The Many Types of Electric Starters

Starter is a device that controls the use of electrical power to equipment, usually a motor. As the name implies, starters "start" motors. They can also stop them, reverse them, and protect them. Starters are made from two building blocks, Contactors and Overload Protection.
  1. Contactors control the electric current to the motor. Their function is to repeatedly establish and interrupt an electrical power circuit.
  2. Overload Protection protects motors from drawing too much current, overheating, and from literally "burning out".
A starter turns an electric motor or motor controlled electrical equipment on or off, while providing overload protection. Starters represent another evolution in motor control applications. The two main types of starters are Manual Starters and AC Magnetic Motor Starters, commonly known as Motor Starters.

Manual StarterManual Starters, like the one pictured above have key switching elements that require manual operation. Notice the green switch on the Manual Starter above.
The manual starter is operated manually. Operating a manual starter is fairly simple and straightforward: a button or toggle (mounted directly on the starter) is pressed to start or stop the connected electrical equipment. Mechanical linkages from the buttons or toggle force the contacts to open and close, starting and stopping the motor. Often, a manual starter is the best choice for an application because it offers:
  • Compact physical size
  • Choice of enclosures
  • Low initial cost
  • Motor overload protection
  • Safe and economical operation

Low Voltage Protection (LVP), which prevents automatic restarting of equipment after a power failure, is usually not possible with a manual starter. This means, if the power fails, the power contacts remain closed (toggle or button in ON position). When the power is restored, the motor automatically restarts itself. This could create a dangerous situation, depending on the application. Because of this feature, manual starters are generally used on smaller loads where low voltage protection is not needed.

Magnetic Motor StarterMagnetic Motor Starters, like the one pictured above, are capable of operating without the use of manual intervention. Therefore, the operator is still capable of starting the motor, although, from a remote location.
The other main type of starter is the AC magnetic motor starter. These starters are commonly used and often, the term Motor Starter is used in reference to the AC Magnetic Motor Starter. Motor starters offer some additional capabilities not available in a manual starter, most importantly, remote and automatic operation. In other words, the AC magnetic motor starter removes the operator from the immediate area. Like magnetic contactors, the motor starter depends on magnets and magnetism for its operation. These additional capabilities are due, in part, to the motor starters electromagnetic operation and the control circuit.

The motor starter has two circuits: the power circuit and the control circuit. The power circuit runs from the line to the motor. Electricity passes through the contacts of a starter, the overload relay and out to the motor. The power (main) contacts carry the motor current.
The control circuit operates the contactor (on/off). The contacts that interrupt or allow the main current to flow to the motor are controlled by opening or closing the contacts in the control circuit. The control circuit energizes the coil creating an electromagnetic field that pulls the power contacts closed, thereby connecting the motor to the line. The control circuit makes remote operation possible.
The control circuit can get its power on one of two ways. If the control circuit gets its power from the same source as the motor, this is termed Common Control.
The other type is Separate Control. This is the most common form of control. In this arrangement, the control circuit gets its power from a separate source, usually lower in voltage than the motor's power source.
In addition, there are two ways to wire the control circuit. One common method of wiring the control circuit is known as Two-Wire. It uses a maintained contact type of pilot device-such as thermostat, float switch, or presence sensor. This circuit provides for an automatic operation (start-stop) of the load.
The other common method of wiring the control circuit is Three-Wire control. It uses momentary contact pilot devices and a holding circuit contact. The holding circuit contact is commonly an auxiliary contact on the starter or contactor. If power is interrupted, the circuit must be restarted by an operator or other intervening logic.