Stepper Motor Operating Principles
Bipolar 2 Phase Configured Motor
Uni-Polar Configured Motor
Stepping motors come in two varieties, permanent magnet and variable reluctance (there are also hybrid motors, which are indistinguishable from permanent magnet motors from the controller's point of view). Lacking a label on the motor, you can generally tell the two apart by feel when no power is applied. Permanent magnet motors tend to "cog" as you twist the rotor with your fingers, while variable reluctance motors almost spin freely (although they may cog slightly because of residual magnetization in the rotor). You can also distinguish between the two varieties with an ohmmeter. Variable reluctance motors usually have three (sometimes four) windings, with a common return, while permanent magnet motors usually have two independent windings, with or without center taps. Center-tapped windings are used in unipolar permanent magnet motors.
Stepping motors come in a wide range of angular resolution. The coarsest motors typically turn 90 degrees per step, while high resolution permanent magnet motors are commonly able to handle 1.8 or even 0.72 degrees per step. With an appropriate controller, most permanent magnet and hybrid motors can be run in half-steps, and some controllers can handle smaller fractional steps or microsteps.
For both permanent magnet and variable reluctance stepping motors, if just one winding of the motor is energised, the rotor (under no load) will snap to a fixed angle and then hold that angle until the torque exceeds the holding torque of the motor, at which point, the rotor will turn, trying to hold at each successive equilibrium point.
Unipolar stepping motors, both Permanent magnet and hybrid stepping motors with 5 or 6 wires are usually wired as shown in the schematic in Figure 1.2, with a center tap on each of two windings. In use, the center taps of the windings are typically wired to the positive supply, and the two ends of each winding are alternately grounded to reverse the direction of the field provided by that winding.
The motor cross section shown in Figure 1.2 is of a 30 degree per step permanent magnet or hybrid motor -- the difference between these two motor types is not relevant at this level of abstraction. Motor winding number 1 is distributed between the top and bottom stator pole, while motor winding number 2 is distributed between the left and right motor poles. The rotor is a permanent magnet with 6 poles, 3 south and 3 north, arranged around its circumfrence.
For higher angular resolutions, the rotor must have proportionally more poles. The 30 degree per step motor in the figure is one of the most common permanent magnet motor designs, although 15 and 7.5 degree per step motors are widely available. Permanent magnet motors with resolutions as good as 1.8 degrees per step are made, and hybrid motors are routinely built with 3.6 and 1.8 degrees per step, with resolutions as fine as 0.72 degrees per step available.
As shown in the figure, the current flowing from the center tap of winding 1 to terminal a causes the top stator pole to be a north pole while the bottom stator pole is a south pole. This attracts the rotor into the position shown. If the power to winding 1 is removed and winding 2 is energised, the rotor will turn 30 degrees, or one step.
To rotate the motor continuously, we just apply power to the two windings in sequence. Assuming positive logic, where a 1 means turning on the current through a motor winding, the following two control sequences will spin the motor illustrated in Figure 1.2 clockwise 24 steps or 4 revolutions:
Winding 1a 1000100010001000100010001
Winding 1b 0010001000100010001000100
Winding 2a 0100010001000100010001000
Winding 2b 0001000100010001000100010
Winding 1a 1100110011001100110011001
Winding 1b 0011001100110011001100110
Winding 2a 0110011001100110011001100
Winding 2b 1001100110011001100110011
Note that the two halves of each winding are never energized at the same time. Both sequences shown above will rotate a permanent magnet one step at a time. The top sequence only powers one winding at a time, as illustrated in the figure above; thus, it uses less power. The bottom sequence involves powering two windings at a time and generally produces a torque about 1.4 times greater than the top sequence while using twice as much power.
The section of this tutorial on Mid-Level Control provides details on methods for generating such sequences of control signals, while the section on Control Circuits discusses the power switching circuitry needed to drive the motor windings from such control sequences.
The step positions produced by the two sequences above are not the same; as a result, combining the two sequences allows half stepping, with the motor stopping alternately at the positions indicated by one or the other sequence. The combined sequence is as follows:
Winding 1a 11000001110000011100000111
Winding 1b 00011100000111000001110000
Winding 2a 01110000011100000111000001
Winding 2b 00000111000001110000011100
Bipolar permanent magnet and hybrid motors are constructed with exactly the same mechanism as is used on unipolar motors, but the two windings are wired more simply, with no center taps. Thus, the motor itself is simpler but the drive circuitry needed to reverse the polarity of each pair of motor poles is more complex.
The drive circuitry for such a motor requires an H-bridge control circuit for each winding; these are discussed in more detail in the section on Control Circuits. Briefly, an H-bridge allows the polarity of the power applied to each end of each winding to be controlled independently. The control sequences for single stepping such a motor are shown below, using + and - symbols to indicate the polarity of the power applied to each motor terminal:
Terminal 1a +---+---+---+--- ++--++--++--++--
Terminal 1b --+---+---+---+- --++--++--++--++
Terminal 2a -+---+---+---+-- -++--++--++--++-
Terminal 2b ---+---+---+---+ +--++--++--++--+
Note that these sequences are identical to those for a unipolar permanent magnet motor, at an abstract level, and that above the level of the H-bridge power switching electronics, the control systems for the two types of motor can be identical.
Note that many full H-bridge driver chips have one control input to enable the output and another to control the direction. Given two such bridge chips, one per winding, the following control sequences will spin the motor identically to the control sequences given above:
Enable 1 1010101010101010 1111111111111111
Direction 1 1x0x1x0x1x0x1x0x 1100110011001100
Enable 2 0101010101010101 1111111111111111
Direction 2 x1x0x1x0x1x0x1x0 0110011001100110
To distinguish a bipolar permanent magnet motor from other 4 wire motors, measure the resistances between the different terminals. It is worth noting that some permanent magnet stepping motors have 4 independent windings, organized as two sets of two. Within each set, if the two windings are wired in series, the result can be used as a high voltage bipolar motor. If they are wired in parallel, the result can be used as a low voltage bipolar motor. If they are wired in series with a center tap, the result can be used as a low voltage unipolar motor.