Why is My 3 Phase AC Motor Making Noise?

Why is My 3 Phase AC Motor Making Noise?
Kaman Distribution Contributor
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In preparation for this, my first-ever blog post, I had to switch my conventional way of thinking as a technical support specialist from asking questions in a logical and methodical manner to pinpoint and eliminate the root cause of an issue. Here, I am asked to present possible causes of a generalized hypothetical problem, a fundamentally different approach.

Some ground rules: I will assume the motor is operated within the nameplate rating; limit the discussion to 3 phase AC induction motors; and concentrate on motor generated noises, not on noises that are being “referred” or “transmitted” back to the motor from a mechanical issue located elsewhere. Having said this, properly designed, installed and maintained motors will perform trouble-free for many years. Motor noises often indicate malfunctions in the driven machinery. Therefore, motor troubleshooting involves the entire system, not just the motor. So please, thoroughly check out all possible external mechanical issues before looking into the motor itself.

Once we have determined the noise is not being “referred” or “transmitted” back to the motor from a mechanical issue, we can begin looking at motor issues. Motor bearing failures are time and time again the primary cause of failures, followed by fan blade interference which is fairly easy to detect. Other than these 2 issues, motors are very robust and failures will be rare. If a motor noise is not corrected the overall system performance will suffer, the noise will get progressively worse, and the motor will eventually fail.

After querying many colleagues who “live” in the motor Variable Frequency Drive (VFD) world, I have only been able to uncover a few such situations. All of them have been related to VFD applications.

In rare situations a motor will exhibit unusual noises but only in a certain carrier frequency range. Most modern VFD’s will allow you to configure a “skip” to eliminate this range.

Often a VFD is used in conjunction with an encoder to create a closed loop. This loop calculates an error value as the difference between the encoder feedback and the desired set-point. The response of this loop is controlled by a Proportional-Integral-Derivative (PID) loop located in the VFD. If the PID loop is tuned too tight, any little change in speed reference or load may cause the motor to oscillate creating a mechanical sounding noise in the motor.

I have uncovered one instance where the firing angle of the Insulated Gate Bipolar Transistors (IGBT) in the VFD were not synchronized correctly, again causing a mechanical sound in the motor. After an exhaustive troubleshooting session left the technician baffled, he finally contacted the VFD’s engineering support team to resolve the issue. The support team determined that the VFD needed replacing and the technician did not have the tools to diagnose such a problem on his own.

So, we have come full circle back to bearings. Just a closing note here: if you are using a VFD consider using a ‘Shaft Grounding Ring’ to mitigate Electrical Discharge Machining (EDM) damage.

Estimated Reading Time: 2 minutes

6 Replies to “Why is My 3 Phase AC Motor Making Noise?”

  1. Colin stafford says:

    I am working on a 150hp, 600v 3phase TEFC motor which produces a high pitched warbling sound, definately frequency related. The noise is only produced when unloaded. When under load sound goes away entirely. There are no mechanical problems or vibrations. The bearings are all in good condition and the machine is properly maintained. The noise it produces is extremely loud and can be heard throughout the building. The motor is not connected to a VFD. Any idea what may be causing the sound?


  2. Awesome post and issues discussed here. The noise which comes from ac motor do influence all people and we have faced that problem in some part of our life. This will be helpful and surely with guide many people. Very interesting and worth reading post!

  3. John S says:

    A 600 hp, 3-phase, TEFC, Electric motor rotating at 3580 rpm is making a screeching noise with spikes in 1/3rd Oct band analysis at 2000, 4000, and 6300 Hz. Is this a failed bearing?

    1. Ahad Dehghani says:

      John, it looks you have a bearing problem. To be sure about it if you have any VFD connected to the motor just lower the speed and see if sound goes lower or not. If so then your problem is from bearings.

  4. Rlsignore69@gmail.com says:

    I have a us motor 7.5 hp 3 phase one of my leads are only showing 138v and motor is humming not operating it is powered by a cutler hammer control i know obviously one phase is low but why can it be this ch control?

    1. Ahad Dehghani says:

      Whats your motor’s nominal operating voltage? 138 V looks too high for a motor with 220v nominal supply voltage. Check for your voltage line break as well. If you have lost one of your wire connections motor works under 2 phase which it’s not enough to run the motor and that’s why you hear that sound and your motor cannot start.

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