What is Variable Frequency Drive (VFD) & Working Principle of VFDs

It is important to have knowledge about the working of VFDs or Variable frequency drives (VFD’s), as they are extensively used in the AC motor-driven applications, like variable frequency drive for motor control, owing to their wide variety characteristics.

Variable Frequency drives
Variable Frequency drives

Compared to conventional motor drives, VFD has greater functionality and operation capabilities. In addition to adjustable speed control, variable frequency drives offers protections like phase, under and over voltage protections. Software and interfacing options of the VFD’s allow the user to control the motors at desired levels.

What is Variable Frequency Drive (VFD)

AC motor speed is controlled in two ways – either by controlling the voltage or frequency. Frequency controlling gives better control due to constant flux density than voltage control. This is where the working of VFDs comes to play. It is a power conversion device which converts the fixed voltage, fixed frequency of the input power to the variable voltage, variable frequency output to control AC induction motors.

It consists of power electronic devices (like IGBT, MOSFET), high speed central controlling unit (such as microprocessor, DSP) and optional sensing devices depending on the application used.

Most of the industrial applications require variable speeds at peak load conditions and constant speeds at normal operating conditions. Closed loop working of VFDs maintain the speed of motor at constant level, even in case of input and load disturbances.

Working of VFDs

The two main features of variable frequency drive are adjustable speeds and soft start/stop capabilities. These two features make VFD’s a powerful controller to control the AC motors. VFD consists of mainly four sections; those are rectifier, intermediate DC link, inverter and controlling circuit.

Working of VFDs
Working of VFDs


It is the first stage of variable frequency drive. It converts AC power fed from mains to DC power. This section can be unidirectional or bidirectional based on the application used like four quadrant operation of the motor. It utilizes diodes, SCR’s, transistors and other electronic switching devices.

If it uses diodes, converted DC power is uncontrolled output while using SCR, DC output power is varied by gate control. A minimum of six diodes are required for the three phase conversion, so the rectifier unit is considered as six pulse converter.

DC bus:

DC power from the rectifier section is fed to DC link. This section consists of capacitors and inductors to smooth against ripples and store the DC power. The main function of DC link is to receive, store and deliver DC power.


This section comprises of electronic switches like transistors, thyristors, IGBT, etc. It receives DC power from DC link and converts into AC which is delivered to the motor. It uses modulation techniques like pulse width modulation by to vary output frequency for controlling the speed of induction motor.

Control circuit:

It consists of microprocessor unit and performs various functions like controlling, configuring drive settings, fault conditions and interfacing communication protocols. It receives feedback signal from motor as current speed reference and accordingly regulates the ratio of voltage to frequency to control motor speed.

VFD implementation application

VFD implementation application
VFD implementation application

VFD can also be implemented by microcontroller circuit which is given below. Similar to VFD it also consists of rectifier section, filtering and then inverter section. Here inverter section gets the firing pulses from the programmed microcontroller to give variable voltage and frequency to the load. This project is actually called as single phase to three phase converter using SVPWM to control AC voltage and frequency across the load

Application of VFD

Application of VFD is ac motor speed control by cycloconverters.

Power from mains is fed to the rectifier circuit which converts fixed AC to fixed DC. Three leg converters consist of two diodes connected in parallel for each phase, such that one of the diodes conducts when the particular phase is comparatively more positive or negative.

Application of VFD
Application of VFD

Pulsed DC voltage generated from rectifier is applied to the DC link circuit. This intermediate circuit comprises of inductor and capacitors. It filters the pulsed DC by reducing ripple content and gives DC power a constant level.

To provide variable voltage and variable frequency to the motor, DC power from DC link should be converted to variable AC by inverter.  Inverter consists of IGBTs as switching devices which are controlled by PWM technique.

Similar to the rectifier circuit, inverter switches also belong to two groups as positive and negative. Positive side IGBT is responsible for the positive pulse and negative side IGBT for negative pulse at the output of inverter. So the obtained output is an alternating current which is applied to motor.

Varying the switching period regulates voltage and frequency simultaneously in the inverter. Modern VFD’s uses latest control techniques like scalar, vector and direct torque controls, to control the inverter switches in achieving the variable power.

Output waveforms of VFD
Output waveforms of VFD

Above figure shows how the voltage and frequency are varied by variable frequency drive. As an example, AC 480V, 60Hz supply is applied to the VFD which varies the signal voltage and frequency to have control of the speed.

As the frequency is decreased, speed of motor also decreases. In above figure average power applied to motor is decreasing while decreasing both voltage and frequency , provided the ratio of these two parameters are constant.

Benefits of VFD

VFD connected to motor
VFD connected to motor

Variable frequency drives not only offer adjustable speeds for accurate and precise control applications , but also have more benefits in terms of process control and conservation of energy. Some of these are given below.

Energy saving

More than 65% of the power is consumed by electric motors in industries. Both magnitude and frequency control technique to vary the speed consumes less power when variable speed is required by the motor. So a great amount of energy is conserved by these VFD’s.

Closed loop controlling

VFD allows accurate positioning of the motor speed by continuously comparing with reference speed even at changes in the loading conditions and input disturbances like voltage fluctuations.

• Limits starting current

Induction motor draws current which is of 6 to 8 times the nominal current at starting. Compared to conventional starters, VFD’s gives better results because it delivers low frequency at the time of starting. Due to low frequency, motor draws less current and this current never exceeds its nominal rating at starting as well as operating.

• Smooth operation

It offers smooth operations at starting and stopping and also reduces thermal and mechanical stress on motors and belt drives.

High power factor

Inbuilt power factor correction circuit in DC link of VFD reduces the need for additional power factor correction devices.

Power factor for induction motor is very low for particularly no load application, while at full load, it is 0.88 to 0.9. Low power factor results in poor utilization of power due to high reactive losses.

Easy installation

Pre programmed and factory wired VFD’s offers easy way for connection and maintenance.

Hope that you have been provided with precise and ample knowledge about working of VFDs by our article. Thank you for spending your valuable time. We have a simple task for you – What are the different types of VFDs?  Please give your answers in the comment section below. If you have any queries on this topic or on the electrical and electronic projects You can also share your reviews and suggestions regarding this article in the comment section below.

Photo credits

Variable Frequency Drives by emainc

Basic parts of VFD by machinedesign

Working of VFD by cfnewsads

Output waveforms of VFD by vfds

VFD connected to motor by cfnewsads

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