A transformer is a device that transfers electrical energy from one electric circuit to another without changing the frequency. It does this through the principles of electromagnetic induction, with the energy transfer generally taking place with the change of voltage and current. Transformers are able to either increase or decrease AC voltage and are used to meet a wide range of needs. They can vary greatly in size, some transformers being small enough to hold in your hand and others being several stories high. Regardless of their shape or size, their function remains the same: to transform electrical power from one type to another. This blog will analyze how transformers work and their many different types.
To understand how transformers work, it is important to remember that they do not generate power, they only transfer it from AC circuit to AC circuit through magnetic coupling. The core of the transformer provides a controlled path for the magnetic flux generated by the current to flow through the windings or coils. Within a transformer there are four basic parts: the input and output connections, the windings or coils, and the core. When an input is applied to the primary winding, alternating current begins to flow within the winding. As this occurs, a changing magnetic field is set up within the transformer’s core. This field cuts across the secondary winding, producing an alternating voltage in the secondary winding.
The number of actual turns of wire in each coil is the key in determining the type of transformer and what the output voltage will be. The ratio between output voltage and input voltage is directly linked to the ratio of the number of turns between the primary and secondary windings. If the secondary winding has more turns of wire than the primary winding, the transformer's output voltage will be greater than the input voltage. In this case, the output voltage is higher, and the transformer is known as a "step-up transformer". If the secondary winding has fewer turns than the primary winding, it has a lower output voltage and is called a "step-down transformer".
The primary types of transformers are power transformers, auto transformers, distribution transformers, instrument transformers, potential transformers and current transformers. Power transformers are used to couple electrical energy from a power supply line into a circuit system or certain components of the system. Distribution transformers are used to transmit small amounts of powered to residences. These transformers are found at the end of the electrical utility’s delivery system. Autotransformers are a special type of transformer that consists of a single winding tapped on one side to provide step-up or step-down function. This differs from a conventional transformer, which has two windings isolated from each other, but magnetically linked by a common core.
An isolation transformer has a 1:1 turn ratio, meaning it does not step voltage up or down. Instead, it is used as a safety device that isolates the conductor of a grounded power line. Current transformers feature a primary coil with one or more turns of a heavy wire. It remains in constant connection in the circuit where the current is being measured. Lastly, a potential transformer is a carefully designed and extremely precise step-down transformer. These are very similar to a traditional two-winding transformer, and differ only in that they handle a very small amount of power.
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