Dave (Wisconsin) WilsonNext to the wheel, the electric motor is arguably the most significant object ever invented by man. Just try to find any other invention that affects our lives as much as the electric motor. Its impact can be traced back to the early 19th century, where electric motors served as the heart of the mighty electrical machines that drove the industrial revolution. And today, they're everywhere! To illustrate this, one evening as my family was sitting around the table finishing dinner, I suggested that we have a little fun and all go around the house to count up how many electric motors we could find! After a little coaxing, they reluctantly agreed to play dad's little game. Not counting the motors in our cars, or the ones in my home lab, we counted 113 motors! In fact, there are 5 motors in the laptop that I am using to write this blog with!

When you consider the contribution of electric motors to our way of life, I thought it only fitting to devote a blog topic to the biggest, baddest, largest, most powerful, smallest, oldest, fastest, and youngest motors in the world. But in order to make this topic work, we need to agree on a definition of what is an electric motor:

electric motor: n. A device capable of transducing electrical energy into continuous steady-state mechanical motion, and vice versa, using magnetic flux as the intermediate energy storage medium.

This may seem like a rather broad definition, but it actually eliminates solenoids, relays, speakers, microphones, as well as piezoelectric, electrostatic, and molecular motors. In other words, we will only think of motors in the truly classical sense. So, using this definition, let's have some fun! I did some research on the web, and here is what I found: 

    • 1. What is the BIGGEST electric motor in the world?

This is actually a trick question. HINT: Think of "biggest" in terms of size, not power.

You can find the answer here

    • 2. What is the MOST POWERFUL electric motor in the world?

Again, somewhat of a trick question. HINT: focus on the "vice versa" part of my definition above.

You can find the answer here. Go to page 6, and read about the installation at Flamanville, France. 1.75 Giga-watts! WOW! 

    • 3. What is the MOST POWERFUL electric motor in the world that is not used as a generator?

HINT: "Houston, we have a problem."

You can find out by clicking here. I think it's even MORE amazing that this motor is driven by an INVERTER! 

    • 4. What is the SMALLEST motor in the world?

Again, I have eliminated molecular motors and electrostatic motors. We are only talking about motors that run on good old-fashioned magnetic flux. You can see a picture and find out more information by clicking here. This motor actually fits into a space no larger than one cubic mm! 

    • 5. What is the OLDEST motor in the world?

The answer may surprise you. It's NOT the brush DC motor! Technically, it is a non-commutated brushless DC motor. If not for my stipulation of "continuous" motion, the honor would go to Hans Christian Oersted, who in 1820, demonstrated he could rotate a compass "rotor" with a single loop of wire carrying current (stator). But instead, we generally attribute Michael Faraday with the invention of the electric motor, barely one year later. He was actually able to achieve continuous rotation with his motor. You can see an animation of his crude motor here (make sure Java scripting is enabled in your browser). You can build your own Faraday motor with only a AA battery, a piece of wire, a screw, and a magnet! Click here to see a fascinating demonstration of how to do this. 

    • 6. What is the FASTEST motor in the world?

HINT: This motor really sucks.

You can find the answer here. By the way, I seem to recall hearing about motors that are faster than this, but I can't find any supporting documentation to prove it. If you know of a faster motor, please reply and let me know. 

    • 7. What is the YOUNGEST motor in the world?

HINT: That's one small step for man...

ANSWER: In 1952, engineers at GE invented the PM Hybrid Stepper Motor. You can read more about the history of the stepper motor here

    • 8. I'll close with an easy one. Who is the NUMBER ONE SUPPLIER of semiconductors to the industrial market segment (including digital controllers for motor control) in the whole world?

HINT: Their initials are T.I. Don't believe me? Click here and here to see for yourself.

So now that you've met the "motors with the most", and the company that's driving the most motors, consider whether TI is right for YOUR motor. Find out more about TI's motor control solutions at our motor control homepage: the meantime, keep those motors spinning! :-)