop, the total flux per pair of poles in the machine, and the speed of rotation of the armature.
An AC generator, or alternator, and a DC generator are identical as far as the method of generating voltage in the rotating loop is concerned. However, if the current is taken from the loop by slip rings, it is an alternating current, and the generator is called an AC generator, or alternator. If the current is collected by a commutator, it is direct current, and the generator is called a DC generator.