Stepper Motors for High Accuracy Positioning Systems

Hybrid Stepper Motors are widely used in open-loop position applications. They are the choice of actuation for the collimators in the Large Hadron Collider, the largest particle accelerator at CERN. In this case the positioning requirements and the highly radioactive operating environment are unique. The latter forces both the use of long cables to connect the motors to the drives which act as transmission lines and also prevents the use of standard position sensors. However, reliable and precise operation of the collimators is critical for the machine, requiring the prevention of step loss in the motors and maintenance to be foreseen in case of mechanical degradation.

In order to make the above possible, an approach is proposed for the application of an Extended Kalman Filter to a sensorless stepper motor drive, when the motor is separated from its drive by long cables. When the long cables and high frequency pulse width modulated control voltage signals are used together, the electrical signals differ greatly between the motor and drive-side of the cable.

Since in the considered case only drive-side data is available, it is therefore necessary to estimate the motor-side signals. Modelling the entire cable and motor system in an Extended Kalman Filter is too computationally intensive for standard embedded real-time platforms. It is, in consequence, proposed to divide the problem into an Extended Kalman Filter, based only on the motor model, and separated motor-side signal estimators, the combination of which is less demanding computationally. The effectiveness of this approach is shown in simulation.

Then its validity is experimentally demonstrated via implementation in a DSP based drive. A test bench to test its performance when driving an axis of a Large Hadron Collider collimator is presented along with the results achieved. It is shown that the proposed method is capable of achieving position and load torque estimates which allow step loss to be detected and mechanical degradation to be evaluated without the need for physical sensors.

These estimation algorithms often require a precise model of the stepper motor, but the standard electrical model used for hybrid stepper motors is limited when currents, which are high enough to produce saturation of the magnetic circuit, are present. New model extensions are proposed in order to have a more precise model of the motor independently of the current level, whilst maintaining a low computational cost. It is shown that a significant improvement in the model fit is achieved with these extensions, and their computational performance is compared to study the cost of model improvement versus computation cost. The applicability of the proposed model extensions is demonstrated via their use in an Extended Kalman Filter running in real-time for closed-loop current control and mechanical state estimation.

An additional problem arises from the use of stepper motors. The mechanics of the collimators can wear due to the abrupt motion and torque profiles that are applied by them when used in the standard way, i.e. stepping in open-loop.

Closed-loop position control, more specifically field oriented control for stepper motor, would allow smoother profiles, more respectful to the mechanics, to be applied but requires position feedback. As mentioned already, the use of sensors in radioactive environments is very limited for reliability reasons. Sensorless control is a known option but when the speed is very low or zero, as is the case most of the time for the motors used in the LHC collimator, the loss of observability prevents its use.

In order to allow the use of position sensors without reducing the long term reliability of the whole system, the possibility to switch from closed to open loop is proposed and validated, allowing the use of closed-loop control when the position sensors function correctly and open-loop when there is a sensor failure.

A different approach to deal with the switched drive working with long cables is also presented. Switched mode stepper motor drives tend to have poor performance or even fail completely when the motor is fed through a long cable due to the high oscillations in the drive-side current. The design of a stepper motor output filter which solves this problem is thus proposed. A two stage filter, one devoted to dealing with the differential mode and the other with the common mode, is designed and validated experimentally. With this filter the drive performance is greatly improved, achieving a positioning repeatability even better than with the drive working without a long cable, the radiated emissions are reduced and the overvoltage at the motor terminals are eliminated.

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