By means of a machine an applied force is increased, its direction is changed, or one form of motion or energy is changed into another form. Thus defined, such simple devices as the lever, the pulley, the inclined plane, the screw, and the wheel and axle are machines. They are called simple machines; more complicated machines are merely combinations of them. Of the five, the lever, the pulley, and the inclined plane are primary; the wheel and axle and the screw are secondary. The wheel and axle combination is a rotary lever, while the screw may be considered an inclined plane wound around a core. The wedge is a double inclined plane.
Complex machines are designated, as a rule, by the operations they perform; the complicated devices used for sawing, planing, and turning, for example, are known as sawing machines, planing machines, and turning machines respectively and as machine tools collectively. Machines used to transform other forms of energy (as heat) into mechanical energy are known as engines, i.e. the steam engine or the internal-combustion engine. The electric motor transforms electrical energy into mechanical energy. Its operation is the reverse of that of the electric generator, which transforms the energy of falling water or steam into electrical energy.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.