A stepper motor system consists of three basic elements, often combined with some type of user interface (host computer, PLC or dumb terminal):
IndexersThe indexer (or controller) is a microprocessor capable of generating step pulses and direction signals for the stepper motor driver. In addition, the indexer is typically required to perform many other sophisticated command functions.DriversThe driver (or amplifier) converts the indexer command signals into the power necessary to energize the motor windings. There are numerous types of drivers, with different voltage and current ratings and construction technology. Not all drivers are suitable to run all motors, so when designing a motion control system the driver selection process is critical.Stepper motorsThe stepper motor is an electromagnetic device that converts digital pulses into mechanical shaft rotation. Advantages of step motors are low cost, high reliability, high torque at low speeds and a simple, rugged construction that operates in almost any environment. The main disadvantages in using a stepper motor is the resonance effect often exhibited at low speeds and decreasing torque with increasing speed.
Stepper motors' nameplates typically give only the winding current and occasionally the voltage and winding resistance. The rated voltage will produce the rated winding current at DC: but this is mostly a meaningless rating, as all modern drivers are current limiting and the drive voltages greatly exceed the motor rated voltage.
Datasheets from the manufacturer often indicate Inductance. Back-EMF is equally relevant, but seldom listed (it is straightforward to measure with an oscilloscope). These figures can be helpful for more in-depth electronics design, when deviating from standard supply voltages, adapting third party driver electronics, or gaining insight when choosing between motor models with otherwise similar size, voltage, and torque specifications.
A stepper's low-speed torque will vary directly with current. How quickly the torque falls off at faster speeds depends on the winding inductance and the drive circuitry it is attached to, especially the driving voltage.
Steppers should be sized according to published torque curve, which is specified by the manufacturer at particular drive voltages or using their own drive circuitry. Dips in the torque curve suggest possible resonances, whose impact on the application should be understood by designers.
Step motors adapted to harsh environments are often referred to as IP65 rated.
The US National Electrical Manufacturers Association (NEMA) standardises various aspects of stepper motors. They are typically referred with NEMA DD, where DD is the diameter of the faceplate in inches multiplied by 10 (e.g., NEMA 17 has a diameter of 1.7 inches). There are further specifiers to describe stepper motors, and such details may be found in the ICS 16-2001 standard (section 126.96.36.199). There are also useful summaries and further information on the Reprap site.