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I have a small blower motor 120 v, 1.87 amps, and I want to make it variable speed. I hooked up a dimmer switch for a light bulb but it did not work very well. I went to a electronics store and they wanted to sell me a $150 item but could not tell me why the dimmer switch would not work. A friend told me I needed a variable resistor good for 0 to 3 amps not 0 to 15 like the one I am using. I have no idea. Can someone at least tell me why the dimmer switch doesn't work, in layman's terms?

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Tell us more about the blower motor. Does it have brushes? \$\endgroup\$ – HikeOnPast Aug 7 '12 at 1:48
  • \$\begingroup\$ This question is very similar to this one: electronics.stackexchange.com/questions/28692/… \$\endgroup\$ – madrivereric Aug 7 '12 at 2:00
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    \$\begingroup\$ Were they trying to sell you a VLT, a frequency converter? Those are expensive (but brilliant and really cool). You can vary all properties of the mains supply with them. For your application a simpler solution must be possible though. \$\endgroup\$ – jippie Aug 7 '12 at 20:31
  • \$\begingroup\$ I used a ceiling fan speed control to make my A/C fan variable. \$\endgroup\$ – user41451 May 7 '14 at 0:45
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For an electric motor to function, it has to alternate the voltage applied to its coils twice in each turn, so the electromagnetic force can produce a torque in the right direction always, given that half the time the magnet is behind the coil (and needs to be pulled), half the time ahead (and needs to be pushed).

There are two ways to do that alternation. For DC motors, you have to put some mechanism to do it; usually there's a set of brushes that touch the rotor to make electric contact, and the rotation itself makes the inversion happen (and there are brushless motors that use an electronic circuit to do the same thing). For AC motors, since the power source is itself alternating, you can rely on it to do that, and that's probably your case.

A dimmer with a variable resistor won't solve your problem because it'll reduce the output voltage, but not the AC frequency, the standard 60 Hz (50 Hz in Europe) the power grid provides, and the motor rotation is necessarily proportional to that frequency.

A more modern dimmer will cut the power periodically for a fraction of the time, using the same base frequency (thus 60 times a second). The more you turn its knob, the least the proportion of power mantained (and the least average voltage provided). But you still have 60 Hz, no matter what, and so your motor still won't be throttled down.

To control the speed of an AC motor you'll need something that can change the voltage AND the frequency provided to it, and that's a much more complex circuit.

What your friend mentioned is valid but is not the entire solution. It is true that you have a dimmer more powerful than you need; its maximum current needs to be higher than it's required by the motor (and with a good safety margin), but if it is, it doesn't matter if it's 50% higher or 200% higher. So a 15A dimmer has too much, unneeded current capacity. Nonetheless, it'll perform exactly as the one you have, and won't work either.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Does anyone still make dimmers based on resistors?? \$\endgroup\$ – HikeOnPast Aug 7 '12 at 1:48
  • \$\begingroup\$ From what he said, I understood his dimmer was one of them. But agreed, that's old stuff. \$\endgroup\$ – fceconel Aug 7 '12 at 3:59
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Dimmers are not reducing the voltage, they ignite triac (or ssr -solid state relay) (like an electric switch) at some point of the sine wave (60Hz). if they ignite at 0 deg. (beginning of the sine wave) the load will get the full power. if they ignite at 180 deg. , the load will get 0 power. at 90 deg. - half the power and so on. all the dimming will be in between the 0 to 180. the triac turn off when there is no current through it, so it have to get ignited in every cycle. you can't see that the light is off for a part of the period, but the average of the power (and the light intensity) is less. as said, motors are frequency dependent, and in order to slow it down you have to change the frequency. I think that there are limits on the high and low frequency that a motor can stand.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Triac based dimmers do reduce the RMS voltage at the load. When you say 'ignite' I think you mean 'trigger'. Please use proper capitalisation to make your answer more readable. \$\endgroup\$ – Transistor Dec 30 '15 at 12:52
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Your dimmer switch doesn't adjust the voltage; it adjusts the on-timing of the existing voltage. And your motor isn't controlled by voltage; it is controlled by the line frequency (assuming it is an induction motor).

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    \$\begingroup\$ Induction motors are controlled both by magnitude (Voltage) and frequency. The V/Hz ratio needs to be maintained if you want to achieve torque at speeds other than nameplate, and if you want to get torque at very low speeds you need to either use more complex control algorithms or boost the voltage higher than the V/Hz ratio suggests in order to provide enough magnetizing force to move the rotor. \$\endgroup\$ – akohlsmith Aug 7 '12 at 2:08

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