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Stepper motors require some external electrical components in order to run. These components typically include a power supply, logic sequencer, switching components and a clock pulse source to determine the step rate. Many commercially available drives have integrated these components into a complete package. Some basic drive units have only the final power stage without the controller electronics to generate the proper step sequencing.

Bipolar Drive

This is a very popular drive for a two phase bipolar motor having four leads. In a complete driver/controller the electronics alternately reverse the current in each phase. The stepping sequence is shown in "Stepper Motor Theory": Figure 5.

Unipolar Drive

This drive requires a motor with a center-tap at each phase (6 leads).
Instead of reversing the current in each phase, the drive only has to switch current from one coil to the other in each phase (
"Stepper Motor Theory": Figure 6). The windings are such that this switching reverses the magnetic fields within the motor. This option makes for a simpler drive but only half of the copper winding is used at any one time. This results in approximately 30% less available torque in a rotary motor or force in a linear actuator as compared to an equivalent bipolar motor.

L/R Drives

This type of drive is also referred to as a constant voltage drive. Many of these drives can be configured to run bipolar or unipolar stepper motors. L/R stands for the electrical relationship of inductance (L) to resistance (R). Motor coil impedance vs. step rate is determined by these parameters. The L/R drive should “match” the power supply output voltage to the motor coil voltage rating for continuous duty operation. Most published motor performance curves are based on full rated voltage applied at the motor leads. Power supply output voltage level must be set high enough to account for electrical drops within the drive circuitry for optimum continuous operation.

Performance levels of most steppers can be improved by increasing the applied voltage for shortened duty cycles. This is typically referred to as “over-driving” the motor. When over-driving a motor, the operating cycle must have sufficient periodic off time (no power applied) to prevent the motor temperature rise from exceeding the published specification.

Chopper Drives

A chopper drive allows a stepper motor to maintain greater torque or force at higher speeds than with an L/R drive. The chopper drive is a constant current drive and is almost always the bipolar type. The chopper gets its name from the technique of rapidly turning the output power on and off (chopping) to control motor current. For this setup, low impedance motor coils and the maximum voltage power supply that can be used with the drive will deliver the best performance. As a general rule, to achieve optimum performance, the recommended ratio between power supply and rated motor voltage is eight to one. An eight to one ratio was used for the performance curves in this catalog.


Microstepping Drives

Many bipolar drives offer a feature called microstepping. Microstepping electronically divides a full step into smaller steps. For instance, if one step of a linear actuator is 0.001 inch, this can be driven to have 10 microsteps per step. In this case, one microstep would normally be 0.0001 inch. Microstepping effectively reduces the step increment of a motor. However, the accuracy of each microstep has a larger percentage of error as compared to the accuracy of a full step. As with full steps, the incremental errors of microsteps are non-cumulative.