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A step motor (or stepper motor) is a brushless, synchronous electric motor that can divide a full rotation into a large number of steps.
The motor's position can be controlled precisely without any feedback mechanism, as long as the motor is carefully sized to the application.
Stepper motors are similar to switched reluctance motors (which are very large stepping motors with a reduced pole count, and generally are closed-loop commutated.)
Fundamentals of Operation
Step motors operate differently from DC brush motors, which rotate when voltage is applied to their terminals. Step motors, on the other hand, effectively have multiple "toothed" electromagnets arranged around a central gear-shaped piece of iron.
The electromagnets are energized by an external control circuit, such as a microcontroller.
To make the motor shaft turn, first one electromagnet is given power, which makes the gear's teeth magnetically attracted to the electromagnet's teeth. When the gear's teeth are thus aligned to the first electromagnet, they are slightly offset from the next electromagnet.
So when the next electromagnet is turned on and the first is turned off, the gear rotates slightly to align with the next one, and from there the process is repeated.
Each of those slight 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.