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Turning Theory Into Reality: Hands-On Design Course on BLDC Motor ControlTurning Theory Into Reality: Hands-On Design Course on BLDC Motor Control

Running code and seeing the resulting motor movements is the best method of learning new motor control design techniques, as an upcoming DN course will tutor one of the most popular motor control algorithms.

January 21, 2016

4 Min Read
Turning Theory Into Reality: Hands-On Design Course on BLDC Motor Control

We often think of the electric light as being the “killer app” for electricity. Sure, the telegraph was also fairly important, but it didn’t enter every home the way the electric light did -- not until the telephone, anyway. But often overlooked is the important role electric motors played early in their history in the growth of electricity use and distribution. The electric motor allowed us to turn energy into useful mechanical work and deploy many more mechanical devices than did steam engines.

You could even draw some parallels between desktop computers and cell phones with electric motors and steam engines. Steam engines are heavy-duty machines that could provide massive amounts of work, as do computers with computation power. Desktop computers are tethered to their locations (desks), are heavy to move around, and require local sources of energy (power outlet). Compared with steam power sources, electric motors could be sized much smaller and even made somewhat portable. This flexibility opened up a whole new world of applications that couldn’t be imagined with steam engines. As the saying goes, with electric motors, there was an app for that.

Today electric motors are everywhere, and with the rollout of the Internet of Things motors are where the world of electronics meets the real, physical world. If you want to control something mechanical using an electronic device, you are (almost always) going to need a motor.

Internal construction of a brushless DC electric motor.
(Source: Microchip)

Microcontrollers now have a variety of features that make them very well suited for motor control applications. Often these features seem arcane to those not familiar with the newest crop of motor control algorithms (e.g., do I really need dead time insertion in my PWM timer?). In addition, the algorithms can be daunting (Clarke and Park transforms do what?). For me these concepts often are just theories to bring into the real world. That’s why I look to turn motor control theory into reality using hands-on example designs, with real hardware and actual motors.

In fact, in my upcoming Design News Continuing Education Center online course, Hands-On Design of BLDC Motor Control with Microchip MCUs, sponsored by Digi-Key, I go through the details of motor control theory using the popular brushless DC (BLDC) motor control algorithm but follow with a hands-on demonstration using a low-cost motor control kit from Microchip Electronics. We will use the Microchip dsPIC33F MCU-based DM330015 demonstration kit, available from Digi-Key. Course attendees can pre-purchase the kit or follow along the course using just the free Microchip development software MPLAB IDE and the associated Complier MPLAB XC.

[Learn more automation & control trends and developments at Pacific Design & Manufacturing, Feb. 9-11, at the Anaheim Convention Center.]

There is a variety of resources you can use to prepare for my online course; Digi-Key has published articles related to motor control. The figure above is from the article Introduction to Brushless DC Motor Control, which provides a good introduction to BLDC motors, the topic of my course. Several Digi-Key product training modules also cover motor control; in fact, if you search for “Motor” in the product training module webpage, you will see 60 training modules to choose from.

These types of resources are excellent for getting a good background in motor control theory and a perfect complement to my hands-on course bringing it to life. Before my course, Feb. 8-12, spend a bit of time reading up on the theory, but if you really want to get your motor control knowledge running at full power, register and attend my course. Even if you don’t come with the Microchip kit, the free software will allow you to get your hands dirty (virtually at least) with the details of the example design code.

Warren Miller has more than 30 years of experience in electronics and has held a variety of positions in engineering, applications, strategic marketing, and product planning with large electronics companies like Advanced Micro Devices, Actel, and Avnet, as well as with a variety of smaller startups. He has in-depth experience of programmable devices (PLDs, FPGAs, MCUs, and ASICs) in industrial, networking, and consumer applications and holds several device patents.

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