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CABE ATWELL |Contributing Editor

Get Attuned to
Servo-Motor Driver Tuning
A number of PID-controlled servo-motor options are out there at different price points,
but its also important to familiarize oneself with making those adjustments.

T
here is a whole lot to know about servo
motors and drivers. You could make a P Kpe(t)

career out of specializing on that one top- +


ic. This article is a very small collection r(t) e(t) 1
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of some of the features to consider regarding tun- 0
process
ing servo-motor systems. In no way would this +
be considered a comprehensive list, and it isnt de(t)
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meant to be. Its just enough information to keep
you pointed in the right direction.
I have witnessed professional engineers spend Shown is a block diagram of the math involved in a PID controller.
absurd sums of company money on equipment
with features way more than what the situation demanded. witnessed this phenomenon in reverse where some poor,
They didnt really understand what they were looking at, so underfeatured piece of equipment was press-ganged into a
they went with the biggest and most full-featured devices role it could barely fulfill.
that they could get. While it is nice to get the equipment with This article refers to PID-controlled motors paired with
extra power and options, its also really expensive. I have also a feedback device, like an optical encoder. Were not talking
about the little gearbox motors used in hobby applications
that employ a potentiometer for feedback. Those operate on
different principles.

DOLLARS AND SENSE


At the low end of the price range, most servo drivers use
trim-pots to tune the control algorithm. A good example of
this is the G320X servo drive from Geckodrive Motor Con-
trols. While drivers like these can be fantastic performers,
adjustments to the tiny board-mounted potentiometers are
vague. This can become an issue because trim-pot settings are
hard to replicate. When working on multiple systems, it will
be impossible to set all potentiometers in the same manner
by eye.
Analog adjustments also have to be performed manually
by a human operator. Automating the tuning process of these
types of drives is difficult, if not impossible.
Though inexpensive, G320X servo-motor drive has proven quite In a production environment, it will be time-consuming
effective. to teach workers how to accurately calibrate a drive that uses

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trim-pots. Even engineers new to the process have a hard time
with it.

GOING DIGITAL
A pricier feature, but one that may be worth the expense, is
digital tuning. Digital tuning allows an operator to manipulate
the PID variables of the control algorithm via connection to a
computer or on the drive itself. This feature really shines when
working on multiple servo systems or trying to reduce takt
time in production.
Because the variables are digital, they are definitive and
can be recorded. That data can be used to adjust all subse-
quent drives, provided they are installed in similar systems.
Minuscule differences between identical setups will result in
the need to slightly tweak the variables. Though now, the final A digitally tunable Viper servo driver is shown next to a brushed dc
adjustments can be done from a point very close to ideal. servo motor. Note the optical encoder mounted at the rear of the motor.
That variable data can also be used for troubleshooting.
Large changes to the initial PID variables during assembly
can indicate assembly error or a problem with a component.
Over the life of an installed system, regular adjustments can be
recorded and analyzed to spot trends.

SELF-TUNED
An even higher-cost option involves drivers that tune them-
selves. However, the efficacy of these types of drives is typically
commensurate with their cost. The per unit costs are often
several thousands of dollars. As impressive as self-tuning
drives are, all but the best typically need human intervention
to make final adjustments.
Servo motors can be tuned by themselves on a workbench
to get started, but they will ultimately have to be adjusted when
installed into their final position. The PID loops variables
control the motor and whatever the motor is attached to, as The Yaskawa SGD7S is a reasonably priced self-tuning servo drive.
a whole. Changing any part of the whole will, in turn, require
changing the PID variables. learning process. Smaller equipment is also less likely to cause
personal injury.
PRACTICE MAKES PERFECT A prebuilt linear stage that can be paired with various driver
As a final note. Hands-on experience is needed to really and motor combinations is ideal for this task. Adjusting trim-
wrap your mind around these different adjustment meth- pots with your hands will give you a feel for each of the PID
ods. It is best to practice on expendable equipment. That way variables. That experience will be invaluable when making
nothing expensive or important will be destroyed during the decisions about selecting servo motors and drivers.

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