Motor controllers and drives are electrical devices used to regulate motor speed, torque, and position outputs. The drive alters the power input to the motor to realize a desired output. Controller circuits are frequently consolidated with the drive circuits to form a single stand-alone unit, and as such, the terms motor drive and motor controller are frequently used interchangeably. The four basic motor controller and drive types are AC, DC, servo, and stepper. Each type has its own input power type adjusted to the desired output function to match with its intended application.
AC motor controllers and drives are used to modify the input power to motors by adjusting the frequency of the power to the motor in order to control the output speed and torque. Factors that affect an AC motor controller or drive include its intended application, drive operating mode, motor type, inverter type, loop system voltage classification, power rating, communication interface, and the input and output electrical specifications. Motor controllers and drives of this type are used mainly in process applications where they do things like control the speed of pumps, fans, blowers, and so on. They are sometimes called variable speed drives, adjustable frequency drives, or AC inverters. Frequently integrated with the drive circuits, the controller suppliers the control signals to the drive. AC motor drives help increase the efficiency of machines by controlling pump, fan, etc. speeds to exactly match requirements.
DC motor controllers and drives are devices that alter the input power by changing the constant or alternating current to a pulsed direct current output of varying pulse duration and frequency. Similar to AC motor controllers and drives, critical specifications include the device’s intended application, drive operating mode, motor type, loop system, voltage classification, power rating, output signal type, communication interface, and the input and output electrical specifications. These devices have many uses, the chief of which is to control the motor speeds and torques in machine tools, electric vehicles, pumps, and more. The control signals are supplied to the drive by the controller. Because of their low-speed torque, DC motor controllers are ideal for use in winches, cranes, and other machines that lift loads from a standstill.
Servo motor controllers and drives operate similarly to a DC motor controller in that they modify the input power by adjusting the constant alternating source. However, servo motors can change the source to both an AC or DC output. They are used in motion control applications in manufacturing construction environments, as well as being used in machine tools, micro-positioning, robotics, and machinery such as conveyors and spindle drive systems. Servo drives may also be referred to as servomotor amplifiers. To control position, velocity, acceleration, etc., servo motor controllers rely on feedback from the servo motor itself.
Finally, stepper motor controllers and drives are electronic devices that adjust the input power by altering the constant or alternating current to a pulsed, or ‘stepped,’ current output. Similar to servo drives, stepper motor controllers and drives are most commonly used in motion control applications in construction and manufacturing, as well as in machine tools, micro-positioning, robotics, and machinery such as conveyors and OEM equipment. Another name for controllers is motor indexers. For their specific motors, stepper motor manufacturers commonly also supply drives as well as guides to which motors will work best with which drives.
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