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The basic difference between a traditional stepper and a servo-based system is the

type of motor and how it is controlled. Steppers typically use 50 to 100 pole
brushless motors while typical servo motors have only 4 to 12 poles. A pole is an
area of a motor where a North or South magnetic pole is generated either by a
permanet magnet or by passing current through the coils of a winding.

Steppers don't require encoders since they can accurately move between their many
poles whereas servos, with few poles, require an encoder to keep track of their
position. Steppers simply move incrementally using pulses [open loop] while
servo's read the difference between the motors encoder and the commanded
position [closed loop], and adjust the current required to move.

drawing courtesy of National Instruments

Stepper & Servo: Pros & Cons

Some performance differences between Stepper and Servos are the result of their
respective motor design. Stepper motors have many more poles than servo motors.
One rotation of a stepper motor requires many more current exchanges through the
windings than a servo motor. The stepper motor's design results in torque
degradation at higher speeds when compared to a servo. Using a higher driving bus
voltage reduces this effect by mitigating the electrical time constant of the
windings. Conversely, a high pole count has a beneficial effect at lower speeds
giving the stepper motor a torque advantage over the same size servo motor.

Another difference is the way each motor type is controlled. Traditional steppers
operate in the open loop constant current mode. This is a cost savings, since no
encoder is necessary for most positioning applications. However, stepper systems
operating in a constant current mode creates a significant amount of heat in both
the motor and drive, which is a consideration for some applications. Servo control
solves this by only supplying the motor current required to move or hold the load.
It can also provide a peak torque that is several times higher than the maximum
continous motor torque for acceleration. However, a stepper motor can also be
controlled in this full servo closed loop mode with the addition of an encoder.

Steppers are simpler to commission and maintain than servos. They are less
expensive, especially in small motor applications. They don't lose steps or require
encoders if operated within their design limits. Steppers are stable at rest and hold
their position without any fluctuation, especially with dynamic loads.

Servos are excellent in applications requiring speeds greater than 2,000 RPM and
for high torque at high speeds or requiring high dynamic response. Steppers are
excellent at speeds less than 2,000 RPM and for low to medium acceleration rates
and for high holding torque.

Stepper vs. Servo: The Verdict

Servo control systems are best suited to high speed, high torque applications that
involve dynamic load changes. Stepper control systems are less expensive and are
optimal for applications that require low-to-medium acceleration, high holding
torque, and the flexibility of open or closed loop operation.
Motors come in many different types, shapes, and sizes. Most of the motors used in
motion control can be divided into two categories: stepper motors and servo
motors. This document describes these two types of motors.

Table of Contents

1. Stepper Motors
2. Advantages of Stepper Motors
3. Disadvantages of Stepper Motors
4. Servo Motors
5. Advantages of Servo Motors
6. Disadvantages of Servo Motors

Stepper Motors

Stepper motors are less expensive and typically easier to use than a servo motor of
a similar size. They are called stepper motors because they move in discrete steps.
Controlling a stepper motor requires a stepper drive and a controller (For more
information about stepper drives, see the related link, Stepper Motor Drives
below). You control a stepper motor by providing the drive with a step and
direction signal. The drive then interprets these signals and drives the motor.
Stepper motors can be run in an open loop configuration (no feedback) and are
good for low-cost applications. In general, a stepper motor will have high torque at
low speeds, but low torque at high speeds. Movement at low speeds is also choppy
unless the drive has microstepping capability (for more information on
microstepping see the microstep section of the Stepper Motor Switching Sequence
link below). At higher speeds, the stepper motor is not as choppy, but it does not
have as much torque. When idle, a stepper motor has a higher holding torque than
a servo motor of similar size, since current is continuously flowing in the stepper
motor windings. For information about how stepper motors work, see the
following links:

See Also:
Types of Stepper Motors
Types of Stepper Motors (detailed)
Stepper Motor Theory of Operation
Selecting the Proper Size Stepper Motor
Linear Stepper Motors
Advantages of Stepper Motors

Some of the advantages of stepper motors over servo motors are as follows:

 Low cost
 Can work in an open loop (no feedback required)
 Excellent holding torque (eliminated brakes/clutches)
 Excellent torque at low speeds
 Low maintenance (brushless)
 Very rugged - any environment
 Excellent for precise positioning control
 No tuning required

Disadvantages of Stepper Motors

Some of the disadvantages of stepper motors in comparison with servo motors are
as follows:

 Rough performance at low speeds unless you use microstepping For more
information about microstepping, see the Stepper Motor Switching Sequence
link below)
 Consume current regardless of load
 Limited sizes available
 Noisy
 Torque decreases with speed (you need an oversized motor for higher torque
at higher speeds)
 Stepper motors can stall or lose position running without a control loop

See Also:
Stepper Motor Switching Sequence

Servo Motors

One of the main differences between servo motors and stepper motors is that servo
motors, by definition, run using a control loop and require feedback of some kind.
A control loop uses feedback from the motor to help the motor get to a desired
state (position, velocity, and so on). There are many different types of control
loops. Generally, the PID (Proportional, Integral, Derivative) control loop is used
for servo motors. For more information, see the related link, PID Controller:
Theory and Practice.
When using a control loop such as PID, you may need to tune the servo motor.
Tuning is the process of making a motor respond in a desirable way. Tuning a
motor can be a very difficult and tedious process, but is also an advantage in that it
lets the user have more control over the behavior of the motor. For more
information about tuning servo motors see the related link, Basics of Tuning Servos
Using PID.

Since servo motors have a control loop to check what state they are in, they are
generally more reliable than stepper motors. When a stepper motor misses a step
for any reason, there is no control loop to compensate in the move. The control
loop in a servo motor is constantly checking to see if the motor is on the right path
and, if it is not, it makes the necessary adjustments.

In general, servo motors run more smoothly than stepper motors except when
microstepping is used. Also, as speed increases, the torque of the servo remains
constant, making it better than the stepper at high speeds (usually above 1000
RPM). For information about how servo motors work see the related link below.