A stepper motor or step motor or stepping motor is a brushless DC electric motor that divides a full rotation into a number of equal steps. The motor's position can then be commanded to move and hold at one of these steps without any position sensor for feedback (an open-loop controller), as long as the motor is carefully sized to the application in respect to torque and speed.
Fundamentals of operation
Brushed DC motors rotate continuously when DC voltage is applied to their terminals. The stepper motor is known by its property to convert a train of input pulses (typically square wave pulses) into a precisely defined increment in the shaft position. Each pulse moves the shaft through a fixed angle.
Stepper motors effectively have multiple "toothed" electromagnets arranged around a central gear-shaped piece of iron. The electromagnets are energized by an external driver circuit or a micro controller. To make the motor shaft turn, first, one electromagnet is given power, which magnetically attracts the gear's teeth. When the gear's teeth are aligned to the first electromagnet, they are slightly offset from the next electromagnet. This means that when the next electromagnet is turned on and the first is turned off, the gear rotates slightly to align with the next one. From there the process is repeated. Each of those rotations is called a "step", with an integer number of steps making a full rotation. In that way, the motor can be turned by a precise angle.
The circular arrangement of electromagnets is divided into groups, each group called a phase, and there is an equal number of electromagnets per group. The number of groups is chosen by the designer of the stepper motor. The electromagnets of each group are interleaved with the electromagnets of other groups to form a uniform pattern of arrangement. For example, if the stepper motor has two groups identified as A or B, and ten electromagnets in total, then the grouping pattern would be ABABABABAB.
Electromagnets within the same group are all energized together. Because of this, stepper motors with more phases typically have more wires (or leads) to control the motor.