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Stepper Vs Servo Motor Torque Curves Part IV

NEMA17 Torque CurvesNEMA17 Torque Curves

My final look is at NEMA17 motors.  Today’s contestants are:

  • In yellow, the IMS (now Schneider) MDI1PRL17C4x triple stack NEMA stepper motor with integrated driver and controller.  I’ve used these cute little motors before; they are a great fit for the right application.  As normal, the programming language sucks, but a CANOpen version is available.
  • In red and blue, a Panasonic MUMS011A1 NEMA 17 servo motor.  These motors have unfortunately been out of production for years; I loved their performance, encoder (10000 cpr), good looks, and price (about $250).
  • In green, a Quicksilver Controls QCI-A17H3 stepper motor with encoder that’s driven like a servo.  I’m including it to show how much improvement you can get from closed loop stepper control.


  1. The MDI1PRL17C4 shows typical stepper characteristics, with torque rapidly dropping off; it can’t even reach 2500 RPM.
  2. The MUMS011A1 shows typical servo performance, with a pretty flat torque curve, 3:1 peak to continuous torque, and compared to the steppers:  higher speeds, less continuous torque at low speeds, more continuous torque at high speeds, and much higher maximum torque.
  3. The QCI-A17H3 doesn’t turn the stepper into a servo, but compared to an open loop stepper, it has substantially higher maximum speed (4000 RPM – the highest of any stepper I’ve looked at), and offers significantly higher torque at higher speeds — in exchange for a higher price, of course.

Some General Stepper & Servo Notes

  1. Steppers are much simpler to drive: you can easily build a low cost drive using an integrated chip (e.g. from Allegro Microsystems, ST, or TI) or buy a commercial driver for $100-$150 (from Automation Direct, Gecko Drive, etc).  Many low cost PLC’s such as Panasonic’s FP0/FPG have built-in step/direction outputs.
  2. But open loop steppers are very annoying, because you have to figure out your needs before start: you have to specify fixed currents for holding and running torque.  If your current is too low, the motor will miss steps.  If your current and duty cycle are too high, the motor will get hot – and if a bit of extra torque is needed to overcome something unexpected, you’re out of luck.
  3. Closed loop steppers still aren’t servo motors.  However, I’m looking forward to affordable sensorless closed loop control (available or coming from Trinamic, TI, and probably others), which will improve stepper performance and minimize stepper heat generation.
  4. I think servo motors’ torque curve fits well with many applications: a lot of time you just need maximum torque for a short time period.  Servo motor system prices are also coming down (OK, not the basic motor, but there are affordable encoder, drive, and controller choices).



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