How does a transformer work?

Asked by: Amal Dameer


A transformer is an electrical device used to convert AC power at a certain voltage level to AC power at a different voltage, but at the same frequency.

Basic principle of transformer operationThe construction of a transformer includes a ferromagnetic core around which multiple coils, or windings, of wire are wrapped. The input line connects to the 'primary' coil, while the output lines connect to 'secondary' coils. The alternating current in the primary coil induces an alternating magnetic flux that 'flows' around the ferromagnetic core, changing direction during each electrical cycle. The alternating flux in the core in turn induces an alternating current in each of the secondary coils. The voltage at each of the secondary coils is directly related to the primary voltage by the turns ratio, or the number of turns in the primary coil divided by the number turns in the secondary coil. For instance, if the primary coil consists of 100 turns and carries 480 volts and a secondary coil consists of 25 turns, the secondary voltage is then:

secondary voltage = (480 volts) * (25/100) = 120 volts

Typical transformersA transformer may have multiple secondary coils to feed a number of electrical loads; however, power must be conserved, so the sum of the output power must equal the sum of the input power minus losses. Energy losses in transformers are due to a number of factors: these are copper losses in the coils themselves due to material resistance, core losses due to hysteresis (the reluctance of the material's magnetic domains to reverse during each electrical cycle), and eddy currents.

Answered by: Eric Berg, Mechanical Engineering Senior, Colorado School of Mines



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