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What is a stepping motor? Applications and usage examples of stepping motors

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  • What is a stepping motor? Applications and usage examples of stepping motors

1. What can stepping motors do?

A stepping motor is a type of control motor that can be positioned without a sensor. It may also be called a pulse motor, stepper, or stepper motor.
Although there are some disadvantages such as the risk of step-out compared to servo motors with sensors, positioning can be achieved at low cost with simple control. As such, it is often installed in devices that requires some simple positioning without cost.
Stepping motors are motors that rotate at a fixed angle, like the second hand on a clock. Positioning is performed by switching (controlling) this angle.
Stepping motors have been enriching our lives in variety of scenes by taking advantage of its features of inexpensive and simple positioning control.

Related Article: Training - What is a stepping motor? The working, types, uses (drive circuits and control methods), advantages, and characteristics
The structure and features of the stepping motor are explained in more detail.

2. Main applications and usage examples of stepping motors

Stepping motors are not directly seen by us in our daily lives but they are working inside many machines that support our lives in various scenes.
Where are they actually used? Here are some examples.

Stepping motors used in robots

With the shortage of labor, the importance of mechanization and automation is increasing year by year. Stepping motors are playing an active role in factory robots that solve such problems.
A typical example of this is the SCARA robot (horizontal articulated robots). SCARA robots, which mainly perform horizontal movements are specialized at relatively simple tasks such as transportation, assembly and screw tightening. For example, it may be easy to imagine a scene where chocolates are boxed in a special box.
Stepping motors, which do not have a sensor also have the feature of being specialized in relatively simple repetitive motions. Moreover, as positioning can be achieved inexpensively, it is ideal for SCARA robots that mainly move horizontally.

On the other hand, servo motors with sensors are used for robots that require slightly more complicated movements (vertical and turning)

Thus, stepping motors and other motors are making great contribution to manufacturing, in terms of labor-saving, quality improvement, and cost reduction.

Stepping motors used in 3D printers

A 3D printer is a device that forms a three-dimensional object by spraying and laminating resin. 3D printers has revolutionized the manufacturing and architecture industry by allowing us to create better ideas, reduce development time and costs, and create any design we can imagine. Many of you may have been surprised by the news that the construction period of the Sagrada Familia was shortened by more than 150 years, due to the introduction of 3D printers and other IT technologies.

Now, in which part of the 3D printer is the stepping motor used?
The answer is the drive part of the nozzle that sprays resin. As shown in the figure below, the stepping motor plays an important role in positioning the nozzle.

Using a 3 axes (XYZ axes) motor, the nozzle is moved in three dimensions to accumulate resin and form 3D objects.
Accurate positioning by a control motor is essential for modeling complex 3D objects.

Stepping motors used in copy machines

Nearly 500,000 units of copy machines and multifunction printers are shipped annually in Japan alone. Although it is recommended to go paperless, they are a representative of OA equipment that is indispensable for efficient business operation. Recently, convenience stores have started to offer multi-functional copiers that can output data from smartphones, and many people may have found this convenient.
Now, a very simple operation of reading information and outputting it on a paper. Where in this process is the stepping motor used?
The answer to this question may be as you have guessed. Stepping motors play an active role in the document scanning and paper feeding operations.
First, the document scanning operation. The stepping motor controls and positions to read the document smoothly and without distortion. Next, the paper feeding operation. There are several paper feeding rollers used inside a copy machine. The role of the stepping motor is to move these rollers and feed the paper quickly and accurately.
They are used to make clear copies with no printing errors and no distortion.

Stepping motors used in PCB inspection system

First, let's take a look at what a PCB inspection system is. A PCB inspection system is, as the name implies, a system that inspects a PCB. PCBs are used in all the electronic devices and automobiles around us. A large number of electronic components are implemented on a PCB and they interact with one another to ensure normal operation of the product.
If there is any defect in the PCB, for example a short circuit of the soldered part, the product will not be able to move. The PCB inspection system is used to avoid such problems.
PCB inspection involves multiple processes such as printing process inspection, mounting process inspection, and reflow process inspection, and in the past, these processes were all performed by human eyes. However, due to the miniaturization of PCBs and labor shortage, the role of inspection using PCB inspection system is becoming more important.
In which part of the PCB inspection system is the stepping motor working? It is the part that adjusts the position of the PCB. As it may be a little confusing, please refer to the figure below. The PCB rides on a conveying belt through each process of inspection and sent to the next stage. If the position of the PCB is misaligned or the angle is bent, accurate inspection cannot be performed. The stepping motor controls the position of the width adjustment, and send the PCB for inspection in a perfectly aligned state.

Stepping motors used in automatic ticket gates

Stepping motors are also used in automatic ticket gates when passing tickets at stations.
It is used for the transportation part that carries the ticket from the insertion slot to the exit. Inside the automatic ticket gate uses a transport belt to carry the ticket, and this belt is driven by the power of a stepping motor. During rush hours, such as in the morning, it is necessary to transport the ticket from the entrance side to the exit side within one second to avoid causing congestion. Also, by accurately stopping the movement at the exit side, the ticket can be delivered exactly at hand.

Stepping motors used in wire processing machines

A wire processing machine is a machine for processing wire rods.
A wire rod is an elongated steel material. It may be easier to understand if you imagine it like a wire. This machine performs various processing such as cutting the length, peeling off the tip coating, twisting into wires, and making into screws and springs.
Stepping motors are used in the wire feeding part of the wire processing machines. As shown in the figure below, the wire rod of the required length is fed to the machined part. The reason why stepping motors are useful is that they can feed the wire to the processing area without loosening it by taking advantage of the constant speed rotation feature of the stepping motor.

Stepping motors used in slot machines

Amusement games which are familiar to us, uses many stepping motors in unexpected places. A typical example of this is the slot machine. Where exactly in the slot machine is the stepping motor used?
The answer is the reel. The reel is the part of the slot where the displayed three different patterns spin when the game is activated. It is the key part of the machine. When the player presses the button, the reel stops exactly in place. The stepping motor is used to achieve this movement (see figure below). Stepping motors play a major role in the nail-biting moments of playing slot games.

Stepping motors used in crane games

Next is another example of stepping motors used in amusement games. It is the arm part of the crane game.
Stepping motors create the movement of moving the arm back and forth, left and right, and to open and close the arm when grabbing a prize. Here too, they are playing an important role in the crane game. The stepping motor is making contribution to stop the arm part the moment you release the button and the handgrip controlled at the last delicate minute when you grab the prize.
Thus, stepping motors are playing an active role not only in the field of industrial machinery but also in the entertainment area, which is more familiar and amusing to us.

Stepping motors used in surveillance cameras

Surveillance cameras protect the safety of our city every day. Inside them, stepping motors are making a strong contribution out of sight. Which part are they working? It is the moving part (swinging part) of the camera. Due to the nature of surveillance cameras, there are some products that require 360° surveillance, not just up, down, left, and right. Stepping motors are often used for its movement and positioning. However, stepping motors have the weakness that vibration increases during low speed rotation, so it may be necessary to use a low speed machine (gear) or replace it with a servo motor.

3. At the end

This article has provided an introduction of how stepping motors play an active role in our daily lives. Although motors are rarely invisible, they may continue to be used in a wide variety of applications and in many products. It may be interesting to look at the products around you while imagining how they are actually working.

Date of publication: August 06, 2021

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