How does a squirrel cage motor work?
The field windings in the stator of an induction motor set up a rotating magnetic field through the rotor. The relative motion between this field and the rotation of the rotor induces electric current in the conductive bars. In turn these currents lengthwise in the conductors react with the magnetic field of the motor to produce force acting at a tangent orthogonal to the rotor, resulting in torque to turn the shaft. In effect the rotor is carried around with the magnetic field but at a slightly slower rate of rotation. The difference in speed is called slip and increases with load.
The conductors are often skewed slightly along the length of the rotor to reduce noise and smooth out torque fluctuations that might result at some speeds due to interactions with the pole pieces of the stator. The number of bars on the squirrel cage determines to what extent the induced currents are fed back to the stator coils and hence the current through them. The constructions that offer the least feedback employ prime numbers of bars.
The iron core serves to carry the magnetic field through the rotor conductors. Because the magnetic field in the rotor is alternating with time, the core uses construction similar to a transformer core to reduce core energy losses. It is made of thin laminations, separated by varnish insulation, to reduce eddy currents circulating in the core. The material is a low carbon but high silicon iron with several times the resistivity of pure iron, further reducing eddy-current loss, and low coercivity to reduce hysteresis loss.
The same basic design is used for both single-phase and three-phase motors over a wide range of sizes. Rotors for three-phase will have variations in the depth and shape of bars to suit the design classification. Generally, thick bars have good torque and are efficient at low slip, since they present lower conductivity to the EMF. As the slip increases, skin effect starts to reduce the effective depth and increases the resistance, resulting in reduced efficiency but still maintaining torque.