A stepper motor is a kind of electric motor with an internal rotor containing permanent magnets and a set of electro-magnet coils around the rotor which are switched electronically. Stepper motors "cog" to a limited number of positions, but with a microstepping controller, which partially activate adjacent coils so that the rotor rests between positions, stepper motors can rotate more smoothly.
Advantages: Stepper motors will try to lock to the position of the coil that is being driven by the controller so the position of the motor can be known without any actual position sensing. Although it is possible for the motor to be turned out of phase with the coil excitation, which is know as skipping or missing steps, in most cases the reduced cost of the system is justified. Also, stepper motors are "brushless" unlike most other motors and so generate less EMI or Noise.
Disadvantages include lower power efficiency, higher cost per unit, and the need for a more complex drive circuit aka controller.
Control Signals: The stepper motor controller typically accepts two inputs from an external source: Step and Direction. The Direction signal set the direction of rotation and each pulse on the Step signal causes the controller to move the motor one step in that direction. The controller translates these signals into different patterns of current flow in the coils, which result in the moment of the motor. These signals are sometimes called Clock and CW/CCW, but this is still just Step and Direction.
Size: Type 23, NEMA 23 or any other like that refers to the mounting arrangement only (mounting hole pattern and size, diameter of shaft) Also: Table of NEMA sizes showing shaft, mounting hole positions, distance, etc...
Application: Stepper motors excel at driving loads needing up to about 100 Watts of power to move at less than a few hundred RPM with accuracy of 1/200th of a revolution. Lighter loads can be driven faster or with more accuracy. Stepper motors are commonly used to convert milling machines to CNC control.
Estimating Stepper Motor Size:
"Pick the weight of the heaviest item you are pushing around. If it weighs 40lbs, use 40lbs. multiply it by the IPM [Inches Per Minute] you want. Say that's 1,000 IPM. Divide the result by the magic number "531". The answer is 75.3 Watts".
Watts = IPM * Lbs / 531
Watts = torque (in in-oz) * RPM / 1351
This is generally going to me a more accurate estimate of the motor required for a mill or other system where a lead screw is pulling a load because the additional friction and mass of the system that moves the load is also included when you measure the torque required to turn the screw.
Estimating Drive Amperage
Watts = amps * volts so you need a current and voltage rating that, when multiplied, reach more than your minimal required watts. In the example above, with a 75.3 watt power output requirement, you need a 4 amp motor driven at 24 volt motor or a 3 amp motor driven at 30 volt or a 2 amp motor at 36 volts...
Estimating Drive Voltage
Given a target wattage (which is the power you need from the motor), the voltage needed to drive the motor is that wattage, divided by the rated amperage of the motor.
DriveVolts = Watts / Amps
The voltage on the motor label, is the steady state voltage, or the voltage which the motor can support when it is sitting at rest, which will be much less than the voltage used when the motor is turning. The maximum voltage that the motor can take when turning, the maximum safe drive voltage for the motor, can be estimated from the motors Inductance rating (if known) by finding it's square root and then multiplying that by 32.
MaxVolts ~= SQRT( Inductance in mH ) * 32
In the example above, if the 4 amp motor had an inductance rating of 0.75mH or more, then we could feed its driver 24 volts and expect to get about 75 watts power out and drive our 40 lb load at 1000 IPM. That assumes a good lead screw and bearings, and no binding or other loads, of course. It also assumes 100% efficiency, which just doesn't happen, so build in an extra 20% or so as a "reality" factor.
In general, the motor needs more voltage to run at higher speeds, because the voltage pushes the current to the necessary level faster. Think of it like this: If you have a /really/ long garden hose, and you want a trickle of water out the far end, you can supply a trickle at the valve and just wait... eventually, the water will trickle out the other end. But if you want that trickle NOW, you turn the water value on full, then wait for the water to start coming out the end before you turn it down. Of course, if you fail to turn it down, you are going to swamp the motor at the other end of the hose! That is why the motor driver must regulate the current by turning down the drive voltage once the coil reaches it's maximum current flow.
Higher supply voltage allows faster changes to the current and field strength in the motor coils and so faster rotation. But there is also a balance; at higher PSU voltages the motor will get hotter (because of increased wattage) and it will jerk faster from step to step, so you get more resonance and more problems with stalling. A higher voltage can actually stop the motor getting through resonance bands.
Roman Black says: "I hate seeing the "bigger is better" mentality, good design is about balancing all the factors for the exact performance needed."
Also: Java simulation of a stepper motor drive circuit demonstrating the advantage of higher supply voltage combined with current regulation.
This little calculator can help find the maximum speed that a motor can rotate
given it's Inductance and steps/rev and the drivers amps and voltage. It's
based on the fact that the time it takes to build up a field in a coil is
T= (I * L) / V
To make one step, the field must build up, and collapse. This is for unipolar and bipolar parallel
T = 2 * ( L * I ) / V
For a motor connected bipolar serial, although you get more torque, the field must build from the maximum in one direction, through zero, up to the maximum in the other direction so:
T = 2 * ( L * I * 2 ) / V
http://www.bright.net/~agarb/STMD/STMD.html For those that are interested, I've been working on an open-source bipolar, microstepping chopper stepper drive. Schmatics are available and it is my intention to also make the source code availabe once I get it cleaned up.
Roman Black says:
http://romanblack.com/stepper.htm "I have built a test rig to measure both holding torque and shaft angle with high accuracy. This will let me measure (tune) motors for microstepping, to get exact torque and angle for every microstep.
If anyone is interested I have done the measurement on a 5.1v 1A/phase bipolar 23-frame motor, it was WAY off the mathematic values that many microstepping drivers run at. Now I can tune my new CNC driver for perfect performance. Note that this motor is very similar to many common "surplus" steppers that we all use for projects"
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