Engineering Notes by Oriental Motor

The Right Motor for Tension Control

[fa icon="calendar"] Originally posted on Sep 1, 2022 12:00:00 PM
Last updated on September 1, 2022 / by Johann Tang

Johann Tang

Tension control is a niche application that is not easy to implement.  Using the right type of motor is the first step to success.  Hint: you don't always have to use a servo motor.


Tension control with AC torque motors + brushless motor

This application image shows how two motors work in tandem in order to maintain the tension force AND feed a material.  The smaller brushless motor in the center is winding, and the bigger torque motor is providing a specific tension.


Some applications, such as film winding, stamping/pressing, or screw tightening, require the motor to be able to control or limit its torque.

  • Film winding/unwinding - requires the motor to vary its torque based on roll diameter to keep the tension the same.
  • Stamping/pressing - requires the motor to limit its torque so it doesn't break delicate products, such as eggs while stamping labels.
  • Screw tightening - requires the motor to limit its torque so it doesn't exceed the maximum tightening torque allowed for the screw.

There are several motors that can do the job.  Servo motors are often selected for tension control applications, but if you don't need all the bells and whistles, there's a low-cost alternative that should be considered.


Torque Motors

AC Torque Motors lineup

Torque motors look just like regular induction motors, but they're not.


Torque motors are designed to be able to control their torque and can be stalled (or even back-driven) continuously without overheating, which are "must-have" motor characteristics for tension control.  

A torque motor reaches full torque at zero speed and is rarely used at full speed.  Compared to an induction motor, a torque motor differs in its design by using a balanced winding and a high-slip rotor instead of a low-slip rotor.  Due to this high-slip rotor design, a torque motor can be operated as a brake to provide brake torque when back-driven.  Although the motor size only goes up to 20 W, a variety of gear ratios are available to increase the torque.  Single-phase 110/115 and 220/230 VAC options are also available.


Speed-torque curve for AC torque motor (vs voltage)

For a torque motor, the input voltage and load determine the output torque and speed.

  • Load: required load torque for the application
  • Torque: output torque at the specified speed
  • Speed: r/min
  • V1~V4 shows the speed-torque curve for the motor at different input voltages.
  • N1~N4 shows the motor speed at the specified voltage and load.

The location where the "load" line intersects the voltage line is the expected motor performance.

For example, for the given load, if voltage V4 is applied to the motor, the motor will limit its output torque where the "V4" line intersects the "Load" line, and the motor will run at "N4" speed.


Torque Motor Benefit #1:  Simple Configuration


Unlike a servo motor tension control system, a torque motor does not need motor feedback or additional sensors to control its torque.  You just need a device to vary the input voltage into the motor, like TMP-1 power controller.

The TMP-1 power controller uses the triac phase control method to vary its voltage to the torque motor.  You can also use anything that can output a consistent voltage to the motor, such as a PLC with an analog output card.

Torque motor and TMP-1 power controller Phase control

3 ways to control voltage/torque:

Control methods for TMP-1 power controller for torque motors

The torque motor can also operate on DC voltage.

Sloping speed torque curve for AC torque motors

When supplying DC voltage:

Instead of rotating, the motor will provide braking torque and act to provide brake tension.  The braking torque can be varied with voltage.


Torque Motor Benefit #2:  Avoids Slack

Tension is necessary to avoid "slack" in the material being wound or unwound.  

Tension control - variable diameter = varaible voltage
When the diameter of the winding start is small, the torque of the motor may be low, but it needs to rotate quickly.   When the winding diameter increases, the motor will rotate slower, but more torque is required since the load has increased.


Torque Motor Benefit #3  Maintain proper tension with fine adjustment

The torque motor can be used as an unwinding brake.  A torque motor can obtain a braking force when it is rotated in the opposite direction to the rotation direction of the motor by an external force, such as another motor.

By using a torque motor on the unwinding side of the work, winding can be achieved while maintaining appropriate tension. It also does not wear out, so no brake maintenance is required.

Rotate the motor in the opposite direction to the winding direction

how tension control works Braking and operating regions for AC torque motors


FYI Torque Motor Tips to Remember

⚠️ A torque motor will heat up quickly if operated at 115 VAC.  Therefore, a 5-minute duty cycle is recommended.  For continuous duty cycle, please use at 60 VAC or below.

⚠️ When winding with constant tension, keep in mind that the diameters are always changing.  Therefore, to maintain the tension and feed rate, the voltage needs to change along with it.

⚠️ For proper tension control, you need two motors.  One motor needs to be a bigger motor since it needs to pull material and overcome the tension.  The other motor is typically small since it only needs sufficient torque to provide the tension.  One motor is always "over-torquing" the other motor.


Here are some applications that the torque motor can be used for.

Fiber winding Tape winding Film winding Sheet winding
fiber winding tape winding film rewind sheet take-up
Sheet tension Lead wire tension Packaging tension Film tension
seat tension adjustment Lead wire tension adjustment Wrapping tension adjustment film tension adjustment

The torque motor can also be used for pushing/rejecting or screw tightening applications.

Pushing Screw tightening
Pushing/rejecting mechanism on conveyor Screw tightening with limited torque from a torque motor


Last but not least, here's a video demonstration of the torque motor.

A torque motor sits on the left, and a speed control motor sits on the right.  A rope and pulley are mounted to each motor shaft to demonstrate the effect of tension.  As the rope extends and retracts on the left side, you can see that the rope stays tight with tension.  As the rope extends and retracts on the right side, you can see how the slack builds up on the rope.


20 W (1/38 HP) AC Torque Motor TMP-1 Power Controller for AC Torque Motors

Torque Motors Lineup  


Ready to learn how to size a torque motor?

Learn how to size a torque motor  


If you need a more advanced product than the simple operation offered by torque motors, here are some options.

  AC Motors
Torque Motors

Brushless Motors
BXII Series

AR/AZ Series
Servo Motors
NX Series

Driver or Controller

3 W (1/250 HP) Torque MotorTMP-1 Power Controller BX II Series 200 W Brushless DC Motor and Driver Absolute Mechanical Encoder Stepper MotorsAlphaStep AC Input Drivers NX Series Tuning Free Servo MotorsNX Series Servo Motor Drivers
Torque Control Accuracy ±10%  ±10%

AR: ±10%

AZ: ±20%

Total Cost Low Moderate



You can expect much better "repeatability" when you use the same motor, with the same driver, with the same load, and with the same setting.  For example, the repeatability for NX Series is ±0.23% (reference value).


The right motor for tension control depends on how accurately you need to control the output torque
(and how much you want to spend.)


Topics: AC Motors, Torque Limit (Push Motion, Tension Control)

Johann Tang

Written by Johann Tang

Johann Tang is a Product Specialist at Oriental Motor USA Corp. Before joining the marketing team, he spent 15 years in sales, technical application support, and training of various types of fractional horsepower electric motors, gear motors, actuators, drivers, and controllers. If you have any questions, please feel free to use the live chat window, 1-800-GO-VEXTA (1-800-468-3982), or, to reach our product support team. Johann can be reached via LinkedIn. Sorry, comments have been turned off.

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