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Minimum Incremental Motion and Holding Stability in Beamline Positioning


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Stage motor and feedback configurations tested

Stepper versus Servo – A Comparison of Drive Technologies

By: Brian O’Connor Product Manager Aerotech Inc. and Byron Fruit Applications Engineer Research, Aerospace, and Defense Group Aerotech Inc.


Many beamline applications such as X‐ray microscopy and Computed Tomography (CT) require positioning of samples, detectors, and optics in order to perform measurements. Microscopy applications often require imaging of the structure of matter at the sub‐micrometer and even nanometer level. Good holding stability, both short‐term and long‐term, is required because movement of the sample or optics over the time of measurement will cause poor images. Also, the ability to make small mechanical movements on the order of nanometers is often critical for alignment and adjustment of samples or optics.

Stepper and servomotors are two common drive methods for controlling position in mechanical positioning systems used in beamline applications. Stepper motors are brushless DC devices that divide 360 degrees of rotation into equal steps. Motion is induced by energizing segments of the coil winding sequentially. A stepper motor can hold position by energizing one segment of the coil, without any feedback, making it a good choice for low‐cost, precision applications requiring holding stability. Servomotors are typically brushless AC devices, but in contrast to stepper motors, most often use three phases of coil winding plus a feedback device like an encoder or resolver. This feedback device allows a controller to commutate the motor phases and close a PID servo loop around the actual position of the motor, providing a significant advantage in applications that require small step sizes and good holding stability.  

Study Objective

The purpose of this study is to evaluate the performance differences of motor and feedback technologies on minimum incremental motion (achievable mechanical step size), short‐term stability, and long‐term stability. Short‐term stability, or in‐position jitter, is the amount of motion measured at the point of interest over a short time duration (four seconds chosen for this study). Long‐term stability is measured over a larger time duration (60 minutes chosen for this study). Long‐term stability tests are performed when the stages are at equilibrium and directly after a move‐sequence to replicate typical motion and move sequences present when aligning samples, optics, or other equipment. To evaluate and isolate these aspects of performance, Aerotech designed a mechanical positioning stage based on...


Aerotech, Inc
101 Zeta Drive
Pittsburgh , PA 15238-2897
United States

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Since 1970, Aerotech has designed and manufactured the highest performance motion control and positioning systems for our …
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