July 24, 2015

About My Lab... Part 1 - The Questionnaire


Okay, let's make this one simple...

Click HERE to answer a few brief questions about how your lab approaches instrument support.

All info is confidential  We will publish results in an upcoming post.

Shortest darn blog all year...


July 23, 2013

Motor Madness - Part III (...and final, I promise)

tl_files/labsquad/blog_images/Motor Madness/dumb.jpgServo Motors

In the last two installments, we talked about simple DC motors and stepper motors. To recap, a DC motor is basically the simplest (think 'Lloyd' from the movie 'Dumb and Dumber') motor you can find. Simply apply voltage with sufficient current and it spins. You can reverse the spin direction by reversing voltage polarity, and you can control the speed by applying varying voltage levels or by sending short pulses of voltage. Stepper motors are a...'step up' (I hate puns) insofar as intelligence goes (think 'Harry' from 'Dumb and Dumber'). By which I mean, you can send them specific (countable) pulses and the motor will rotate in very predictable increments (steps). Steppers are natively 'open loop' but are oftem fitted with rotary encoders to provide position feedback. However...that position feedback is often an 'after the fact' reconcilliation on the number of steps commanded vs the number of pulses counted. It is not a 'tl_files/labsquad/blog_images/Motor Madness/servo-amp.jpgmonitor on the fly' feedback loop and that is by definition what a servo motor brings to the table.

In the most basic sense, a servo motor is a brushess DC motor fitted with a feedback sensor. The output of the feedback sensor is used to determine the final position of the motor. These devices can be very small (like hobby RC servos) or larger. In general, with increased size comes larger windings which enable more current and greater torque.   Dtl_files/labsquad/blog_images/Motor Madness/feedback.gifepending on the device the motor is attached to, you can expect to see a series of drive reduction gears or pulleys for even greater torque. Unlike hobby servos which have both gear reduction and circuitry embedded within their housings and use potentiometers for feedback, most industrial servo motors require a separate driver or control board that provides motor voltage and also monitors the encoder in real time.  The image to the left represents a simple hobby servo which nicely illustrates the feeback loop concept. Both the input signal and the output from the sensor (potentiometer, in this case) are feed into a comparator circuit. Because the gearing is built in and known relative to the gear ratios, the comparator can essentially decide when the motor needs to be stopped in order to achieve the commanded motion (so many pulses should equal so much resistance).  

The pulses sent to the motor are generally all the same voltage but number of pulses sent over time is what determines speed.  This is called Pulse Wideth Modulation (PWM).

Troubleshooting a servo motor is not easy.  If the motor and encoder are separate units, you can apply the rated voltage to motor (disconnect any pulley/belt or linkages first!!!).   Encoders are a bit trickier and we will cover them in a future tutorial.   You can try some basics like checking wiring connectors or blowing air the encoder to remove dust, dirt or grease.  Beyond that...you will need to crack open the case and hook up a scope to see what the pulse train coming from the encoders look like.  Most encoders are off the shelf devices and you can Google specs to compare with what you have.   This will at least help you zone in on the encoder or the controller/board it is plugged into.


July 15, 2013

Motor Madness - Part I

If it moves...it probably has a motor.  There are a number of different types of motors within lab instruments and while repair or diagnosis of many of them are beyond the expertise even the most savvy field service technician, it is helpful to know a bit about them and what makes them tick (or spin).

The most common motors are simple AC or DC motors. As their names imply, each uses a different current scheme to achieve basic rotation but a simple brushed DC motor has five parts:

  • Armature or rotortl_files/labsquad/blog_images/Motor Madness/BrushedDCMotor2_opt.jpeg
  • Commutator
  • Brushes
  • Axle (shaft)
  • Field magnet

In many motors, the outer metal housing contains at least two field magnets (North and South).

The armature, also called the rotor as it rotates about the axel, is an electromagnet made by coiling thin wire around  two or more poles of a metal core.

The commutator is a pair of plates attached to the axle.  These plates provide the two connections for the coil of the electromagnet.

The commutator and the brushes enable for the "flipping" of the electric field" part of the motor.tl_files/labsquad/blog_images/Motor Madness/motor-labels.gif

Brushed DC Motors have two coils of wire around a rotor in the middle. Surrounding the coil are two magnets, both facing in the same direction. When the coils are facing the magnets, electricity flows into them. When electricity flows into a coil, it creates a magnetic field, and this magnetic field pushes the coils away from their magnets. As the rotor turns, the current shuts off. When the rotor has turned 180 degrees, each rotor faces the opposite magnet. The coils turn on again, this time with the electricity flowing in the opposite direction. This creates another pulse, pushing the rotor around again. The rotor has electric contacts on it, and there are small metal brushes that bump against the contacts. The brushes send in electricity, turning the motor on and off at the right times.

Operationally, all you need to do is apply the proper DC voltage at the nominally rated current and the motor will spin. For simple devices this can be done via an on/off switch.

A brushless DC motor has a permanent magnet on the inside of the rotor, such that its north and south poles are perpendicular to the axle. Coils surround the rotor.  These coils function similar to a brushed motor in that hey give out timed pulses to push the magnet, spinning the rotor. Because there are no brushes however, the motor cannot control itself. Instead, it is attached to a speed controller ciruit, which gives pulses of electricity at a certain speed to control the motor. The faster the coils pulse, the faster the motor will spin.  This is called Pulse Width Modulation or PWM (more on that in Part 3).

On a final note, other than brushes, there reall isn't much that can be easily fixed on a DC motor.  For older devices that are no longer supported, you can find rebuild services that can repair toasted armature (more common on larger motors).   The most tempting way to test a DC motor is of course to apply power...but please, if you do this make sure to disconnect the motor from any mechanical drive components (pulleys, bests, chains, linkages...etc) first.   As always, if you choose to ignore this advice, please do not send nasty emails, legal notices or graphic images of your physical injuries...

Next Up: Part 2 - Stepper Motors