AskDefine | Define transformer

Dictionary Definition

transformer n : an electrical device by which alternating current of one voltage is changed to another voltage

User Contributed Dictionary



-er transform


  1. A thing that transforms, that changes shape or changes another thing's shape.
  2. A static device consisting of winding(s), with or without taps, with or without a magnetic core for introducing mutual coupling by induction between circuits.


a device that changes the characteristics of AC electricity
  • Finnish: muuntaja
  • French: transformateur
  • German: Transformator
  • Greek: μετασχηματιστής (metaschimatistís)
  • Italian: trasformatore
  • Portuguese: transformador
  • Spanish: transformador

Related terms



From trānsfōrmāre


  1. to transform


Extensive Definition

A simplified transformer design is shown to the left. A current passing through the primary coil creates a magnetic field. The primary and secondary coils are wrapped around a core of very high magnetic permeability, such as iron; this ensures that most of the magnetic field lines produced by the primary current are within the iron and pass through the secondary coil as well as the primary coil.

Induction law

The voltage induced across the secondary coil may be calculated from Faraday's law of induction, which states that:
V_ = N_ \frac
where VS is the instantaneous voltage, NS is the number of turns in the secondary coil and Φ equals the magnetic flux through one turn of the coil. If the turns of the coil are oriented perpendicular to the magnetic field lines, the flux is the product of the magnetic field strength B and the area A through which it cuts. The area is constant, being equal to the cross-sectional area of the transformer core, whereas the magnetic field varies with time according to the excitation of the primary. Since the same magnetic flux passes through both the primary and secondary coils in an ideal transformer, for stepping up or stepping down the voltage
\frac = \frac

Ideal power equation

If the secondary coil is attached to a load that allows current to flow, electrical power is transmitted from the primary circuit to the secondary circuit. Ideally, the transformer is perfectly efficient; all the incoming energy is transformed from the primary circuit to the magnetic field and into the secondary circuit. If this condition is met, the incoming electric power must equal the outgoing power.
P_ = I_ V_ = P_ = I_ V_
giving the ideal transformer equation
\frac = \frac = \frac
If the voltage is increased (stepped up) (VS > VP), then the current is decreased (stepped down) (IS P) by the same factor. Transformers are efficient so this formula is a reasonable approximation.
The impedance in one circuit is transformed by the square'' of the turns ratio. When a voltage is applied to the primary winding, a small current flows, driving flux around the magnetic circuit of the core. Since the ideal windings have no impedance, they have no associated voltage drop, and so the voltages VP and VS measured at the terminals of the transformer, are equal to the corresponding EMFs. The primary EMF, acting as it does in opposition to the primary voltage, is sometimes termed the "back EMF". This is due to Lenz's law which states that the induction of EMF would always be such that it will oppose development of any such change in magnetic field.

Practical considerations

Flux leakage

The ideal transformer model assumes that all flux generated by the primary winding links all the turns of every winding, including itself. In practice, some flux traverses paths that take it outside the windings. Such flux is termed leakage flux, and results in self-inductance in series with the mutually coupled transformer windings. Air gaps are also used to keep a transformer from saturating, especially audio-frequency transformers in circuits that have a direct current flowing through the windings.

Effect of frequency

The time-derivative term in Faraday's Law shows that the flux in the core is the integral of the applied voltage. Hypothetically an ideal transformer would work with direct-current excitation, with the core flux increasing linearly with time. In practice, the flux would rise very rapidly to the point where magnetic saturation of the core occurred, causing a huge increase in the magnetising current and overheating the transformer. All practical transformers must therefore operate under alternating (or pulsed) current conditions.
Operation of a transformer at its designed voltage but at a higher frequency than intended will lead to reduced magnetising current. At a frequency lower than the design value, with the rated voltage applied, the magnetising current will increase. Operation of a transformer at other than its design frequency may require assessment of voltages, losses, and cooling to establish if safe operation is practical. For example, transformers may need to be equipped with "volts per hertz" over-excitation relays to protect the transformer from overvoltage at higher than rated frequency.
Knowledge of natural frequencies of transformer windings is of importance for the determination of the transient response of the windings to impulse and switching surge voltages.

Energy losses

An ideal transformer would have no energy losses, and would therefore be 100% efficient. In practical transformers energy is dissipated in the windings, core, and surrounding structures. Larger transformers are generally more efficient, and those rated for electricity distribution usually perform better than 98%.
Experimental transformers using superconducting windings achieving efficiencies of 99.85%, While the increase in efficiency is small, when applied to large heavily-loaded transformers the annual savings in energy losses is significant.
A small transformer, such as a plug-in "wall wart" type used for low-power consumer electronics, may be no more than 85% efficient; although individual power loss is small, the aggregate losses from the very large number of such devices is coming under increased scrutiny.
The losses vary with load current, and may be expressed as "no-load" or "full-load" loss. Winding resistance dominates load losses, whereas hysteresis and eddy currents losses contribute to over 99% of the no-load loss. The no-load loss can be significant, meaning that even an idle transformer constitutes a drain on an electrical supply, which encourages development of low-loss transformers (also see energy efficient transformer).
Transformer losses are divided into losses in the windings, termed copper loss, and those in the magnetic circuit, sometimes termed iron loss. Losses in the transformer arise from::Current flowing through the windings causes resistive heating of the conductors. At higher frequencies, skin effect and proximity effect create additional winding resistance and losses. :Each time the magnetic field is reversed, a small amount of energy is lost due to hysteresis within the core. For a given core material, the loss is proportional to the frequency, and is a function of the peak flux density to which it is subjected.:Leakage inductance is by itself lossless, since energy supplied to its magnetic fields is returned to the supply with the next half-cycle. However, any leakage flux that intercepts nearby conductive materials such as the transformer's support structure will give rise to eddy currents and be converted to heat. Power loss in the windings is current-dependent and is easily represented as in-series resistances RP and RS. Flux leakage results in a fraction of the applied voltage dropped without contributing to the mutual coupling, and thus can be modeled as self-inductances XP and XS in series with the perfectly-coupled region. Iron losses are caused mostly by hysteresis and eddy current effects in the core, and tend to be proportional to the square of the core flux for operation at a given frequency. Since the core flux is proportional to the applied voltage, the iron loss can be represented by a resistance RC in parallel with the ideal transformer.
A core with finite permeability requires a magnetizing current IM to maintain the mutual flux in the core. The magnetizing current is in phase with the flux; saturation effects cause the relationship between the two to be non-linear, but for simplicity this effect tends to be ignored in most circuit equivalents. Since the volts-per-turn is the same in both windings, each develops a voltage in proportion to its number of turns. By exposing part of the winding coils and making the secondary connection through a sliding brush, an autotransformer with a near-continuously variable turns ratio is obtained, allowing for very fine control of voltage.

Polyphase transformers

For three-phase supplies, a bank of three individual single-phase transformers can be used, or all three phases can be incorporated as a single three-phase transformer. In this case, the magnetic circuits are connected together, the core thus containing a three-phase flow of flux. A number of winding configurations are possible, giving rise to different attributes and phase shifts. One particular polyphase configuration is the zigzag transformer, used for grounding and in the suppression of harmonic currents.

Resonant transformers

A resonant transformer uses the inductance of its windings in combination with external capacitors connected in series or parallel with the windings, and/or the capacitance of the windings themselves, to create one or more resonant circuits. For example, it may use the inductance of the primary winding in series with a capacitor. Resonance can aid in achieving a very high voltage across the secondary. Resonant transformers such as the Tesla coil can generate very high voltages, and are able to provide much higher current than electrostatic high-voltage generation machines such as the Van de Graaff generator. Another application of the resonant transformer is to couple between stages of a superheterodyne receiver, where the selectivity of the receiver is provided by tuned transformers in the intermediate-frequency amplifiers.

Leakage transformers

A leakage transformer, also called a stray-field transformer, has a significantly higher leakage inductance than other transformers, sometimes increased by a magnetic bypass or shunt in its core between primary and secondary, which is sometimes adjustable with a set screw. This provides a transformer with an inherent current limitation due to the loose coupling between its primary and the secondary windings. The output and input currents are low enough to prevent thermal overload under all load conditions – even if the secondary is shorted.
Leakage transformers are used for arc welding and high voltage discharge lamps (cold cathode fluorescent lamps, which are series-connected up to 7.5 kV AC). It acts then both as a voltage transformer and as a magnetic ballast.
Other applications are short-circuit-proof extra-low voltage transformers for toys or doorbell installations.

Instrument transformers

Laminated steel cores

Transformers for use at power or audio frequencies typically have cores made of high permeability silicon steel. The steel has a permeability many times that of free space, and the core thus serves to greatly reduce the magnetising current, and confine the flux to a path which closely couples the windings. Early transformer developers soon realised that cores constructed from solid iron resulted in prohibitive eddy-current losses, and their designs mitigated this effect with cores consisting of bundles of insulated iron wires. Thin laminations are generally used on high frequency transformers, with some types of very thin steel laminations able to operate up to 10 kHz.
One common design of laminated core is made from interleaved stacks of E-shaped steel sheets capped with I-shaped pieces, leading to its name of "E-I transformer". Overcurrent protection devices such as fuses must be selected to allow this harmless inrush to pass. On transformers connected to long, overhead power transmission lines, induced currents due to geomagnetic disturbances during solar storms can cause saturation of the core and operation of transformer protection devices.
Distribution transformers can achieve low no-load losses by using cores made with low-loss high-permeability silicon steel or amorphous (non-crystalline) metal alloy. The higher initial cost of the core material is offset over the life of the transformer by its lower losses at light load.

Solid cores

Powdered iron cores are used in circuits (such as switch-mode power supplies) that operate above main frequencies and up to a few tens of kilohertz. These materials combine high magnetic permeability with high bulk electrical resistivity. For frequencies extending beyond the VHF band, cores made from non-conductive magnetic ceramic materials called ferrites are common. A strip construction ensures that the grain boundaries are optimally aligned, improving the transformer's efficiency by reducing the core's reluctance. The closed ring shape eliminates air gaps inherent in the construction of an E-I core. The cross-section of the ring is usually square or rectangular, but more expensive cores with circular cross-sections are also available. The primary and secondary coils are often wound concentrically to cover the entire surface of the core. This minimises the length of wire needed, and also provides screening to minimize the core's magnetic field from generating electromagnetic interference.
Toroidal transformers are more efficient than the cheaper laminated E-I types for a similar power level. Other advantages compared to E-I types, include smaller size (about half), lower weight (about half), less mechanical hum (making them superior in audio amplifiers), lower exterior magnetic field (about one tenth), low off-load losses (making them more efficient in standby circuits), single-bolt mounting, and greater choice of shapes. The main disadvantages are higher cost and limited rating.
Ferrite toroidal cores are used at higher frequencies, typically between a few tens of kilohertz to a megahertz, to reduce losses, physical size, and weight of switch-mode power supplies. A drawback of toroidal transformer construction is the higher cost of windings. As a consequence, toroidal transformers are uncommon above ratings of a few kVA. Small distribution transformers may achieve some of the benefits of a toroidal core by splitting it and forcing it open, then inserting a bobbin containing primary and secondary windings.

Air cores

A physical core is not an absolute requisite and a functioning transformer can be produced simply by placing the windings in close proximity to each other, an arrangement termed an "air-core" transformer. The air which comprises the magnetic circuit is essentially lossless, and so an air-core transformer eliminates loss due to hysteresis in the core material. for which a satisfactory coupling coefficient is maintained by carefully overlapping the primary and secondary windings.


The conducting material used for the windings depends upon the application, but in all cases the individual turns must be electrically insulated from each other to ensure that the current travels throughout every turn. For small power and signal transformers, in which currents are low and the potential difference between adjacent turns is small, the coils are often wound from enamelled magnet wire, such as Formvar wire. Larger power transformers operating at high voltages may be wound with copper rectangular strip conductors insulated by oil-impregnated paper and blocks of pressboard.
High-frequency transformers operating in the tens to hundreds of kilohertz often have windings made of braided litz wire to minimize the skin-effect and proximity effect losses.


Extended operation at high temperatures is particularly damaging to transformer insulation. Small signal transformers do not generate significant heat and need little consideration given to their thermal management. Power transformers rated up to a few kVA can be adequately cooled by natural convective air-cooling, sometimes assisted by fans. Specific provision must be made for cooling high-power transformers, the larger physical size requiring careful design to transport heat from the interior. Some power transformers are immersed in specialized transformer oil that acts both as a cooling medium, thereby extending the lifetime of the insulation, and helps to reduce corona discharge. The oil is a highly refined mineral oil that remains stable at high temperatures so that internal arcing will not cause breakdown or fire; transformers to be used indoors must use a non-flammable liquid. Today, non-toxic, stable silicone-based oils, or fluorinated hydrocarbons may be used where the expense of a fire-resistant liquid offsets additional building cost for a transformer vault.
Some "dry" transformers are enclosed in pressurized tanks and cooled by nitrogen or sulfur hexafluoride gas.


Very small transformers will have wire leads connected directly to the ends of the coils, and brought out to the base of the unit for circuit connections. Larger transformers may have heavy bolted terminals, bus bars or high-voltage insulated bushings made of polymers or porcelain. A large bushing can be a complex structure since it must provide careful control of the electric field gradient without letting the transformer leak oil.


The transformer principle was demonstrated in 1831 by Michael Faraday, although he used it only to demonstrate the principle of electromagnetic induction and did not foresee its practical uses. The first widely used transformer was the induction coil, invented by Irish clergyman Nicholas Callan in 1836. He was one of the first to understand the principle that the more turns a transformer winding has, the larger EMF it produces. Induction coils evolved from scientists efforts to get higher voltages from batteries. They were powered not by AC, but DC from batteries which was interrupted by a vibrating 'breaker' mechanism. Between the 1830s and the 1870s efforts to build better induction coils, mostly by trial and error, slowly revealed the basic principles of transformer operation. Efficient designs would not appear until the 1880s, but within less than a decade, the transformer was instrumental during the "War of Currents" in seeing alternating current systems triumph over their direct current counterparts, a position in which they have remained dominant. They also exhibited the invention in Turin in 1884, where it was adopted for an electric lighting system.
William Stanley, an engineer for Westinghouse, built the first commercial device in 1885 after George Westinghouse had bought Gaulard and Gibbs' patents. The core was made from interlocking E-shaped iron plates. This design was first used commercially in 1886. Their patent application made the first use of the word "transformer". Russian engineer Mikhail Dolivo-Dobrovolsky developed the first three-phase transformer in 1889. In 1891 Nikola Tesla invented the Tesla coil, an air-cored, dual-tuned resonant transformer for generating very high voltages at high frequency. Audio frequency transformers (at the time called repeating coils) were used by the earliest experimenters in the development of the telephone.
While new technologies have made transformers in some electronics applications obsolete, transformers are still found in many electronic devices. Transformers are essential for high voltage power transmission, which makes long distance transmission economically practical.



transformer in Afrikaans: Transformator
transformer in Arabic: محوّل
transformer in Bosnian: Transformator
transformer in Bulgarian: Трансформатор
transformer in Catalan: Transformador
transformer in Czech: Transformátor
transformer in Danish: Transformator
transformer in German: Transformator
transformer in Estonian: Transformaator
transformer in Spanish: Transformador
transformer in Esperanto: Transformatoro
transformer in Persian: ترانسفورماتور
transformer in French: Transformateur électrique
transformer in Galician: Transformador
transformer in Hindi: ट्रान्सफार्मर
transformer in Korean: 변압기
transformer in Croatian: Transformator
transformer in Indonesian: Transformator
transformer in Icelandic: Spennubreytir
transformer in Italian: Trasformatore
transformer in Hebrew: שנאי
transformer in Latvian: Transformators
transformer in Hungarian: Transzformátor
transformer in Mongolian: Трансформатор
transformer in Dutch: Transformator
transformer in Japanese: 変圧器
transformer in Norwegian: Transformator
transformer in Norwegian Nynorsk: Transformator
transformer in Polish: Transformator
transformer in Portuguese: Transformador
transformer in Romanian: Transformator
transformer in Russian: Трансформатор
transformer in Simple English: Transformer
transformer in Slovak: Transformátor
transformer in Slovenian: Transformator
transformer in Serbian: Трансформатор
transformer in Serbo-Croatian: Transformator
transformer in Sundanese: Trafo
transformer in Finnish: Muuntaja
transformer in Swedish: Transformator
transformer in Tamil: மின்மாற்றி
transformer in Thai: หม้อแปลงไฟฟ้า
transformer in Vietnamese: Máy biến thế
transformer in Turkish: Transformatör
transformer in Ukrainian: Трансформатор
transformer in Contenese: 火牛
transformer in Chinese: 变压器

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