Shaft Currents in Motors and Generators

The magnetic field in a motor or a generator is ideally conducted along paths that are symmetrical. However, sometimes the magnetic fields within an electric machine such as a motor or a generator is asymmetrical. This asymmetry can be caused usually by variation in the quality of the steel used in the motor construction or in some cases to shaft eccentricity.

These asymmetrical magnetic fields which are varying over time can induce currents in the shaft of the motor or generator. These currents which are induced in the shaft tend to flow from one end of the shaft to the other through the bearings and then through the earth.

When these currents flow through the bearings, the tend to cause arcing and consequent pitting in the bearings. This can lead to failure of the bearings.

Shaft currents can be prevented by insulating one of the bearings. A Teflon layer is usually placed between the shell of the bearing and the bearing housing. This ensures that the shaft voltage induced does not have a return path. This prevents shaft currents from flowing.