Stepping Motor Types


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.

Variable Reluctance Motors

Figure 1.1

If your motor has three windings, typically connected as shown in the schematic diagram in Figure 1.1, with one terminal common to all windings, it is most likely a variable reluctance stepping motor, sometimes known as a switched reluctance motor. In use, the common wire typically goes to the positive supply and the windings are energized in sequence.


The cross section shown in Figure 1.1 is of 30 degree per step variable reluctance motor. The rotor in this motor has 4 teeth and the stator has 6 poles, with each winding wrapped around two opposite poles. With winding number 1 energised, the rotor teeth marked X are attracted to this winding's poles. If the current through winding 1 is turned off and winding 2 is turned on, the rotor will rotate 30 degrees clockwise so that the poles marked Y line up with the poles marked 2. An animated GIF of figure 1.1 is available.

To rotate this motor continuously, we just apply power to the 3 windings in sequence. Assuming positive logic, where a 1 means turning on the current through a motor winding, the following control sequence will spin the motor illustrated in Figure 1.1 clockwise 24 steps or 2 revolutions:

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.

There are also variable reluctance stepping motors with 4 and 5 windings, requiring 5 or 6 wires. The principle for driving these motors is the same as that for the three winding variety, but it becomes important to work out the correct order to energise the windings to make the motor step nicely.

The motor geometry illustrated in Figure 1.1, giving 30 degrees per step, uses the fewest number of rotor teeth and stator poles that performs satisfactorily. Using more motor poles and more rotor teeth allows construction of motors with smaller step angle.


Toothed faces on each pole and a correspondingly finely toothed rotor allows for step angles as small as a few degrees.