Monday, March 30, 2009

Stepper Motor Basics

A stepper motor is an electromechanical device which converts electrical pulses into discrete mechanical movements. The shaft or spindle of a stepper motor rotates in discrete step increments when electrical command pulses are applied to it in the proper sequence. The motors rotation has several direct relationships to these applied input pulses. The sequence of the applied pulses is directly related to the direction of motor shafts rotation.
The speed of the motor shafts rotation is directly related to the frequency of the input pulses and the length of rotation is directly related to the number of input pulses applied.

- Stepper Motor Advantages and Disadvantages

1. The rotation angle of the motor is proportional to the input pulse.
2. The motor has full torque at standstill (if the windings are energized)
3. Precise positioning and repeatability of movement since good stepper motors have an accuracy of 3 – 5% of a
step and this error is non cumulative from one step to the next.
4. Excellent response to starting/stopping/reversing.
5. Very reliable since there are no contact brushes in the motor. Therefore the life of the motor is simply dependant
on the life of the bearing.
6. The motors response to digital input pulses provides open-loop control, making the motor simpler and less
costly to control.
7. It is possible to achieve very low speed synchronous rotation with a load that is directly coupled to the shaft.
8. A wide range of rotational speeds can be realized as the speed is proportional to the frequency of the input

1. Resonances can occur if not properly controlled.
2. Not easy to operate at extremely high speeds.
Open Loop Operation
One of the most significant advantages of a stepper motor is its ability to be accurately controlled in an open loop system. Open loop control means no feedback information about position is needed. This type of control eliminates the need for expensive sensing and feedback devices such as optical encoders. Your position is known simply by keeping track of the input step pulses.

- Stepper Motor Types

There are three basic stepper motor types. They are :
• Variable-reluctance
• Permanent-magnet
• Hybrid
- Variable-reluctance (VR)
This type of stepper motor has been around for a long time. It is probably the easiest to understand from a structural point of view. Figure 1 shows a cross section of a typical V.R. stepper motor. This type of motor consists of a soft iron multi-toothed rotor and a wound stator. When the stator windings are energized with DC current the poles become magnetized. Rotation occurs when the rotor teeth are attracted to the energized stator poles.
- Permanent Magnet (PM)
Often referred to as a “tin can” or “canstock” motor the permanent magnet step motor is a low cost and low resolution type motor with typical step angles of 7.5° to 15°. (48 – 24 steps/revolution) PM motors as the name implies have permanent magnets added to the motor structure. The rotor no longer has teeth as with the VR motor.
Instead the rotor is magnetized with alternating north and south poles situated in a straight line parallel to the rotor shaft. These magnetized rotor poles provide an increased magnetic flux intensity and because of this the PM motor exhibits improved torque characteristics when compared with the VR type.
- Hybrid (HB)
The hybrid stepper motor is more expensive than the PM stepper motor but provides better performance with respect to step resolution, torque and speed. Typical step angles for the HB stepper motor range from 3.6° to 0.9° (100 – 400 steps per revolution). The hybrid stepper motor combines the best features of both the PM and VR type stepper motors. The rotor is multi-toothed like the VR motor and contains an axially magnetized concentric magnet around its shaft. The teeth on the rotor provide an even better path which helps guide the magnetic flux to preferred locations in the airgap. This further increases the detent, holding and dynamic torque characteristics of the motor
when compared with both the VR and PM types.
The two most commonly used types of stepper motors are the permanent magnet and the hybrid types. If a designer is not sure which type will best fit his applications requirements he should first evaluate the PM type as it is normally several times less expensive. If not then the hybrid motor may be the right choice.
There also excist some special stepper motor designs. One is the disc magnet motor. Here the rotor is designed sa a disc with rare earth magnets, See fig. 4. This motor type has some advantages such as very low inertia and a optimized magnetic flow path with no coupling between the two stator windings. These qualities are essential in some applications.
Size and Power In addition to being classified by their step angle stepper motors are also classified according to frame sizes which correspond to the diameter of the body of the motor. For instance a size 11 stepper motor has a body diameter of approximately 1.1 inches. Likewise a size 23 stepper motor has a body diameter of 2.3 inches (58 mm), etc. The body length may however, vary from motor to motor within the same frame size classification. As a general rule the available torque output from a motor of a particular frame size will increase with increased body length.
Power levels for IC-driven stepper motors typically range from below a watt for very small motors up to 10 – 20 watts for larger motors. The maximum power dissipation level or thermal limits of the motor are seldom clearly stated in the motor manufacturers data. To determine this we must apply the relationship P =V · I. For example, a size 23 step motor may be rated at 6V and 1A per phase. Therefore, with two phases energized the motor has a rated power dissipa-tion of 12 watts. It is normal practice to rate a stepper motor at the power dissipation level where the motor case rises 65°C above the ambient in still air. Therefore, if the motor can be mounted to a heatsink it is often possible to increase the allowable power dissipation level. This is important as the motor is designed to be and should be used at its maximum power dissipation ,to be efficient from a size/output power/cost point of view.

- When to Use a Stepper Motor

A stepper motor can be a good choice whenever controlled movement is required. They can be used to advantage in applications where you need to control rotation angle, speed, position and synchronism. Because of the inherent advantages listed previously, stepper motors have found their place in many different applications.
Some of these include printers, plotters, scanners, highend office equipment, hard disk drives, fax machines and many more.