# Stepper Motor Theory of Operation

Publish Date: Sep 23, 2013 | 3 Ratings | 4.67 out of 5 | Print

### 1. Overview

Stepper motors provide a means for precise positioning and speed control without the use of feedback sensors. The basic operation of a stepper motor allows the shaft to move a precise number of degrees each time a pulse of electricity is sent to the motor. Since the shaft of the motor moves only the number of degrees that it was designed for when each pulse is delivered, you can control the pulses that are sent and control the positioning and speed. The rotor of the motor produces torque from the interaction between the magnetic field in the stator and rotor. The strength of the magnetic fields is proportional to the amount of current sent to the stator and the number of turns in the windings.

The stepper motor uses the theory of operation for magnets to make the motor shaft turn a precise distance when a pulse of electricity is provided. You learned previously that like poles of a magnet repel and unlike poles attract. Figure 11-57 shows a typical cross-sectional view of the rotor and stator of a stepper motor. From this diagram you can see that the stator (stationary winding) has four poles, and the rotor has six poles (three complete magnets). The rotor will require 12 pulses of electricity to move the 12 steps to make one complete revolution. Another way to say this is that the rotor will move precisely 30° for each pulse of electricity that the motor receives. The number of degrees the rotor will turn when a pulse of electricity is delivered to the motor can be calculated by dividing the number of degrees in one revolution of the shaft (360°) by the number of poles (north and south) in the rotor. In this stepper motor 360° is divided by 12 to get 30°.

When no power is applied to the motor, the residual magnetism in the rotor magnets will cause the rotor to detent or align one set of its magnetic poles with the magnetic poles of one of the stator magnets. This means that the rotor will have 12 possible detent positions. When the rotor is in a detent position, it will have enough magnetic force to keep the shaft from moving to the next position. This is what makes the rotor feel like it is clicking from one position to the next as you rotate the rotor by hand with no power applied.

FIGURE 11-57 Diagram that shows the position of the six-pole rotor and four-pole stator of a typical stepper motor. (Courtesy of Parker Compumotor Division.)

When power is applied, it is directed to only one of the stator pairs of windings, which will cause that winding pair to become a magnet. One of the coils for the pair will become the north pole, and the other will become the south pole. When this occurs, the stator coil that is the north pole will attract the closest rotor tooth that has the opposite polarity, and the stator coil that is the south pole will attract the closest rotor tooth that has the opposite polarity. When current is flowing through these poles, the rotor will now have a much stronger attraction to the stator winding, and the increased torque is called holding torque.

By changing the current flow to the next stator winding, the magnetic field will be changed 90°. The rotor will only move 30° before its magnetic fields will again align with the change in the stator field. The magnetic field in the stator is continually changed as the rotor moves through the 12 steps to move a total of 360°. Figure 11-58 shows the position of the rotor changing as the current supplied to the stator changes.

FIGURE 11-58 Movement of the stepper motor rotor as current is pulsed to the stator. (a) Current is applied to the top and bottom windings, so the top winding is north, (b) Current is applied to left and right windings, so the left winding is north, (c) Current is applied to the top and bottom windings, so the bottom winding is north, (d) Current is applied to the left and right windings so the right winding is north. (Courtesy of Parker Compumotor Division.)

In Fig. ll-58a you can see that when current is applied to the top and bottom stator windings, they will become a magnet with the top part of the winding being the north pole, and the bottom part of the winding being the south pole. You should notice that this will cause the rotor to move a small amount so that one of its south poles is aligned with the north stator pole (at the top), and the opposite end of the rotor pole, which is the north pole, will align with the south pole of the stator (at the bottom). A line is placed on the south-pole piece that is located at the 12 o'clock position in Fig. ll-58a so that you can follow its movement as current is moved from one stator winding to the next. In Fig. ll-58b current has been turned off to the top and bottom windings, and current is now applied to the stator windings shown at the right and left sides of the motor. When this occurs, the stator winding at the 3 o'clock position will have the polarity for the south pole of the stator magnet, and the winding at the 9 o'clock position will have the north-pole polarity. In this condition, the next rotor pole that will be able to align with the stator magnets is the next pole in the clockwise position to the previous pole. This means that the rotor will only need to rotate 30° in the clockwise position for this set of poles to align itself so that it attracts the stator poles.

In Fig. ll-58c you can see that the top and bottom stator windings are again energized, but this time the top winding is the south pole of the magnetic field and the bottom winding is the north pole. This change in magnetic field will cause the rotor to again move 30° in the clockwise position until its poles will align with the top and bottom stator poles. You should notice that the original rotor pole that was at the 12 o'clock position when the motor first started has now moved three steps in the clockwise position.

In Fig. ll-58d you can see that the two side stator windings are again energized, but this time the winding at the 3 o'clock position is the north pole. This change in polarity will cause the rotor to move another 30° in the clockwise direction. You should notice that the rotor has moved four steps of 30° each, which means the rotor has moved a total of 120° from its original position. This can be verified by the position of the rotor pole that has the line on it, which is now pointing at the stator winding that is located in the 3 o'clock position.

Publication Information
Author: Thomas E. Kissell Book: Industrial Electronics

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