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Section 1.42 of NEMA Standard MG1 is titled “Service Factor – AC Motors” and states:
"The service factor of an AC motor is a multiplier which, when applied to the rated
horsepower, indicates a permissible horsepower loading which may be carried under the
conditions specified for the service factor." In other words, multiplying the AC motor's
nameplate power by its service factor indicates how much output power it can produce for
a short period of time without detrimental overheating. This is thus a safety factor and is
not to be considered part of the motor’s normal useful horsepower, since it decreases the
thermal reserve of the insulation system. A rough rule of thumb is that for every 10°C
above its rating that the insulation operates at, the time until the insulation fails is halved.

The service factor is often listed as 1.15, which means the motor can briefly withstand a
15% overload. A 10 HP motor with a 1.15 service factor, for example, can safely handle
an occasional load of 11.5 HP.

The service factor concept is unique to American motors, promulgated by NEMA. IEC
rules, covering the rest of the world, make no claim that a motor produces other than its
rated power. So, essentially, all IEC motors have a service factor of 1.00.

The service factor is based upon the fact that general purpose AC motors are rated on
various combinations of minimum pull-up torque and maximum current draw. They
typically can, however, briefly operate at higher currents without damage; this is what the
service factor represents.

A direct current (DC) motor has a speed/torque relationship that is completely different: it
only produces one speed at a particular torque and the heat rise due to operating losses
at that torque cannot exceed the limit of its insulation system. There is no more output
available without compromising the life of the motor. If the customer actually wants more
power, he should buy a motor with that rating.

The “compromising the life of the motor” phrase is an important consideration. DC motors
could be operated above their temperature rating, within limits, BUT this, of course, is
NOT recommended.

NEMA makes no mention of service factor in reference to DC motors because it could not
apply given the speed/torque characteristic. Thus, what you see on the nameplate is
what you get.

Note: This is general information and is not intended to provide operational

instructions for a specific motor or application.