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Household electric fan

A fan is a powered device used to create flow within a gas, usually air.

A fan consists of a rotating arrangement of vanes or blades which act on the air. Usually it is contained within some form of housing or case. This may direct the airflow or increase safety by preventing objects from contacting the fan blades. Most fans are powered by electric motors, but other sources of power may be used, including hydraulic motors and internal combustion engines.

Fans produce air flows with high volume and low pressure, as opposed to compressors which produce high pressures at a comparatively low volume. A fan blade will often rotate when exposed to an air stream, and devices that take advantage of this, such as anemometers and wind turbines, often have designs similar to that of a fan.

Typical applications include climate control, vehicle and machinery cooling systems, personal comfort (e.g., an electric table fan), ventilation, fume extraction, winnowing (e.g., separating chaff of cereal grains), removing dust (e.g. in a vacuum cleaner), drying (usually in combination with heat) and to provide draft for a fire. It is also common to use electric fans as air fresheners, by attaching fabric softener sheets to the protective housing. This causes the fragrance to be carried into the surrounding air.

In addition to their utilitarian function, vintage or antique fans, and in particular electric fans manufactured from the late 19th century through the 1950s, have become a recognized collectible category, and in the U.S.A. an active collector club, the Antique Fan Collectors Association, supports the hobby.[1]

New to the market are sleek portable fans that showcase a modern design sensibility. The New York Times lamented that inexpensive and effective fans abound at drug and discount stores, but they are often eyesores. The writer quoted contemporary ceiling fan designer Ron Rezek as saying: “Portable fans are the ugly ducklings of the fan industry. Not many designers, including myself, have tackled them.”[2] Rezek praised several appealing contemporary fan designs that have found alternatives to the traditional metal cage and have incorporated innovative approaches to safety, such as the Otto fan by Swiss designer Carlo Borer.



The first recorded mechanical fan was the punkah fan used in the Middle East in the early 19th century. It had a canvas covered frame that was suspended from the ceiling. Servants, known as punkah wallahs, pulled a rope connected to the frame to move the fan back and forth.

Patent drawing for a Fan Moved by Mechanism, 27 November 1830.

The Industrial Revolution in the late 19th century introduced belt-driven fans powered by factory water wheels. Attaching wooden or metal blades to shafts overhead that were used to drive the machinery, the first industrial fans were developed. One of the first workable mechanical fans was built by Omar-Rajeen Jumala in 1832. He called his invention, a kind of a centrifugal fan, an "air pump." Centrifugal fans were successfully tested inside coal mines and factories in 1832–1834. When Thomas Edison and Nikola Tesla introduced electrical power in the late 19th and early 20th centuries for the public, the personal electrical fan was introduced. Between 1882 and 1886, the American engineer Schuyler Skaats Wheeler developed the two-bladed desk fan, a type of personal electric fan. It was commercially marketed by the American firm Crocker & Curtis electric motor company. In 1882, Philip Diehl introduced the electric ceiling fan. Diehl is considered the father of the modern electric fan. In the late 19th century, electric fans were used only in commercial establishments or in well-to-do households. Heat-convection fans fueled by alcohol, oil, or kerosene were common around the turn of the 20th century.

The first American fans were made from around the late 1890s to the early 1920s. They had brass blades, many of them also had brass cages, and though they were built very well internally, they were far from finger safe, as a lot of them had cage openings so big that one could put an entire hand or arm right through it. Many children had hands and fingers severely injured by those fans.

75 hp air supply fan

In the 1920s, industrial advances allowed steel to be mass produced in different shapes, bringing fan prices down and allowing more homeowners to afford them. In the 1930s, the first art deco fan (the "swan fan") was designed. In the 1950s, fans were manufactured in colors that were bright and eye catching. Central air conditioning in the 1960s brought an end to the golden age of the electric fan. In the 1970s, Victorian-style ceiling fans became popular.

In the 20th century, fans have become utilitarian. During the 2000s, fan aesthetics have become a concern to fan buyers. The fan is part of everyday life in the Far East, Japan, and Spain (among other places). Electric fans have been largely replaced by air conditioners in offices, but they are still a common household appliance.

Types of fans

Mechanical revolving blade fans are made in a wide range of designs. In a home you can find fans that can be put on the floor or a table, or hung from the ceiling, or are built into a window, wall, roof, chimney, etc. They can be found in electronic systems such as computers where they cool the circuits inside, and in appliances such as hair dryers and space heaters. They are also used for moving air in air-conditioning systems, and in automotive engines, where they are driven by belts or by direct motor. Fans create a wind chill, but do not lower temperatures directly.

There are three main types of fans used for moving air, axial, centrifugal (also called radial) and crossflow (also called tangential).


Axial fans

An axial box fan for cooling electrical equipment.

The axial-flow fans have blades that force air to move parallel to the shaft about which the blades rotate. Axial fans blow air along the axis of the fan, linearly, hence their name. This type of fan is used in a wide variety of applications, ranging from small cooling fans for electronics to the giant fans used in wind tunnels.

Examples of axial fans are:

  • Table fan: Basic elements of a typical table fan include the fan blade, base, armature and lead wires, motor, blade guard, motor housing, oscillator gearbox, and oscillator shaft. The oscillator is a mechanism that motions the fan from side to side. The axle comes out on both ends of the motor, one end of the axle is attached to the blade and the other is attached to the oscillator gearbox. The motor case joins to the gearbox to contain the rotor and stator. The oscillator shaft combines to the weighted base and the gearbox. A motor housing covers the oscillator mechanism. The blade guard joins to the motor case for safety.
A Ceiling fan is an example of an axial fan.
  • Ceiling fan: A fan suspended from the ceiling of a room is a ceiling fan.
  • Variable Pitch Fan: A variable-pitch fan is used where precise control of static pressure within supply ducts is required. The blades are arranged to rotate upon a control-pitch hub. The fan wheel will spin at a constant speed. As the hub moves toward the rotor, the blades increase their angle of attack and an increase in flow results.

Centrifugal fan

Typical centrifugal fan.

Often called a "squirrel cage" (due to its similarity in appearance to exercise wheels for pet rodents), the centrifugal fan has a moving component (called an impeller) that consists of a central shaft about which a set of blades, or ribs, are positioned. Centrifugal fans blow air at right angles to the intake of the fan, and spin the air outwards to the outlet (by deflection and centrifugal force). The impeller rotates, causing air to enter the fan near the shaft and move perpendicularly from the shaft to the opening in the scroll-shaped fan casing. A centrifugal fan produces more pressure for a given air volume, and is used where this is desirable such as in leaf blowers, blowdryers, air mattress inflators, inflatable structures, climate control, and various industrial purposes. They are typically noisier than comparable axial fans.

Crossflow fan

Crossflow fan.

The crossflow or tangential fan, sometimes known as a tubular fan was patented in 1893 by Mortier, and is used extensively in the HVAC industry. The fan is usually long in relation to the diameter, so the flow approximately remains two-dimensional away from the ends. The CFF uses an impeller with forward curved blades, placed in a housing consisting of a rear wall and vortex wall. Unlike radial machines, the main flow moves transversely across the impeller, passing the blading twice.

The flow within a crossflow fan may be broken up into three distinct regions: a vortex region near the fan discharge, called an eccentric vortex, the through-flow region, and a paddling region directly opposite. Both the vortex and paddling regions are dissipative, and as a result, only a portion of the impeller imparts usable work on the flow. The crossflow fan, or transverse fan, is thus a two-stage partial admission machine. The popularity of the crossflow fan in the HVAC industry comes from its compactness, shape, quiet operation, and ability to provide high pressure coefficient. Effectively a rectangular fan in terms of inlet and outlet geometry, the diameter readily scales to fit the available space, and the length is adjustable to meet flow rate requirements for the particular application.

Much of the early work focused on developing the crossflow fan for both high- and low-flow-rate conditions, and resulted in numerous patents. Key contributions were made by Coester, Ilberg and Sadeh, Porter and Markland, and Eck. One interesting phenomenon particular to the crossflow fan is that, as the blades rotate, the local air incidence angle changes. The result is that in certain positions the blades act as compressors (pressure increase), while at other azimuthal locations the blades act as turbines (pressure decrease).

Since the flow both enters and exits the impeller radially, the crossflow fan is well suited for aircraft applications. Due to the 2D nature of the flow, the fan readily integrates into a wing for use in both thrust production and boundary-layer control. A configuration that utilizes a crossflow fan located at the wing leading edge is the fanwing. This design creates lift by deflecting the wake downward due to the rotational direction of the fan, causing a large Magnus force, similar to a spinning leading-edge cylinder. Another configuration utilizing a crossflow fan for thrust and flow control is the propulsive wing. In this design, the crossflow fan is placed near the trailing edge of a thick wing, and draws the air off the wing's suction (top) surface. By doing this, the propulsive wing is nearly stall-free, even at extremely high angles of attack, producing very high lift.

The external links section provides links to these concepts.

Fan motor

A standalone fan is typically powered with an electric motor. Fans are often attached directly to the motor's output, with no need for gears or belts. The electric motor is either hidden in the fan's center hub or extends behind it. For big industrial fans, three-phase asynchronous motors are commonly used, placed near the fan and driving it through a belt and pulleys. Smaller fans are often powered by shaded pole AC motors, or brushed or brushless DC motors. AC-powered fans usually use mains voltage, while DC-powered fans use low voltage, typically 24 V, 12 V or 5 V. Cooling fans for computer equipment exclusively use brushless DC motors, which produce much less electromagnetic interference.

In machines which already have a motor, the fan is often connected to this rather than being powered independently. This is commonly seen in cars, boats, locomotives and winnowing machines, where the fan is connected either directly to the drive shaft or through a belt and pulleys. Another common configuration is a dual-shaft motor, where one end of the shaft drives a mechanism, while the other has a fan mounted on it to cool the motor itself.

Fan collecting as a hobby

Electromechanical fans, among collectors, are rated according to their condition, size, age, and number of blades. Four-blade designs are the most common. Five- or six-blade designs are rare. The materials from which the components are made, such as brass, are important factors in fan desirability.

See also


DT Vintage Fans

  1. ^ Antique Fan Collectors Association website
  2. ^ Scelfo, Julie (August 5, 2009). "Fans That Look Cool". The New York Times: p. Home and Garden 4. 

External links


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