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I recently started to work on a project that involves motor drivers and microcontrollers in a network topology. This is rather a theoretical question, just something that I was thinking about. The microcontrollers run on 5Vdc, the motors run on 24Vdc and the microcontrollers need to communicate with each other. The microcontrollers control the motors locally with pwm signals using the 24V supply. This is now solved with many cables.

So my question is the following: since RS-485 would only use up 2 wires, 4 wires would still remain in an Ethernet cable, so would it be possible to use these remaining wires to provide both the 5V and the 24V voltage levels, so that only one cable is used?

I am asking this more from a noise point of view. The 24V network has motors on it driven by pwm signals, I can imagine that this could cause some noise, the RS-485 would also add to that, and then there is the 5V for the microcontrollers and sensors. But on the other hand the point of a twisted pair should be noise reduction. We are talking about 3m wires maximum.

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    \$\begingroup\$ What are the current requirements for the devices? \$\endgroup\$
    – Justme
    Feb 1, 2021 at 21:59
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    \$\begingroup\$ Sounds plausible, depending on data rate. You would have limited power capability tho. I've seen 24V systems get away with stuffing everything into one unshielded cable, amid horrific noise. 5V seems better generated locally \$\endgroup\$
    – Pete W
    Feb 1, 2021 at 22:02
  • \$\begingroup\$ The datasheet sais that the motor has less or equal nominal current need than 2100mA. The microcontroller is a simple PIC with some sensors, so nothing much there. \$\endgroup\$ Feb 1, 2021 at 22:07
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    \$\begingroup\$ You would be wiser to separate the cables to avoid crosstalk \$\endgroup\$ Feb 1, 2021 at 22:28
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    \$\begingroup\$ If you wish to verify how much crosstalk you get , terminate both ends with the matched impedance of the twisted pair and then PWM the motor to measure the crosstalk using two matched probes calibrated with a flat lined in A-B on a DSO. Even with 2 cables you will probably need large clamped CM chokes on the motor cable. \$\endgroup\$ Feb 1, 2021 at 22:38

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"...would it be possible...?" Absolutely!
Is it a good idea? Maybe.

You're off to a good start by powering the brains and brawns separately. But you can still get some induced noise from one to the other, partly because the twists aren't perfect and they're not shielded from each other.

@Pete's comment is also a good idea. Still keep the power supplies separate, but send:

  • Constant 24V for the motors. (still has lots of current ripple, but not much voltage ripple like an already-controlled line would)
  • Maybe 9V for the MCU's. A local regulator on each board drops that 9V to 5V, right where it's needed.

I wouldn't go much below 9V. A lot of linear regulators require 2V of headroom just to work at all (7V minimum for 5V out; 6V in would produce ~4V out as the regulator saturates), and the extra 2V above that allows for some noise-induced "wiggle".

Local capacitors on both sides of the regulator are also helpful. They take over at high frequencies while the regulator is really meant for DC and "DC-like" low-frequencies.


If an existing standard has some value to you, then you might have a look at PoE. (Power over Ethernet) There are two variations, both of which use a single 48VDC supply, and (usually) a switching power supply (DC-DC converter) at the receiving end as a matter of course. The output of that switcher could be anything you want, including multiple outputs at different voltages.

The two variations are simply which wires that 48V supply is presented on:

  • One uses the data lines for 10/100 Ethernet, so that there are still 2 unused pairs in that cable. This is done with center-tapped transformers on both ends (might be buried in the jacks themselves): one pair is 0V (ground) and the other pair is +48V.
    This is often used by switches and other networking gear that uses the data lines anyway.
  • The other uses those unused pairs. As before, one pair has both wires at 0V (ground) and the other pair has both at +48V.
    This is often used by standalone PoE injectors so that they don't have to touch the data lines at all for 10/100. (Gigabit uses all of them, so this reason doesn't work anymore for that.)

A PoE device needs to accept both variations in either polarity (4 possibilities) to be fully standards-compliant, in addition to the signalling that a standards-compliant source requires to enable the power on that port. (so you don't blow up your laptop by plugging it into a PoE switch)

The injector version (putting power on the unused pairs) would work with anything that only requires 2 pairs otherwise. RS485 each direction, for example.
The switch version requires a DC average of 0V on the communication lines, which Ethernet satisfies but RS485 doesn't. You might make it work anyway, with a bit of stuffing at the protocol level, or it might "just work" with sparse communication and a receiver that interprets 0V differential as idle.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ just one last thing, could I also use a 24V->5V voltage regulator and then get rid of the 5V power supply alltogether? \$\endgroup\$ Feb 2, 2021 at 6:37
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    \$\begingroup\$ @MarcellJuhász In theory yes, but motor noise has a tendency to go right through a regulator. Especially if you skimp on (or omit!) the filter caps around it. A switching supply probably has enough already just to handle its own switching noise, but a linear regulator probably won't. (Plus a linear reg would be horribly inefficient dropping 24V all the way down to 5V. Current in = current out, and only the voltage changes. That difference in power is lost as heat in the regulator.) \$\endgroup\$
    – AaronD
    Feb 2, 2021 at 7:13
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    \$\begingroup\$ Passing through noise is just a function of the limited response time. A linear regulator is essentially an automatic resistor, so if it were to stop adjusting for some reason, then the output voltage would be heavily influenced by the input voltage and the output current, including whatever noise they have. It's the constant adjustment that keeps things nice, but that can only happen so fast. Switchers are a bit more convoluted, but they still end up with a similar pitfall. \$\endgroup\$
    – AaronD
    Feb 2, 2021 at 7:13

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