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Bifilar Motors


Bifilar windings on a stepping motor are applied to the same rotor and stator geometry as a bipolar motor, but instead of winding each coil in the stator with a single wire, two wires are wound in parallel with each other. As a result, the motor has 8 wires, not four. 

In practice, motors with bifilar windings are always powered as either unipolar or bipolar motors. Figure 1.4 shows the alternative connections to the windings of such a motor.

To use a bifilar motor as a unipolar motor, the two wires of each winding are connected in series and the point of connection is used as a center-tap. Winding 1 in Figure 1.4 is shown connected this way. 

To use a bifilar motor as a bipolar motor, the two wires of each winding are connected either in parallel or in series. Winding 2 in Figure 1.4 is shown with a parallel connection; this allows low voltage high-current operation. Winding 1 in Figure 1.4 is shown with a series connection; if the center tap is ignored, this allows operation at a higher voltage and lower current than would be used with the windings in parallel. 

It should be noted that essentially all 6-wire motors sold for bipolar use are actually wound using bifilar windings, so that the external connection that serves as a center tap is actually connected as shown for winding 1 in Figure 1.4. Naturally, therefore, any unipolar motor may be used as a bipolar motor at twice the rated voltage and half the rated current as is given on the nameplate. 

The question of the correct operating voltage for a bipolar motor run as a unipolar motor, or for a bifilar motor with the motor windings in series is not as trivial as it might first appear. There are three issues: The current carrying capacity of the wire, cooling the motor, and avoiding driving the motor's magnetic circuits into saturation. Thermal considerations suggest that, if the windings are wired in series, the voltage should only be raised by the square root of 2. The magnetic field in the motor depends on the number of ampere turns; when the two half-windings are run in series, the number of turns is doubled, but because a well-designed motor has magnetic circuits that are close to saturation when the motor is run at its rated voltage and current, increasing the number of ampere-turns does not make the field any stronger. Therefore, when a motor is run with the two half-windings in series, the current should be halved in order to avoid saturation; or, in other words, the voltage across the motor winding should be the same as it was. 

For those who salvage old motors, finding an 8-wire motor poses a challenge! Which of the 8 wires is which? It is not hard to figure this out using an ohm meter, an AC volt meter, and a low voltage AC source. First, use the ohm meter to identify the motor leads that are connected to each other through the motor windings. Then, connect a low-voltage AC source to one of these windings. The AC voltage should be below the advertised operating voltage of the motor; voltages under 1 volt are recommended. The geometry of the magnetic circuits of the motor guarantees that the two wires of a bifilar winding will be strongly coupled for AC signals, while there should be almost no coupling to the other two wires. Therefore, probing with an AC volt meter should disclose which of the other three windings is paired to the winding under power. 

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