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Bridging the gap between stepper and servo motors

Bridging the gap between stepper and servo motors
Motion Control Products has introduced what it describes as a game-changing motion technology to fill in the gap between stepper and servo technologies, in the form of MDrive Hybrid Motion.

Servo and Stepper- these two motion technologies have been very prominent in the motion control industry for decades. Traditionally, both systems have their advantages and disadvantages when applied to motion applications. Servo technology has the advantages of being capable of supplying peak torque, delivering significant torque at higher speeds, and operating in continuous closed loops. But there are disadvantages, too: there is the need for PID tuning; the system is error driven; there is inherently higher complexity; the price point is higher; servos have inherent dither; and there is the potential for instability.

Stepper technology has its own advantages, including high torque at low speed (perhaps eliminating the need for a gearbox), shaft stiffness at standstill, and no need for tuning. It is also a highly cost-effective solution. But again there are disadvantages, including: the thread of loss of motor synchronisation or stall; the need to size the system with up to 50% torque margin; the fact that it is a constant torque and current device; the possibility of excessive heating; and the possibility of resonant zones, depending on the system to which the motor is mounted.

Historically, the advantages and disadvantages of both servo and stepper systems have drawn a rather clear line as to when one or the other is applied. Most design engineers have justifications for a preferred motion platform. Engineers may have used a technology in the past and developed their opinion based on a positive or negative experience. Servo system manufacturers have tried to dominate the motion arena while placing doubts among would-be users of anything other than servo, and they have had a good measure of success. Now Motion Control Products says it has bridged the gap between stepper and servo technologies with a patented new concept: Hybrid Motion Technology developed by IMS Schneider Electric Motion (SEM). The company believes this will bring significant benefits for both OEMs and end users. 

The new technology delivers the benefits of both servo and stepper motor technologies, with unique capabilities and enhancements over both. Because industry likes clear definitions of technologies and way to have deliberate discussion as to their application, this new technology required a name, so this new technology is referred to generically as 'hybrid' within the context of motion control, as the best intuitive reference. 

Three distinct solutions
The results is that we now have stepper, servo and hybrid technologies at our disposal. IMS SEM has trademarked the version of this new motion control category as Hybrid Motion Technology. And says it not only eliminates many drawbacks of stepper and servo systems, but also introduces benefits. These benefits include:
  • Variable current/torque
  • Real time control
  • Optimum torque at all speeds
  • Stiffness as standstill
  • No tuning
  • Cost-effective

As a result, Hybrid Motion Technology more than fills the gap between servo and stepper motor technologies. What does it mean, though, to the design engineer? Well, in short, Motion Control Products says it provides a compelling alternative for demanding motion applications, helping to reduce both system cost and complexity. Hybrid Motion Technology also greatly expands the application range of stepper-based motion control to the likes of web tensioning, clamping, roll feeders, force applications that require torque mode, conveyors, rotary knives, and pick and place tasks (that require systems unaffected by transient loading).

Hybrid Motion Technology is available with the MDrive product range (stepper motors with drives/controllers). These integrated motion systems solve many servo applications with a compact, low cost stepper solution. They are also environmentally-friendly, energy saving products, as their variable current control feature reduces electrical power consumption. 

Steve McKay, managing director of Motion Control Products, comments: "Hybrid Motion Technology changes the rules of motor control, preventing the loss of synchronisation due to transient or continued overload, extreme acceleration or deceleration, or excessive slew speed when applied to stepper motors. With MDrive Hybrid, there is now a low cost alternative where brushless technology is required."
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