How Stepper Motors Work
Stepper motors consist of a permanent magnet rotating shaft, called the rotor, and electromagnets on the stationary portion that surrounds the motor, called the stator. Figure 1 illustrates one complete rotation of a stepper motor. At position 1, we can see that the rotor is beginning at the upper electromagnet, which is currently active (has voltage applied to it). To move the rotor clockwise (CW), the upper electromagnet is deactivated and the right electromagnet is activated, causing the rotor to move 90 degrees CW, aligning itself with the active magnet. This process is repeated in the same manner at the south and west electromagnets until we once again reach the starting position.
In the above example, we used a motor with a resolution of 90 degrees or demonstration purposes. In reality, this would not be a very practical motor for most applications. The average stepper motor's resolution -- the amount of degrees rotated per pulse -- is much higher than this. For example, a motor with a resolution of 5 degrees would move its rotor 5 degrees per step, thereby requiring 72 pulses (steps) to complete a full 360 degree rotation.
You may double the resolution of some motors by a process known as "half-stepping". Instead of switching the next electromagnet in the rotation on one at a time, with half stepping you turn on both electromagnets, causing an equal attraction between, thereby doubling the resolution. As you can see in Figure 2, in the first position only the upper electromagnet is active, and the rotor is drawn completely to it. In position 2, both the top and right electromagnets are active, causing the rotor to position itself between the two active poles. Finally, in position 3, the top magnet is deactivated and the rotor is drawn all the way right. This process can then be repeated for the entire rotation.
There are several types of stepper motors. 4-wire stepper motors contain...