Basic Stepping Motor Control Circuits


This section of the stepper tutorial deals with the basic final stage drive circuitry for stepping motors. This circuitry is centered on a single issue, switching the current in each motor winding on and off, and controlling its direction.


The circuitry discussed in this section is connected directly to the motor windings and the motor power supply, and this circuitry is controlled by a digital system that determines when the switches are turned on or off.

This section covers all types of motors, from the elementary circuitry needed to control a variable reluctance motor, to the H-bridge circuitry needed to control a bipolar permanent magnet motor. Each class of drive circuit is illustrated with practical examples, but these examples are not intended as an exhaustive catalog of the commercially available control circuits, nor is the information given here intended to substitute for the information found on the manufacturer's component data sheets for the parts mentioned.

This section only covers the most elementary control circuitry for each class of motor. All of these circuits assume that the motor power supply provides a drive voltage no greater than the motor's rated voltage, and this significantly limits motor performance. The next section, on current limited drive circuitry, covers practical high-performance drive circuits.

Variable Reluctance Motors

Typical controllers for variable reluctance stepping motors are variations on the outline shown in Figure 3.1:

Figure 3.1

In Figure 3.1, boxes are used to represent switches; a control unit, not shown, is responsible for providing the control signals to open and close the switches at the appropriate times in order to spin the motors. In many cases, the control unit will be a computer or programmable interface controller, with software directly generating the outputs needed to control the switches, but in other cases, additional control circuitry is introduced, sometimes gratuitously!


Motor windings, solenoids and similar devices are all inductive loads. As such, the current through the motor winding cannot be turned on or off instantaneously without involving infinite voltages! When the switch controlling a motor winding is closed, allowing current to flow, the result of this is a slow rise in current. When the switch controlling a motor winding is opened, the result of this is a voltage spike that can seriously damage the switch unless care is taken to deal with it appropriately.

There are two basic ways of dealing with this voltage spike. One is to bridge the motor winding with a diode, and the other is to bridge the motor winding with a capacitor. Figure 3.2 illustrates both approaches:

Figure 3.2

The diode shown in Figure 3.2 must be able to conduct the full current through the motor winding, but it will only conduct briefly each time the switch is turned off, as the current through the winding decays. If relatively slow diodes such as the common 1N400X family are used together with a fast switch, it may be necessary to add a small capacitor in parallel with the diode.

The capacitor shown in Figure 3.2 poses more complex design problems! When the switch is closed, the capacitor will discharge through the switch to ground, and the switch must be able to handle this brief spike of discharge current. A resistor in series with the capacitor or in series with the power supply will limit this current.


When the switch is opened, the stored energy in the motor winding will charge the capacitor up to a voltage significantly above the supply voltage, and the switch must be able to tolerate this voltage. To solve for the size of the capacitor, we equate the two formulas for the stored energy in a resonant circuit:


P -- stored energy, in watt seconds or coulomb volts

C -- capacity, in farads

V -- voltage across capacitor

L -- inductance of motor winding, in henrys

I -- current through motor winding