How To Choose Stepper Motor For 3D Printers in 2022


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The stepper motor is essential for a 3D printer’s smooth operation and helps you make high-quality and detailed prints.

One great way to improve the performance of your 3D printer is to upgrade to a better quality stepper motor. In this article, we present a guide on how to choose a good quality stepper motor for your 3D Printer.

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Parts of a stepper motor

What is a Stepper Motor?

The stepper motor is an electromechanical device that is used in many forms of production machinery. Its unique design can help turn electrical energy into mechanical power that can be used for printing.

The motor is made from synchronized, brushless components that can change a normal rotation into an innumerous number of 3D steps.

The motor is an integral part of every 3D printer. Basically, it is used to move the extruder along the x, y and z axis to create your prints. A stepper motor is also used in the extruder assembly to pull the printing filament into the extruder.

How Does the Stepper Motor Work?

Stepper motors are designed to move in intervals. Generally, they move the extruder along the horizontal plane then hold it in place, then move again.

The motor can move objects in a repeatable pattern. This practice is commonly used in robotics and regular printers as well.

The movement and position of the motor can be controlled for preciseness through a set of coded instructions. . This works well as long as the motor is carefully sized for the print.

The design of a stepper motor is quite similar to a DC motor. In the middle of this device is a rotor that starts rotating once a force (or electric current) is supplied to it. The rotor is enclosed in a stator that is wound through a magnetic coil over it.

The stator is arranged close to the rotor so that magnetic fields inside it can control the movement of the rotor.

A magnetic field develops inside the stator when you start supplying it with an electric current. The motor can be moved up and down, left and right or back and forth, based on which stator is supplied with electricity.

This is the basic working principle of the stepper motor. It may differ from model to model, based on the design, technology and materials used.

Types of Stepper Motor

Stepper motors can be categorized based on the size of the device. The size category is identified under the National Electrical Manufacturers Association (NEMA) standard.

The most popular sizes used in 3D printers are the NEMA 14, NEMA 17, NEMA 23, and NEMA 24.

Besides size, stepper motors are also differentiated based on electricity used. Here are the three main varieties of stepper motors that you will find.

L/R Stepper Motor Driver

The L/R stepper motor performs rotations at a low to medium speed. This creates a limited range of power output. While it offers a full range of rotation movement, the control is not the best for variable current levels.

Most of the common entry-range 3D printers use this type of stepper motor. They complete the job fairly well on bigger projects, but they are not very precise. Printing on the L/R stepper motor is the most economical.

Micro-step Motor Driver

This type of motor driver is also known as a PWM (pulse width modulation). It works on a high voltage, solitary supply of power and offers output transistors that turn on and off automatically.

This motor driver can use a micro step mode. This helps run the printer more smoothly when it is supplied a regulated current at all speeds. While it offers a boost in performance, the printing cost can be high, especially if your projects go on for hours.

Bi-level Motor Driver

The Bi-level stepper motor driver is a hybrid model that can run on both high and low-level voltages.

This stepper works by powering up to a high rate of current initially. When it reaches the level required for printing, the high voltage is turned off. The stepper then runs on low voltage to maintain its consistency.

The result for this type of stepper motor is good in quality. However, it may not be as precise as a micro-step driver. It consumes much lower power while offering a decent print.

Factors for Choosing an Upgrade

If you are planning to upgrade the stepper motor on your printer, then make sure to get the right part. Fitting the wrong model or a stepper motor driver that isn’t ideal for what you need may have a negative impact and lower your printer’s performance.

Here are some of the things to keep in mind when you purchase a new stepper motor.

Torque

Before you choose a stepper motor for your printer, make sure to examine the torque-speed curve of the motor.

It is presented as a graphical symbol of the torque of the motor at a specified speed. Torque controls the speed and power of the rotors inside the stepper. Torque is generated relative to the size of the stepper motor and the electric current.

In simple terms, the more torque you need to generate, the more power your stepper will require. Take this into account based on the type of 3D printer you have.

Some 3D printers cannot handle a very high torque while some are not designed to work with a low torque. This information should be available from the designer of the motor.

Accuracy

The accuracy of your stepper motor controls the quality of the final print. Stepper motors that allow fine, precise movements allow much greater accuracy than motors that cannot create very precise turns and twists.

But sometimes, you don’t need a lot of accuracy. This holds true when you are printing bigger objects or prints with more than 2 mm thickness.

Type of Wiring

The wiring in a stepper motor is arranged either as a unipolar or bipolar phase.

The unipolar motor has 5 to 8 leads that are spread out towards a pole. A motor with 8 leads allows both series & parallel connections while a motor with 5 or 6 leads has stator coil’s series connection.

The operation of the unipolar motor can be simplified as there is no need to reverse the flow of current within the driving circuit.

A bipolar stepper motor has a single winding for each pole. The direction of the supply needs to change through the driving circuit. This process is more complex so these motors are also called unifilar motors.

Stepper motors with bipolar wiring improve precision but they tend to cost more.

Cost

A more accurate stepper might feel like the obvious choice but price is a major factor to consider. Precise and accurate stepper motors are quite expensive. Unless you are working on a research project or corporate prototype, it is better to opt for something less costly.

There are dozens of good quality stepper motor drivers out there to choose from. Many of them are not too expensive and cost around $20 – $100. Although the stepper motor is not the most expensive thing you can buy for your 3D printer, you do need to factor in the cost in your budget.

Keep in mind that more expensive stepper driver does not necessarily mean good performance. You can find a good stepper motor on discount from some manufacturers from time to time.

Compatibility

Another important factor for choosing a 3D printer stepper motor is to consider its cost. Most stepper motors follow a universal design and they are compatible with general 3D printers. However, some stepper motors are designed specifically for a model or make. They may not necessarily fit on your printer.

Make sure to thoroughly read your printer’s instructions manual to understand what it has. You should also talk to the vendor to find out if the motor that you want to buy is compatible with your model.

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FAQ for 3D Printer Stepper Motors

Do I Need A Stepper Motor Driver for My 3D Printer?

Yes, in most cases. Many electronic devices use a stepper motor to control various rotation-based systems. You may not know it but your 3D printer probably has a stepper motor that controls the movement of the printer extruder and other moving parts.

The stepper motor is necessary for determining how the print arm moves and where to print.

How Expensive Are 3D Printer Stepper Motors?

Many parts of 3D printers are expensive but stepper motors are cheaper compared to the rest. The price of stepper motors for printers has come down over the past several years. The main reason behind this price reduction is that most of them are now mass-produced in China and shipped all over the world.

The starting models are priced at just around $10. These are the most basic units that can be used to replace your worn-out motor.

If you are looking for better quality motors, they will cost around $20 – $40. The best quality stepper motors used for product prototyping can cost around $100.

Does Upgrading the Stepper Motor Improve Printer Performance?

Upgrading to a better or new stepper motor will definitely improve your printer’s performance. The stepper motor gets worn out over time. If you have been using your 3D printer for commercial prints or lots of projects, you will notice the quality of prints go down over time.

This is where a new stepper motor can vastly improve the results.

Your printer’s performance will also improve if you upgrade to a better quality stepper motor. A more powerful and precise motor can produce more power and create prints that are more accurate.

Is It Possible to Change the Stepper Motor Driver on My Printer?

If you are handy with gadgets and regularly fix mechanical components, then you should have no trouble replacing the stepper motor on your printer. The motor is not too difficult to take out or install.

We have seen even beginners do it with ease after a bit of tinkering. Just make sure that you thoroughly read the instructions manual and put everything back in place when reassembling.

Can I Install Any Stepper Motor On My 3D Printer?

Not necessarily. While most stepper motors are designed to be universal and will fit regular 3D printers, some motors are designed for specific models. If you buy a stepper motor that isn’t designed for your printer then it is unlikely to fit.

Similarly, if your printer has a unique stepper motor housing then the regular cube-shaped stepper model will not work. Consult your 3D Printer manual for details and talk to the vendor about compatibility before you make a purchase.

Final Thoughts

A good quality stepper motor can vastly improve the performance of your 3D printer. However, make sure to choose the right model and consider important factors like cost, precision and torque etc to get what you need.

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If you have more questions or want to add something let us know!

Steven Carroll

Thank you for reading my article. I have a passion for creating with 3D printing, woodworking, welding, and drawing. I hope you have learned a little from my mistakes and lessons learned. This article is meant to be a help to you! Thank you again for your time!

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