This tiny board uses the Allegro A4988 microstepping driver. It can be configured down to 1/16 step, which makes the stepper movement really smooth and silent.
While the chip is rated up to 2A/Coil, everything over 1A should be heavily heatsinked. Note: You can limit the current with the on-board potentiometer.
Key features include:
Simple step and direction control interface
Five different step resolutions: full-step, half-step, quarter-step, eighth-step, and sixteenth-step
Adjustable current control lets you set the maximum current output with a potentiometer, which lets you use voltages above your stepper motors rated voltage to achieve higher step rates
Intelligent chopping control that automatically selects the correct current decay mode (fast decay or slow decay)
Over-temperature thermal shutdown, under-voltage lockout, and crossover-current protection
Comes with 2.54mm headers (not soldered on) – perfect for breadboards.
Using the driver
The driver requires a logic supply voltage (3 5.5 V) to be connected across the VDD and GND pins and a motor supply voltage of (8 35 V) to be connected across VMOT and GND. These supplies should have appropriate decoupling capacitors close to the board, and they should be capable of delivering the expected currents (peaks up to 4 A for the motor supply).
Step (and microstep) size
Stepper motors typically have a step size specification (e.g. 1.8° or 200 steps per revolution), which applies to full steps. A microstepping driver such as the A4988 allows higher resolutions by allowing intermediate step locations, which are achieved by energizing the coils with intermediate current levels. For instance, driving a motor in quarter-step mode will give the 200-step-per-revolution motor 800 microsteps per revolution by using four different current levels.
The resolution (step size) selector inputs (MS1, MS2, MS3) enable selection from the five step resolutions according to the table below. MS1, MS2 and MS3 have internal 100kΩ pull-down resistors. For the microstep modes to function correctly, the current limit must be set low enough (see below) so that current limiting gets enganged. Otherwise, the intermediate current levels will not be correctly maintained, and the motor will effectively operate in a full-step mode.
MS1 MS2 MS3 Microstep Resolution
Low Low Low Full step
High Low Low Half step
Low High Low Quarter step
High High Low Eighth step
High High High Sixteenth step
Each pulse to the STEP input corresponds to one microstep of the stepper motor in the direction selected by the DIR pin. The chip has three different inputs for controlling its many power states: RST, SLP, and EN. For details about these power states, see the datasheet. Please note that the RST pin is floating; if you are not using the pin, you can connect it to the adjacent SLP pin on the PCB.
To achieve high step rates, the motor supply is typically much higher than would be permissible without active current limiting. For instance, a typical stepper motor might have a maximum current rating of 1 A with a 5Ω coil resistance, which would indicate a maximum motor supply of 5 V. Using such a motor with 12 V would allow higher step rates, but the current must actively be limited to under 1 A to prevent damage to the motor.
The A4988 supports such active current limiting, and the trimmer potentiometer on the board can be used to set the current limit. One way to set the current limit is to put the driver into full-step mode and to measure the coil current without clocking the STEP input. The measured current will be 0.7 times the current limit (since both coils are always on and limited to 70% in full-step mode). Please note that the current limit is dependent on the Vdd voltage.
Another way to set the current limit is to measure the voltage on the ref pin and to calculate the resulting current limit (the current sense resistors are 0.05Ω). The ref pin voltage is accessible on a via that is circled on the bottom silkscreen of the circuit board. See the A4988 datasheet for more information.
Power dissipation considerations
The A4988 driver IC has a maximum current rating of 2 A per coil, but the chip by itself will overheat at lower currents. The actual current you can deliver depends on how well you can keep the stepper motor driver cool. The carriers printed circuit board is designed to draw heat out of the A4988 chip, but to supply more than approximately 1 A per coil, a heat sink is required.
Please note that measuring the current draw at the power supply does not necessarily provide an accurate measure of the coil current. Since the input voltage to the driver can be significantly higher than the coil voltage, the measured current on the power supply can be quite a bit lower than the coil current (the driver and coil basically act like a switching step-down power supply). Also, if the supply voltage is very high compared to what the motor needs to achieve the set current, the duty cycle will be very low, which also leads to significant differences between average and RMS currents.