Efficient Control of Motors at Low Speeds

When a motor is operating at high electrical frequency or high mechanical speed, the back EMF signal generated by the rotating rotor presents an efficient feedback technique for a sensor less motor control.

However, generation of the back EMF requires a minimum frequency and that makes it difficult to control motors running at low speeds. The process of continuously estimating the rotor flux angle at zero and very low speeds, together with stably moving between low-speed and high-speed estimators helps to improve the effectiveness of starting the motor under load without using sensors.

TI or Texas Instruments’ InstaSPIN-FOC software called FAST helps to make this estimation at very low speeds, sometimes below 1Hz. Although the initial rotor flux angle is unknown, FAST estimates this using sensor less techniques. Until it has measured enough back EMF, this estimate remains unpredictable and the estimated angle is incorrect.

However, FAST feeds the control system applicable to the motor and induces motor movement. Enough back EMF is generated with only a small amount of rotor movement and the algorithm can then converge on a reasonable estimate for the angle very quickly. This allows a controlled high-torque drive at low-speeds with excellent operation. Although the start-up performance may not be consistent, this method can start the motor with enough torque for rotor movement.

With increase in the starting load, the torque requirement goes up. The amount of torque the system can generate depends on the current through the motor and the alignment angle between the magnetic fields of the stator and the rotor. For ensuring generation of enough current, the speed controller must necessarily have a maximum output larger than the rated current required to generate the necessary torque.

For example, a motor starting under full load may require 4A of current to produce the necessary torque to move. This requires setting the speed controller’s maximum current output to 6A. When started, the motor will draw a current of 6A in its first electrical cycle for moving the rotor. With FAST providing a valid angle within this first cycle, the control system will quickly regulate the current usage to the required level of 4A.

However, even when there is a stable feedback angle, the rotor may not necessarily align itself properly for generating the maximum torque. In reality, you are simply sweeping the stator field and waiting until the rotor field locks on and synchronizes. If the stator field is not oriented properly, the motor may fail to generate enough torque or even produce torque in the opposite direction. Control systems can improve this situation only by starting with a better starting angle.

The simplest way to control the initial alignment is to inject a DC current in a field-oriented control system. This defines the orientation of the rotor flux. A large enough DC current injected will move the rotor and the load to a known angle. Even though the forced angle is still emulated, the orientation will be proper for correct starting and the rotor will be in the best position for produce torque. The DC current injection may be done manually or programmed through FAST.