Silence of the Drives

They’re great for saving energy and optimizing automation systems, but adjustable-speed drives (ASDs) inherently produce high-frequency electrical noise. Fast switching transistors producing large voltage changes in the drive’s power section are the prime source of electrical noise, also known as electromagnetic interference (EMI).


They’re great for saving energy and optimizing automation systems, but adjustable-speed drives (ASDs) inherently produce high-frequency electrical noise. Fast switching transistors producing large voltage changes in the drive’s power section are the prime source of electrical noise, also known as electromagnetic interference (EMI). EMI refers to any interference with normal operation of equipment (and drives) due to passage of abnormal energy along cable connections ( conducted noise ) or via radiated-wave reception ( radiated noise ). Conducted EMI has a spectrum from 150 kHz up to 30 MHz, while radiated EMI ranges from 30 MHz to 1 GHz. Though the focus here is on ac drives, dc drives also are affected. Radio-frequency interference (RFI) is an associated disturbance that affects communication equipment; it is generally considered a subset of EMI. While EMI/RFI frequencies are above the audible range, its effects may be heard on communications devices.

EMI must be mitigated in the design and installation of ASDs to prevent degraded performance or harm to the drive itself, as well as to limit propagation of interference to nearby equipment and facilities. Electromagnetic compatibility (EMC) is an overall approach that addresses EMI mitigation and immunity for electrical/electronic equipment. A holistic power drive system (PDS) solution that includes drives, motors, enclosures, and cabling is recommended in the main international EMC standard covering drives (IEC 61800-3).

An input EMI filter can dramatically reduce a drive's conducted EMI, as shown by tests at Yaskawa Electric America for a 0.7 kW drive running at

Suit the environment

Two drive installation environments are defined in IEC 61800-3. Residential areas (first environment) have stricter EMC requirements than industrial facilities (second environment). A PDS connected to a public low-voltage power network (first environment) requires EMI filters, notes Mark Kenyon, product marketing manager for low voltage drives at ABB Automation Inc. “It’s also recommended to use filters in industrial situations (second environment) if there are potential victims [susceptible equipment] in the neighborhood,” he says.

EMI filters attenuate conducted disturbances in a line-connecting-point by grounding the disturbances to earth. A standard feature on most new drives is a second environment EMI filter, using ferrite cores (or rings) and a resistance-capacitance (RC) network, says Kenyon. “Additional first environment filters installed internal or external to the drive are offered as options in some drives,” he says.

At Siemens Energy & Automation, EMI/RFI effects receive full attention during adjustable-speed drive development. Drives are tested in a sound chamber to ensure that electric noise emission to the environment is minimized and drives are unaffected by the environment, explains Wolfgang Hilmer, manager of drives technology. Testing focuses on the power module where fast-switching, insulated-gate bipolar transistors (IGBTs) that generate EMI are located.

Filtering is an important defense against EMI/RFI. An EMI filter is standard on Siemens drives to meet EMC for industrial applications. Smaller drives generally have a built-in EMI filter. “On larger drives, the filter often is a separate add-on unit. It traps electrical noise going out to the line,” says Hilmer.

Devil in the details

Reducing radiated disturbances can be a case of “the devil is in the details,” since various parts of the power drive system must be shielded against radiated emissions. Enclosures, cabling/wiring, and system installation receive prime attention. Provisions cited by ABB include use of:

  • Enclosures with unpainted, non-corroding surfaces at points where plates, doors, and other metal parts make contact, as well as conductive gaskets used in doors and covers;

  • Unpainted installation plates firmly bonded to a common ground point, which ensure all separate metal items have a single path to ground;

  • Special high-frequency (HF) cable entries for HF grounding of power cable shields;

  • Conductive gaskets for HF grounding of control cable shield;

  • Shielded power and control cables, each separately routed; and

  • Grounding of the entire PDS installation.

At Siemens, testing has found that grounding the drive enclosure is very important for controlling EMI, particularly for large, enclosed units. “A basic way to get rid of electrical noise is route it to ground via low resistance paths,” says Hilmer. “Moreover, metallic enclosures act like a screen, keeping noise down and welded-frame construction is basic to ensure a good conducting path.” There also should be a ground bus in the drive connected to the frame, presenting a low inductance path to ground for electrical noise.

Other basic EMC provisions cited by Hilmer include use of grounding straps between doors and the enclosure. The use of ground wire on its own is not sufficient because it offers a high-resistance path to electrical noise sources. “We use braided straps to ground doors to the frame. The large surface area can effectively conduct high-frequency noise,” he says.

All PDS elements—drive, motor, and cables—must be grounded. “The rest of the system is as important as the drive itself,” Hilmer adds. This includes detailed attention to drive installation to complement the manufacturer’s efforts to minimize EMI/RFI emission, he explains.

Standards view

Adjustable-speed drives must comply with EMC standards if used in Europe and elsewhere, but currently no U.S. standards exist that directly and completely cover EMC of drives. The applicable international standard, IEC 61800-3, specifies four EMI limit categories related to drive output and residential or industrial environment. It also covers test methods for ASDs. European standard EN 55011 covers similar requirements for industrial and scientific/medical RF equipment.

The closest related U.S. standard is Federal Communications Commission (FCC) rules and regulations, Part 15. “However, it exempts industrial equipment, such as drives, unless they cause objectionable interference, which then requires the drive manufacturer to fix the problem,” says ABB’s Kenyon.

Exempting drives from FCC Part 15 comes from a lack of testing procedure specified for use with drives. “It’s difficult to define a test to comply with the specification, as drives don’t have standard type or length of cable for supplying power to the motor,” Kenyon adds.

Another example of installation detail for reducing EMI is use of sheild clips to ensure 360-degree contact of the motor power cable with the EMC shield busbar in Siemens Sinamics drive cabinets.

Most drive manufacturers include EMC filtering as a standard feature to meet growing demand for one-design global drive products and attract OEM export business. The cost of adding a filter offsets greater logistical problems of having to offer different drive products for North America and elsewhere, notes ABB.

Siemens also advocates a single EMC design for its adjustable-speed drives regardless of where they’re built. This happens despite less concern for EMC directives in the U.S., explains Hilmer. Features such as NEC requirements or circuit breaker and fuse design differences (IEC vs. NEMA) are adjusted locally.

Danfoss Drives likewise notes the growing international adoption of new harmonized IEC standards, such as IEC 61800-3 for EMC of drives. In addition, Jørn Landkildehus, manager EMC, reliability & functional safety at Danfoss, mentions the new European EMC Directive 2004/108/EC as another standard that adds clarification to EMC requirements. It requires following documented good engineering practices in EMC areas such as emissions mitigation, coupling and radiation, and equipment immunity.

“This resonates with our efforts to increase awareness of the installation’s impact on the EMI performance of drives,” says Landkildehus. Guidelines and training sessions are in place at Danfoss to educate employees and customers on the correct installation techniques of ac drive systems.

Optimize filter size

Yaskawa Electric America (YEA) notes that electrical noise generated by a specific drive topology is fixed. “However, we can implement filters within the drive to reduce its propagation and effect on external electrical environments,” says Dr. Mahesh Swamy, chief engineer for R&D at Yaskawa. An EMI filter (internal or external to the drive) is used to attenuate conducted interference, depending on the level of EMI reduction desired, while shielding of cables is an obvious choice to attenuate radiated EMI. However, Swamy is quick to point out that shielded cables can increase conducted EMI due to presence of a low impedance path for ground currents from conductors to the grounded shield. He suggests careful optimization to prevent exacerbating ground currents.

Advanced drive design also offers benefits. The company’s three-level ac drive topology introduced in 2003—while not directly lowering EMI levels—simplifies common-mode and normal-mode filtering. This is said to ultimately reduce conducted and radiated EMI. “Filter size is reduced significantly due to smaller step size in the associated common-mode voltage when operating at outputs exceeding 230-240 V,” Swamy continues. Also, the three-level design has an output carrier frequency spectrum inherently higher than the operating frequency (typically 2:1). “This helps reduce the size of the normal-mode sine wave filter,” he states. The smaller filter developed by YEA is reportedly very effective in reducing conducted EMI.

Another advanced ac drive topology introduced by YEA in 2005 is the matrix converter—a direct ac-to-ac, four-quadrant converter that comes without a bulky dc link circuit. YEA’s matrix converter also enables smaller step size in the common-mode filter. Moreover, the architecture lends itself to developing a combination normal/common-mode filter, which tests have shown to significantly reduce the size of the input EMI filter, explains Swamy.

A line-ground capacitor is used in all input EMI filters. “This is notorious for introducing large ground currents. Integrating the common-mode and normal-mode filter in the matrix converter can reduce the EMI filter’s input line-ground capacitor by a factor of 10,” adds Swamy. “This is very significant in alleviating problems of using aggressive EMI filtering methods.”

Balance performance, EMI

Baldor Electric Co. concurs that high-frequency noise generation is an undesired result of newer power-switching devices that enable high-performance ac drive designs. “Proper balance must be achieved in drive design that provides the needed switching transitions to improve efficiency and drive/motor performance, while limiting EMI that these fast transitions tend to cause,” says, Phil M. Camp, P.E., product specialist for high-performance ac drives.

A line reactor in the input converter at the point where the drive connects to the power system helps limit EMI propagation to the plant system. However, an isolation transformer can be an even better choice in lieu of a line reactor, according to Camp. Transformers provide better EMI reduction out to the supply, while lowering line current crest factors that lessen stress on the converter, he explains.

Baldor likewise considers EMI filters essential in the drive package. “Filters should be designed to aid in mitigating both differential (line-to-line) and common mode (line-to-earth) noise,” states Camp. Another consideration applies specifically to higher power drives that use phase-controlled devices (such as SCRs) to help pre-charge bus capacitors during drive start-up. Noise emissions of the drive will be reduced if the phase-controlled devices are only used for the pre-charge, but not if used to regulate bus voltage during normal operation, notes Camp.

Design of the output inverter can also reduce drive-generated EMI. “Choice of output switches should take into account proper selection of device transconductance so that switching of the device is controllable by the gate current,” says Camp. “The free-wheeling (inverse) diode paired with each switch should have a 'soft’ turn-off as well as low reverse recovery specifications. Gate drivers should be designed to switch the devices in a way that limits rate of voltage change (dv/dt) at the drive output.” This requires careful trade-off between noise reduction from slower switching and more switching losses in the inverter section due to longer on/off transition of the power devices.

Software algorithms using space-vector, pulse-width modulation (PWM) technology further help reduce EMI by minimizing the output devices’ switching transitions. Another software design consideration makes use of “minimum pulse-width blanking”—a technique where pulses shorter than a specific on-time period (for example, 5μs) are eliminated, explains Camp.

Residential proximity

Siemens’ Hilmer points out that ac drives increasingly find application near residential areas, such as in HVAC for buildings and municipal water plants. That raises further issues for EMI mitigation, requiring that drive installation follows strict EMC guidelines.

In contrast, industrial facilities nearly always include a transformer that typically blocks the drive’s EMI/RFI from reaching outside the plant. Also, there is more capacity to counteract radiated EMI compared to residential facilities.

Small, internal filters often suffice to meet EMI regulations for industrial drives, notes Yaskawa Electric. However, to meet IEC standard EMC regulations for residential applications, including hospitals, external and perhaps dual-stage filters may be needed.

Danfoss Drives verifies that EMC “requirements in the domestic environment are the toughest to meet.” With HVAC applications being one of the company’s traditional markets, Danfoss designs its drives with EMC in mind, starting from the concept stage, according to Landkildehus. This has led to development of state-of-the-art EMI/RFI filters that provide reliable and economical EMC mitigation.

Built into the drives, these filters are designed for long motor cables (typically, 150 m shielded and 300 m unshielded). “To accommodate this requirement, the design has to be optimized as well from a thermal management perspective. Built-in filters offer the advantage of integrating their thermal design into the general thermal design of the drive,” says Landkildehus.

With a growing trend toward global drive designs it’s expected that more adjustable-speed drives will comply with international EMC standards and thereby offer more “silent running” characteristics.

Learn more about drives
Drive guide: Book introduces engineering concepts
Green drives: Energy-efficient drive systems

Product Research: AC Adjustable Speed Drives

Author Information

Frank J. Bartos, P.E. is a consulting editor with Control Engineering . Contact him at .

No comments
Consulting-Specifying Engineer's Product of the Year (POY) contest is the premier award for new products in the HVAC, fire, electrical, and...
Consulting-Specifying Engineer magazine is dedicated to encouraging and recognizing the most talented young individuals...
The MEP Giants program lists the top mechanical, electrical, plumbing, and fire protection engineering firms in the United States.
Water use efficiency: Diminishing water quality, escalating costs; Lowering building energy use; Power for fire pumps
Building envelope and integration; Manufacturing industrial Q&A; NFPA 99; Testing fire systems
Labs and research facilities: Q&A with the experts; Water heating systems; Smart building integration; 40 Under 40 winners
Maintaining low data center PUE; Using eco mode in UPS systems; Commissioning electrical and power systems; Exploring dc power distribution alternatives
Protecting standby generators for mission critical facilities; Selecting energy-efficient transformers; Integrating power monitoring systems; Mitigating harmonics in electrical systems
Commissioning electrical systems in mission critical facilities; Anticipating the Smart Grid; Mitigating arc flash hazards in medium-voltage switchgear; Comparing generator sizing software
As brand protection manager for Eaton’s Electrical Sector, Tom Grace oversees counterfeit awareness...
Amara Rozgus is chief editor and content manager of Consulting-Specifier Engineer magazine.
IEEE power industry experts bring their combined experience in the electrical power industry...
Michael Heinsdorf, P.E., LEED AP, CDT is an Engineering Specification Writer at ARCOM MasterSpec.