Transformers are electrical devices consisting of two or more coils of wire used to transfer electrical energy by means of a changing magnetic field.

One of the main reasons that we use alternating AC voltages and currents in our homes and workplace’s is that AC supplies can be easily generated at a convenient voltage, transformed (hence the name transformer) into much higher voltages, and then distributed around the country using a national grid of pylons and cables over very long distances.

The reason for transforming the voltage to a much higher level is that higher distribution voltages imply lower currents for the same power and therefore lower I2*R losses along the networked grid of cables. These higher AC transmission voltages and currents can then be reduced to a much lower, safer, and usable voltage level where it can be used to supply electrical equipment in our homes and workplaces, and all this is possible thanks to the basic Voltage Transformer.

voltage transformer basics

A Typical Voltage Transformer

The Voltage Transformer can be thought of as an electrical component rather than an electronic component. A transformer basically is very simple static (or stationary) electro-magnetic passive electrical device that works on the principle of Faraday’s law of induction by converting electrical energy from one value to another.

The transformer does this by linking together two or more electrical circuits using a common oscillating magnetic circuit which is produced by the transformer itself. A transformer operates on the principals of “electromagnetic induction”, in the form of  Mutual Induction.

Mutual induction is the process by which a coil of wire magnetically induces a voltage into another coil located in close proximity to it. Then we can say that transformers work in the “magnetic domain”, and transformers get their name from the fact that they “transform” one voltage or current level into another.

Transformers are capable of either increasing or decreasing the voltage and current levels of their supply, without modifying its frequency, or the amount of electrical power being transferred from one winding to another via the magnetic circuit.

A single phase voltage transformer basically consists of two electrical coils of wire, one called the “Primary Winding” and another called the “Secondary Winding”. For this tutorial we will define the “primary” side of the transformer as the side that usually takes power, and the “secondary” as the side that usually delivers power. In a single-phase voltage transformer the primary is usually the side with the higher voltage.

These two coils are not in electrical contact with each other but are instead wrapped together around a common closed magnetic iron circuit called the “core”. This soft iron core is not solid but made up of individual laminations connected together to help reduce the core’s losses.

The two coil windings are electrically isolated from each other but are magnetically linked through the common core allowing electrical power to be transferred from one coil to the other. When an electric current passed through the primary winding, a magnetic field is developed which induces a voltage into the secondary winding as shown.

Single Phase Voltage Transformer

single phase voltage transformer

In other words, for a transformer there is no direct electrical connection between the two coil windings, thereby giving it the name also of an Isolation Transformer. Generally, the primary winding of a transformer is connected to the input voltage supply and converts or transforms the electrical power into a magnetic field. While the job of the secondary winding is to convert this alternating magnetic field into electrical power producing the required output voltage as shown.

Transformer Construction (single-phase)

transformer basic construction


  •   VP  –  is the Primary Voltage
  •   VS  –  is the Secondary Voltage
  •   NP  –  is the Number of Primary Windings
  •   NS  –  is the Number of Secondary Windings
  •   Φ (phi)  –  is the Flux Linkage

Notice that the two coil windings are not electrically connected but are only linked magnetically. A single-phase transformer can operate to either increase or decrease the voltage applied to the primary winding. When a transformer is used to “increase” the voltage on its secondary winding with respect to the primary, it is called a Step-up transformer. When it is used to “decrease” the voltage on the secondary winding with respect to the primary it is called a Step-down transformer.

However, a third condition exists in which a transformer produces the same voltage on its secondary as is applied to its primary winding. In other words, its output is identical with respect to voltage, current and power transferred. This type of transformer is called an “Impedance Transformer” and is mainly used for impedance matching or the isolation of adjoining electrical circuits.

The difference in voltage between the primary and the secondary windings is achieved by changing the number of coil turns in the primary winding ( NP ) compared to the number of coil turns on the secondary winding ( NS ).

As the transformer is basically a linear device, a ratio now exists between the number of turns of the primary coil divided by the number of turns of the secondary coil. This ratio, called the ratio of transformation, more commonly known as a transformers “turns ratio”, ( TR ). This turns ratio value dictates the operation of the transformer and the corresponding voltage available on the secondary winding.

It is necessary to know the ratio of the number of turns of wire on the primary winding compared to the secondary winding. The turns ratio, which has no units, compares the two windings in order and is written with a colon, such as 3:1 (3-to-1). This means in this example, that if there are 3 volts on the primary winding there will be 1 volt on the secondary winding, 3 volts-to-1 volt. Then we can see that if the ratio between the number of turns changes the resulting voltages must also change by the same ratio, and this is true.

Transformers are all about “ratios”. The ratio of the primary to the secondary, the ratio of the input to the output, and the turns ratio of any given transformer will be the same as its voltage ratio. In other words for a transformer: “turns ratio = voltage ratio”. The actual number of turns of wire on any winding is generally not important, just the turns ratio and this relationship is given as:

A Transformers Turns Ratio

transformer turns ratio equation

Assuming an ideal transformer and the phase angles:  ΦP ≡ ΦS

Note that the order of the numbers when expressing a transformers turns ratio value is very important as the turns ratio 3:1 expresses a very different transformer relationship and output voltage than one in which the turns ratio is given as: 1:3.

Transformer Basics Example No1

A voltage transformer has 1500 turns of wire on its primary coil and 500 turns of wire for its secondary coil. What will be the turns ratio (TR) of the transformer.

transformer turns ratio

This ratio of 3:1 (3-to-1) simply means that there are three primary windings for every one secondary winding. As the ratio moves from a larger number on the left to a smaller number on the right, the primary voltage is therefore stepped down in value as shown.

Transformer Basics Example No2

If 240 volts rms is applied to the primary winding of the same transformer above, what will be the resulting secondary no load voltage.

secondary voltage transformer basics

Again confirming that the transformer is a “step-down” transformer as the primary voltage is 240 volts and the corresponding secondary voltage is lower at 80 volts.

Then the main purpose of a transformer is to transform voltages at preset ratios and we can see that the primary winding has a set amount or number of windings (coils of wire) on it to suit the input voltage. If the secondary output voltage is to be the same value as the input voltage on the primary winding, then the same number of coil turns must be wound onto the secondary core as there are on the primary core giving an even turns ratio of 1:1 (1-to-1). In other words, one coil turn on the secondary to one coil turn on the primary.

If the output secondary voltage is to be greater or higher than the input voltage, (step-up transformer) then there must be more turns on the secondary giving a turns ratio of 1:N (1-to-N), where N represents the turns ratio number. Likewise, if it is required that the secondary voltage is to be lower or less than the primary, (step-down transformer) then the number of secondary windings must be less giving a turns ratio of N:1 (N-to-1).

Transformer Action

We have seen that the number of coil turns on the secondary winding compared to the primary winding, the turns ratio, affects the amount of voltage available from the secondary coil. But if the two windings are electrically isolated from each other, how is this secondary voltage produced?

We have said previously that a transformer basically consists of two coils wound around a common soft iron core. When an alternating voltage ( VP ) is applied to the primary coil, current flows through the coil which in turn sets up a magnetic field around itself, called mutual inductance, by this current flow according to Faraday’s Law of electromagnetic induction. The strength of the magnetic field builds up as the current flow rises from zero to its maximum value which is given as dΦ/dt.

transformer basics of flux linkage

As the magnetic lines of force setup by this electromagnet expand outward from the coil the soft iron core forms a path for and concentrates the magnetic flux. This magnetic flux links the turns of both windings as it increases and decreases in opposite directions under the influence of the AC supply.

However, the strength of the magnetic field induced into the soft iron core depends upon the amount of current and the number of turns in the winding. When current is reduced, the magnetic field strength reduces.

When the magnetic lines of flux flow around the core, they pass through the turns of the secondary winding, causing a voltage to be induced into the secondary coil. The amount of voltage induced will be determined by: N*dΦ/dt (Faraday’s Law), where N is the number of coil turns. Also this induced voltage has the same frequency as the primary winding voltage.

Then we can see that the same voltage is induced in each coil turn of both windings because the same magnetic flux links the turns of both the windings together. As a result, the total induced voltage in each winding is directly proportional to the number of turns in that winding. However, the peak amplitude of the output voltage available on the secondary winding will be reduced if the magnetic losses of the core are high.

If we want the primary coil to produce a stronger magnetic field to overcome the cores magnetic losses, we can either send a larger current through the coil, or keep the same current flowing, and instead increase the number of coil turns ( NP ) of the winding. The product of amperes times turns is called the “ampere-turns”, which determines the magnetising force of the coil.

So assuming we have a transformer with a single turn in the primary, and only one turn in the secondary. If one volt is applied to the one turn of the primary coil, assuming no losses, enough current must flow and enough magnetic flux generated to induce one volt in the single turn of the secondary. That is, each winding supports the same number of volts per turn.

As the magnetic flux varies sinusoidally, Φ = Φmax sinωt, then the basic relationship between induced emf, ( E ) in a coil winding of N turns is given by:

emf = turns x rate of change

transformer emf equation


  •   ƒ  –  is the flux frequency in Hertz,  = ω/2π
  •   Ν  –  is the number of coil windings.
  •   Φ  –  is the amount of flux in webers

This is known as the Transformer EMF Equation. For the primary winding emf, N will be the number of primary turns, ( NP ) and for the secondary winding emf, N will be the number of secondary turns, ( NS ).

Also please note that as transformers require an alternating magnetic flux to operate correctly, transformers cannot therefore be used to transform or supply DC voltages or currents, since the magnetic field must be changing to induce a voltage in the secondary winding. In other words, transformers DO NOT operate on steady state DC voltages, only alternating or pulsating voltages.

If a transformers primary winding was connected to a DC supply, the inductive reactance of the winding would be zero as DC has no frequency, so the effective impedance of the winding will therefore be very low and equal only to the resistance of the copper used. Thus the winding will draw a very high current from the DC supply causing it to overheat and eventually burn out, because as we know I = V/R.

Transformer Basics Example No3

A single phase transformer has 480 turns on the primary winding and 90 turns on the secondary winding. The maximum value of the magnetic flux density is 1.1T when 2200 volts, 50Hz is applied to the transformer primary winding. Calculate:

a). The maximum flux in the core.

transformer core magnetic flux

b). The cross-sectional area of the core.

transformer core cross sectional area

c). The secondary induced emf.

transformer secondary induced emf

Since the secondary voltage rating is equal to the secondary induced emf, another easier way to calulate the secondary voltage from the turns ratio is given as:

transformer secondary emf

Electrical Power in a Transformer

Another one of the transformer basics parameters is its power rating. The power rating of a transformer is obtained by simply multiplying the current by the voltage to obtain a rating in Volt-amperes, ( VA ). Small single phase transformers may be rated in volt-amperes only, but much larger power transformers are rated in units of Kilo volt-amperes, ( kVA ) where 1 kilo volt-ampere is equal to 1,000 volt-amperes, and units of Mega volt-amperes, ( MVA ) where 1 mega volt-ampere is equal to 1 million volt-amperes.

In an ideal transformer (ignoring any losses), the power available in the secondary winding will be the same as the power in the primary winding, they are constant wattage devices and do not change the power only the voltage to current ratio. Thus, in an ideal transformer the Power Ratio is equal to one (unity) as the voltage, V multiplied by the current, I will remain constant.

That is the electric power at one voltage/current level on the primary is “transformed” into electric power, at the same frequency, to the same voltage/current level on the secondary side. Although the transformer can step-up (or step-down) voltage, it cannot step-up power. Thus, when a transformer steps-up a voltage, it steps-down the current and vice-versa, so that the output power is always at the same value as the input power. Then we can say that primary power equals secondary power, ( PP = PS ).

Power in a Transformer

transformer basics power

Where: ΦP is the primary phase angle and ΦS is the secondary phase angle.

Note that since power loss is proportional to the square of the current being transmitted, that is: I2R, increasing the voltage, let’s say doubling ( ×2 ) the voltage would decrease the current by the same amount, ( ÷2 ) while delivering the same amount of power to the load and therefore reducing losses by factor of 4. If the voltage was increased by a factor of 10, the current would decrease by the same factor reducing overall losses by factor of 100.

Transformer Efficiency

A transformer does not require any moving parts to transfer energy. This means that there are no friction or windage losses associated with other electrical machines. However, transformers do suffer from other types of losses called “copper losses” and “iron losses” but generally these are quite small.

Copper losses, also known as I2R loss is the electrical power which is lost in heat as a result of circulating the currents around the transformers copper windings, hence the name. Copper losses represents the greatest loss in the operation of a transformer. The actual watts of power lost can be determined (in each winding) by squaring the amperes and multiplying by the resistance in ohms of the winding (I2R).

Iron losses, also known as hysteresis is the lagging of the magnetic molecules within the core, in response to the alternating magnetic flux. This lagging (or out-of-phase) condition is due to the fact that it requires power to reverse magnetic molecules; they do not reverse until the flux has attained sufficient force to reverse them.

Their reversal results in friction, and friction produces heat in the core which is a form of power loss. Hysteresis within the transformer can be reduced by making the core from special steel alloys.

The intensity of power loss in a transformer determines its efficiency. The efficiency of a transformer is reflected in power (wattage) loss between the primary (input) and secondary (output) windings. Then the resulting efficiency of a transformer is equal to the ratio of the power output of the secondary winding, PS to the power input of the primary winding, PP and is therefore high.

An ideal transformer would be 100% efficient, passing all the electrical energy it receives on its primary side to its secondary side. But real transformers on the other hand are not 100% efficient. When operating at full load capacity their maximum efficiency is nearer 94% to 96%, which is still quite good for an electrical device. For a transformer operating at a constant AC voltage and frequency, its efficiency can be as high as 98%. The efficiency, η of a transformer is given as:

Transformer Efficiency calculation

transformer efficiency

Where: Input, Output and Losses are all expressed in units of power.

Generally, when dealing with transformers, the primary watts are called “volt-amps”, VA to differentiate them from the secondary watts. Then the efficiency equation above can be modified to:

transformer basics - efficiency

It is sometimes easier to remember the relationship between the transformer’s input, output, and efficiency by using pictures. Here the three quantities of VA, W, and η have been superimposed into a triangle giving power in watts at the top with volt-amps and efficiency at the bottom. This arrangement represents the actual position of each quantity in the efficiency formulas.

Transformer Efficiency Triangle

transformer efficiency triangle

and transposing the above triangle quantities gives us the following combinations of the same equation:

transformer efficiency triangle relationship

Then, to find Watts (output) = VA x eff., or to find VA (input) = W/eff., or to find Efficiency, eff. = W/VA, etc.

Transformer Basics Summary

Then to summarise this transformer basics tutorial. A Transformer changes the voltage level (or current level) on its input winding to another value on its output winding using a magnetic field. A transformer consists of two electrically isolated coils and operates on Faraday’s principal of “mutual induction”, in which an EMF is induced in the transformers secondary coil by the magnetic flux generated by the voltages and currents flowing in the primary coil winding.

Both the primary and secondary coil windings are wrapped around a common soft iron core made of individual laminations to reduce eddy current and power losses. The primary winding of the transformer is connected to the AC power source which must be sinusoidal in nature, while the secondary winding supplies electrical power to the load. Having said that, a transformer could be used in reverse with the supply connected to the secondary winding provided the voltage and current ratings are observed.

We can represent the transformer in block diagram form as follows:

Basic Representation of the Transformer

transformer basic representation

The ratio of the transformers primary and secondary windings with respect to each other produces either a step-up voltage transformer or a step-down voltage transformer with the ratio between the number of primary turns to the number of secondary turns being called the “turns ratio” or “transformer ratio”.

If this ratio is less than unity, n < 1 then NS is greater than NP and the transformer is classed as a step-up transformer. If this ratio is greater than unity, n > 1, that is NP is greater than NS, the transformer is classed as a step-down transformer. Note that single phase step-down transformer can also be used as a step-up transformer simply by reversing its connections and making the low voltage winding its primary, and vice versa as long as the transformer is operated within its original VA design rating.

If the turns ratio is equal to unity, that is n = 1, then both the primary and secondary have the same number of coil turns so therefore the voltages and currents will be the same for both the primary and secondary windings.

This type of 1:1 transformer is classed as an isolation transformer as both the primary and secondary windings of the transformer have the same number of volts per turn. The efficiency of a transformer is the ratio of the power it delivers to the load to the power it absorbs from the supply. In an ideal transformer there are no losses so no loss of power then PIN = POUT.

In the next tutorial to do with Transformer Basics, we will look at the physical Construction of a Transformer and see the different magnetic core types and laminations used to support the primary and secondary windings.

Transformer Construction

A simple two-winding transformer construction consists of each winding being wound on a separate soft iron limb or core which provides the necessary magnetic circuit.

This magnetic circuit, know more commonly as the “transformer core” is designed to provide a path for the magnetic field to flow around, which is necessary for induction of the voltage between the two windings.

However, this type of transformer construction where the two windings are wound on separate limbs is not very efficient since the primary and secondary windings are well separated from each other. This results in a low magnetic coupling between the two windings as well as large amounts of magnetic flux leakage from the transformer itself. But as well as this “O” shapes construction, there are different types of “transformer construction” and designs available which are used to overcome these inefficiencies producing a smaller more compact transformer.

transformer construction

The efficiency of a simple transformer construction can be improved by bringing the two windings within close contact with each other thereby improving the magnetic coupling. Increasing and concentrating the magnetic circuit around the coils may improve the magnetic coupling between the two windings, but it also has the effect of increasing the magnetic losses of the transformer core.

As well as providing a low reluctance path for the magnetic field, the core is designed to prevent circulating electric currents within the iron core itself. Circulating currents, called “eddy currents”, cause heating and energy losses within the core decreasing the transformers efficiency.

These losses are due mainly to voltages induced in the iron circuit, which is constantly being subjected to the alternating magnetic fields setup by the external sinusoidal supply voltage. One way to reduce these unwanted power losses is to construct the transformer core from thin steel laminations.

In all types of transformer construction, the central iron core is constructed from of a highly permeable material made from thin silicon steel laminations. These thin laminations are assembled together to provide the required magnetic path with the minimum of magnetic losses. The resistivity of the steel sheet itself is high, thus reducing any eddy current loss by making the laminations very thin.

These steel transformer laminations vary in thickness’s from between 0.25mm to 0.5mm and as steel is a conductor, the laminations and any fixing studs, rivets or bolts are electrically insulated from each other by a very thin coating of insulating varnish or by the use of an oxide layer on the surface.

Transformer Construction of the Core

Generally, the name associated with the construction of a transformer is dependant upon how the primary and secondary windings are wound around the central laminated steel core. The two most common and basic designs of transformer construction are the Closed-core Transformer and the Shell-core Transformer.

In the “closed-core” type (core form) transformer, the primary and secondary windings are wound outside and surround the core ring. In the “shell type” (shell form) transformer, the primary and secondary windings pass inside the steel magnetic circuit (core) which forms a shell around the windings as shown below.

Transformer Core Construction

transformer core construction

In both types of transformer core design, the magnetic flux linking the primary and secondary windings travels entirely within the core with no loss of magnetic flux through air. In the core type transformer construction, one half of each winding is wrapped around each leg (or limb) of the transformers magnetic circuit as shown above.

The coils are not arranged with the primary winding on one leg and the secondary on the other but instead half of the primary winding and half of the secondary winding are placed one over the other concentrically on each leg in order to increase magnetic coupling allowing practically all of the magnetic lines of force go through both the primary and secondary windings at the same time. However, with this type of transformer construction, a small percentage of the magnetic lines of force flow outside of the core, and this is called “leakage flux”.

Shell type transformer cores overcome this leakage flux as both the primary and secondary windings are wound on the same centre leg or limb which has twice the cross-sectional area of the two outer limbs. The advantage here is that the magnetic flux has two closed magnetic paths to flow around external to the coils on both left and right hand sides before returning back to the central coils.

This means that the magnetic flux circulating around the outer limbs of this type of transformer construction is equal to Φ/2. As the magnetic flux has a closed path around the coils, this has the advantage of decreasing core losses and increasing overall efficiency.

Transformer Laminations

But you may be wondering as to how the primary and secondary windings are wound around these laminated iron or steel cores for this types of transformer constructions. The coils are firstly wound on a former which has a cylindrical, rectangular or oval type cross section to suit the construction of the laminated core. In both the shell and core type transformer constructions, in order to mount the coil windings, the individual laminations are stamped or punched out from larger steel sheets and formed into strips of thin steel resembling the letters “E”s, “L”s, “U”s and “I”s as shown below.

Transformer Core Types

transformer core types

These lamination stampings when connected together form the required core shape. For example, two “E” stampings plus two end closing “I” stampings to give an E-I core forming one element of a standard shell-type transformer core. These individual laminations are tightly butted together during the transformers construction to reduce the reluctance of the air gap at the joints producing a highly saturated magnetic flux density.

Transformer core laminations are usually stacked alternately to each other to produce an overlapping joint with more lamination pairs being added to make up the correct core thickness. This alternate stacking of the laminations also gives the transformer the advantage of reduced flux leakage and iron losses. E-I core laminated transformer construction is mostly used in isolation transformers, step-up and step-down transformers as well as auto transformers.

Transformer Winding Arrangements

Transformer windings form another important part of a transformer construction, because they are the main current-carrying conductors wound around the laminated sections of the core. In a single-phase two winding transformer, two windings would be present as shown. The one which is connected to the voltage source and creates the magnetic flux called the primary winding, and the second winding called the secondary in which a voltage is induced as a result of mutual induction.

If the secondary output voltage is less than that of the primary input voltage the transformer is known as a “Step-down Transformer”. If the secondary output voltage is greater then the primary input voltage it is called a “Step-up Transformer”.

types of transformer core

Core-type Construction

The type of wire used as the main current carrying conductor in a transformer winding is either copper or aluminium. While aluminium wire is lighter and generally less expensive than copper wire, a larger cross sectional area of conductor must be used to carry the same amount of current as with copper so it is used mainly in larger power transformer applications.

Small kVA power and voltage transformers used in low voltage electrical and electronic circuits tend to use copper conductors as these have a higher mechanical strength and smaller conductor size than equivalent aluminium types. The downside is that when complete with their core, these transformers are much heavier.

Transformer windings and coils can be broadly classified in to concentric coils and sandwiched coils. In core-type transformer construction, the windings are usually arranged concentrically around the core limb as shown above with the higher voltage primary winding being wound over the lower voltage secondary winding.

Sandwiched or “pancake” coils consist of flat conductors wound in a spiral form and are so named due to the arrangement of conductors into discs. Alternate discs are made to spiral from outside towards the centre in an interleaved arrangement with individual coils being stacked together and separated by insulating materials such as paper of plastic sheet. Sandwich coils and windings are more common with shell type core construction.

Helical Windings also known as screw windings are another very common cylindrical coil arrangement used in low voltage high current transformer applications. The windings are made up of large cross sectional rectangular conductors wound on its side with the insulated strands wound in parallel continuously along the length of the cylinder, with suitable spacers inserted between adjacent turns or discs to minimize circulating currents between the parallel strands. The coil progresses outwards as a helix resembling that of a corkscrew.

transformer core

Transformer Core

The insulation used to prevent the conductors shorting together in a transformer is usually a thin layer of varnish or enamel in air cooled transformers. This thin varnish or enamel paint is painted onto the wire before it is wound around the core.

In larger power and distribution transformers the conductors are insulated from each other using oil impregnated paper or cloth. The whole core and windings is immersed and sealed in a protective tank containing transformer oil. The transformer oil acts as an insulator and also as a coolant.

Transformer Dot Orientation

We can not just simply take a laminated core and wrap one of the coil configurations around it. We could but we may find that the secondary voltage and current may be out-of-phase with that of the primary voltage and current. The two coil windings do have a distinct orientation of one with respect to the other. Either coil could be wound around the core clockwise or anticlockwise so to keep track of their relative orientations “dots” are used to identify a given end of each winding.

This method of identifying the orientation or direction of a transformers windings is called the “dot convention”. Then a transformers windings are wound so that the correct phase relations exist between the winding voltages with the transformers polarity being defined as the relative polarity of the secondary voltage with respect to the primary voltage as shown below.

Transformer Construction using Dot Orientation

transformer construction using dot orientation

The first transformer shows its two “dots” side by side on the two windings. The current leaving the secondary dot is “in-phase” with the current entering the primary side dot. Thus the polarities of the voltages at the dotted ends are also in-phase so when the voltage is positive at the dotted end of the primary coil, the voltage across the secondary coil is also positive at the dotted end.

The second transformer shows the two dots at opposite ends of the windings which means that the transformers primary and secondary coil windings are wound in opposite directions. The result of this is that the current leaving the secondary dot is 180o “out-of-phase” with the current entering the primary dot. So the polarities of the voltages at the dotted ends are also out-of-phase so when the voltage is positive at the dotted end of the primary coil, the voltage across the corresponding secondary coil will be negative.

Then the construction of a transformer can be such that the secondary voltage may be either “in-phase” or “out-of-phase” with respect to the primary voltage. In transformers which have a number of different secondary windings, each of which is electrically isolated from each other it is important to know the dot polarity of the secondary windings so that they can be connected together in series-aiding (secondary voltage is summed) or series-opposing (the secondary voltage is the difference) configurations.

The ability to adjust the turns ratio of a transformer is often desirable to compensate for the effects of variations in the primary supply voltage, the regulation of the transformer or varying load conditions. Voltage control of the transformer is generally performed by changing the turns ratio and therefore its voltage ratio whereby a part of the primary winding on the high voltage side is tapped out allowing for easy adjustment. The tapping is preferred on the high voltage side as the volts per turn are lower than the low voltage secondary side.

Transformer Primary Tap Changes

transformer primary tap change

In this simple example, the primary tap changes are calculated for a supply voltage change of ±5%, but any value can be chosen. Some transformers may have two or more primary or two or more secondary windings for use in different applications providing different voltages from a single core.

Transformer Core Losses

The ability of iron or steel to carry magnetic flux is much greater than it is in air, and this ability to allow magnetic flux to flow is called permeability. Most transformer cores are constructed from low carbon steels which can have permeabilities in the order of 1500 compared with just 1.0 for air.

This means that a steel laminated core can carry a magnetic flux 1500 times better than that of air. However, when a magnetic flux flows in a transformers steel core, two types of losses occur in the steel. One termed “eddy current losses” and the other termed “hysteresis losses”.

Hysteresis Losses

Transformer Hysteresis Losses are caused because of the friction of the molecules against the flow of the magnetic lines of force required to magnetise the core, which are constantly changing in value and direction first in one direction and then the other due to the influence of the sinusoidal supply voltage.

This molecular friction causes heat to be developed which represents an energy loss to the transformer. Excessive heat loss can overtime shorten the life of the insulating materials used in the manufacture of the windings and structures. Therefore, cooling of a transformer is important.

Also, transformers are designed to operate at a particular supply frequency. Lowering the frequency of the supply will result in increased hysteresis and higher temperature in the iron core. So reducing the supply frequency from 60 Hertz to 50 Hertz will raise the amount of hysteresis present, decreased the VA capacity of the transformer.

Eddy Current Losses

Transformer Eddy Current Losses on the other hand are caused by the flow of circulating currents induced into the steel caused by the flow of the magnetic flux around the core. These circulating currents are generated because to the magnetic flux the core is acting like a single loop of wire. Since the iron core is a good conductor, the eddy currents induced by a solid iron core will be large.

Eddy currents do not contribute anything towards the usefulness of the transformer but instead they oppose the flow of the induced current by acting like a negative force generating resistive heating and power loss within the core.

Laminating the Iron Core

transformer laminated iron core

Eddy current losses within a transformer core can not be eliminated completely, but they can be greatly reduced and controlled by reducing the thickness of the steel core. Instead of having one big solid iron core as the magnetic core material of the transformer or coil, the magnetic path is split up into many thin pressed steel shapes called “laminations”.

The laminations used in a transformer construction are very thin strips of insulated metal joined together to produce a solid but laminated core as we saw above. These laminations are insulated from each other by a coat of varnish or paper to increase the effective resistivity of the core thereby increasing the overall resistance to limit the flow of the eddy currents.

The result of all this insulation is that the unwanted induced eddy current power-loss in the core is greatly reduced, and it is for this reason why the magnetic iron circuit of every transformer and other electro-magnetic machines are all laminated. Using laminations in a transformer construction reduces eddy current losses.

The losses of energy, which appears as heat due both to hysteresis and to eddy currents in the magnetic path, is known commonly as “transformer core losses”. Since these losses occur in all magnetic materials as a result of alternating magnetic fields. Transformer core losses are always present in a transformer whenever the primary is energized, even if no load is connected to the secondary winding. Also these hysteresis and the eddy current losses are sometimes referred to as “transformer iron losses”, as the magnetic flux causing these losses is constant at all loads.

Copper Losses

But there is also another type of energy loss associated with transformers called “copper losses”. Transformer Copper Losses are mainly due to the electrical resistance of the primary and secondary windings. Most transformer coils are made from copper wire which has resistance in Ohms, ( Ω ). This resistance opposes the magnetising currents flowing through them.

When a load is connected to the transformers secondary winding, large electrical currents flow in both the primary and the secondary windings, electrical energy and power ( or the I2 R ) losses occur as heat. Generally copper losses vary with the load current, being almost zero at no-load, and at a maximum at full-load when current flow is at maximum.

A transformer’s VA rating can be increased by better design and transformer construction to reduce these core and copper losses. Transformers with high voltage and current ratings require conductors of a large cross-section to help minimize their copper losses. Increasing the rate of heat dissipation (better cooling) by forced air or oil, or by improving the transformer’s insulation so that it will withstand higher temperatures can also increase a transformer’s VA rating.

Then we can define an ideal transformer as having:

  • No Hysteresis loops or Hysteresis losses  → 0
  • Infinite Resistivity of core material giving zero Eddy current losses  → 0
  • Zero winding resistance giving zero I2*R copper losses  → 0

In the next tutorial about Transformers, we will look at Transformer Loading of the secondary winding with respect to an electrical load and see the effect a “NO-load” and a “ON-load” connected transformer has on the primary winding current.

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