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Electromagnetic Issues

In a permanent magnet or hybrid stepping motor, the magnetic field of the motor rotor changes with changes in shaft angle. The result of this is that turning the motor rotor induces an AC voltage in each motor winding. This is referred to as the counter EMF because the voltage induced in each motor winding is always in phase with and counter to the ideal waveform required to turn the motor in the same direction. Both the frequency and amplitude of the counter EMF increase with rotor speed, and therefore, counter EMF contributes to the decline in torque with increased stepping rate.

Variable reluctance stepping motors also induce counter EMF! This is because, as the stator winding pulls a tooth of the rotor towards its equilibrium position, the reluctance of the magnetic circuit declines. This decline increases the inductance of the stator winding, and this change in inductance demands a decrease in the current through the winding in order to conserve energy. This decrease is evidenced as a counter EMF.

The reactance (inductance and resistance) of the motor windings limits the current flowing through them. Thus, by ohms law, increasing the voltage will increase the current, and therefore increase the available torque. The increased voltage also serves to overcome the counter EMF induced in the motor windings, but the voltage cannot be increased arbitrarily! Thermal, magnetic and electronic considerations all serve to limit the useful torque that a motor can produce.

The heat given off by the motor windings is due to both simple resistive losses, eddy current losses, and hysteresis losses. If this heat is not conducted away from the motor adequately, the motor windings will overheat. The simplest failure this can cause is insulation breakdown, but it can also heat a permanent magnet rotor to above its curie temperature, the temperature at which permanent magnets lose their magnetization. This is a particular risk with many modern high strength magnetic alloys.

Even if the motor is attached to an adequate heat sink, increased drive voltage will not necessarily lead to increased torque. Most motors are designed so that, with the rated current flowing through the windings, the magnetic circuits of the motor are near saturation. Increased current will not lead to an appreciably increased magnetic field in such a motor!

Given a drive system that limits the current through each motor winding to the rated maximum for that winding, but uses high voltages to achieve a higher cutoff torque and higher torques above cutoff, there are other limits that come into play. At high speeds, the motor windings must, of necessity, carry high frequency AC signals. This leads to eddy current losses in the magnetic circuits of the motor, and it leads to skin effect losses in the motor windings.

Motors designed for very high speed running should, therefore, have magnetic structures using very thin laminations or even nonconductive ferrite materials, and they should have small gauge wire in their windings to minimize skin effect losses. Common high torque motors have large-gauge motor windings and coarse core laminations, and at high speeds, such motors can easily overheat and should therefore be derated accordingly for high speed running!

It is also worth noting that the best way to demagnetize something is to expose it to a high frequency-high amplitude magnetic field. Running the control system to spin the rotor at high speed when the rotor is actually stalled, or spinning the rotor at high speed against a control system trying to hold the rotor in a fixed position will both expose the rotor to a high amplitude high-frequency field. If such operating conditions are common, particularly if the motor is run near the curie temperature of the permanent magnets, demagnetization is a serious risk and the field strengths (and expected torques) should be reduced accordingly!

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