The Basics of Transformers

A transformer is a basic electrical device used to transfer electrical energy between two or more circuits. It works through the principle of electromagnetic induction, which involves the production of electromagnetic forces (EMF) across a conductor that is exposed to alternating magnetic fields. The purpose of using a transformer is to either increase or decrease the voltage of an alternating current (AC).

Since the first transformer was produced in 1885, they have been essential components of the transportation and distribution of electricity. They are also widely used in electronic and electric power applications. Wherever a change in voltage is required, you can find a transformer.

Basic Theory

Transformers are based on Faraday’s Law of electromagnetic induction. Basically, a transformer uses an AC current sent through a wire coil (primary winding) to produce an AC current with continuously changing flux (in amplitude and direction). A second coil (secondary winding) and conductor are placed near the first, creating an EMF. The EMF serves to change to voltage of the AC current. The secondary winding can be adjusted to change the output voltage.

Basic Construction

A basic transformer consists of either a soft iron core or silicon steel core, with two sets of copper windings — the primary and secondary windings — on either side of it. The primary winding is connected to the main power supply and the secondary winding is connected to the load circuit.

The primary winding will receive current at the primary voltage, and the secondary coil will output current at the target voltage. If the secondary voltage is higher, the transformer is called a step up transformer — and if the secondary voltage is lower, it is a step down transformer.

Different Types & Applications of Transformers

There are many different types of transformers, including high frequency, toroidal, buck boost, 3 phase, single phase, and more. All types share the same basic function, but vary in terms of construction, installation requirements, circuit conditions, and specific applications.

In general, transformers are used for many purposes within small and large electrical systems. For electricity transmission, transformers are used to step up voltages so that less electricity is lost to resistance in the wire (the higher the resistance, the more electrical energy is converted to heat). In electrical components such as appliances, transformers are often used to step down voltage to a level that is safe for low voltage circuits.

Transformers are ubiquitous: you can find them in all sorts of electrical and electronic applications in industries such as medical devices and imaging, semiconductor, military, aerospace, marine, telecom, automotive, rail, and many more.

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Topics: Transformer Basics

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