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September 23, 2013

Given a lever, Archimedes may have been able to move the Earth, but given one of our DC
motors just what can you lift?

Torque is a force around a given point, applied at some distance from that point. In other words,
it is a measure how much a force causes an object to rotate.

Example of torque in action with a spanner and bolt

Let’s imagine we have a bolt that has rusted in place, and requires a torque of 3Nm before it’ll
budge. Intuitively we know that it is easier to turn the nut if we push the spanner at B rather than
at A, because the distance L1L1 is greater than L2L2. But how much easier?
If we apply a force FF at a right angle to the spanner at a distance LL, we can figure out the
torque (ττ) using:
Equation 1
As L2=2×l1L2=2×l1, the turning force on the bolt is twice as great. So to turn our rusted bolt we’ll
need to apply 30N at point A, or just 15N is we apply force at point B.
But how does this help us figure out what weight our motors can lift?

Firstly, if you want to lift something with a motor you’ll want to make a pulley wheel and fit it
over the end of your motor. Then tie a string to your object, and wrap it around the pulley:
something like this:

How torque acts on a DC motor with pulley and mass

We have two variables in the system. One is the radius of the pulley ‘r’, and the other is the size
of the mass. From this we can calculate the torque exerted by the mass (a torque which our
gearmotor must be able to exceed in order to lift the mass).

Alternatively if we have already selected our gearmotor, it becomes a case of re-arranging the
torque equation to find out either the maximum load the motor can lift, or the radius for the
pulley. For our spanner, we showed that

Equation 1
In the case of our pulley, the force exerted is due to the mass being accelerated by gravity:



Equation 2

To Find A Gearmotor
16mm DC Gearmotor
Let’s say we want to lift a 0.7kg mass using a 4cm diameter pulley. We can find the torque load
created by the mass using equation 2:


(Remeber that radius=diameter2radius=diameter2 and 1mNm=0.001Nm1mNm=0.001Nm)

We need to find a gearmotor that can support at least this much torque. You can search through
our selection of DC geared motors. So for our required torque, there are a number of motors
which will be able to do the job, such as the 215-400 Micro Spur 16mm DC Gearmotor - 38mm
type, which has a rated torque of 150mNm.

To Find A Pulley
Rearrange equation 2 for the radius, r:

Equation 3
Note that the minimum diameter of your pulley is limited by the shaft diameter of your motor.
You might be able to bypass the pulley altogether, and simply super glue and wrap the string
directly around the shaft.

It’s worth remembering that although a smaller pulley wheel means the motor will be able to lift
a heavier weight, it will take longer to lift the mass. Our datasheets include a Typical
Performance Characteristics Graph that show the typical output speed at a range of torque loads.
If you’re concerned about efficiency, then you’ll want to run your motor at the rated voltage and
rated torque - put these into equation 3 along with the mass of the object you’re lifting to figure
out the radius you need to lift your mass.

How Much Can This Motor Lift?

Rearranging equation 2 for the mass we find:

Equation 4
For ττ you can use a figure close to the stall torque of the motor, which is found in the “Typical
Mechanical Characteristics” of the datasheet. For the 215-400 we see it has a typical stall torque
of 530mNm.
Note that the typical stall torque only provides an estimate for the maximum weight, as the it is
the minimum load torque required to stall a spinning motor. The minimum load torque required
to prevent a motor from starting is expected to be lower due to the inertia of the system -
particularly true if a heavy pulley is used.

If you use equation 4 and the maximum mass the motor can lift turns out to be less than that you
need, how about reducing the radius of the pulley? Or maybe choosing a motor with a greater

Happy lifting!