From the perspective of an outsider, the electrical grid appears to be relatively straightforward. Electricity is produced at a plant, transported through wires, and then used within a home or business. While this basic principle is correct, many are surprised to hear that the energy coming from a plant is practically unusable in its original state. This is why electrical transformers have become exceptionally important.
The Basics of a Transformer
In its simplest form, the job of a transformer is to take electricity at a certain voltage and then transform it into electricity at an entirely different voltage without changing the frequency. This is an important feature because devices from around the world require different amounts of voltage. The voltage that is used to power a nuclear submarine would destroy most household products while the voltage required for a household product would never be able to turn a large turbine.
Transformers work because of an interesting property that was discovered years ago. When electricity is moving through a wire it produces a magnetic field around it. If a wire has absolutely no electricity running through it, but there is a nearby magnetic field, then it will draw in energy. This is why a transformer is comprised of an incoming lead wire, an outgoing wire, and a core to transfer the energy. Wires that run parallel to one another with no variation would transfer electricity at an identical voltage. By altering the shape of the wires into inductive coils (spirals), however, the voltage will be forced to increase or decrease.
Shell and Core Transformers
All transformers can be classified as a core type transformer or shell type transformer depending on the layout of the core and windings. In a shell type transformer, the core is generally made up of a simple rectangle with the coils stacked near one another. The coils are mounted in layers and positioned with insulation between them. A core type transformer has cylindrical windings mounted away from one another with insulation between each “wrap” of the coil. Each of these types of transformers can be used in a variety of applications depending on one’s needs.
Common Types of Transformers
The basic purpose of these devices are to change the voltage of electricity, and this means that they can also be classified as either a step up transformer or a step down transformer. As their names imply, a step up transformer will increase the voltage (while decreasing the current) and a step down transformer will decrease the voltage (while increasing the current).
From there, transformers can be altered for practically any purpose and application imaginable. While developing a product or machine, engineers often need very specific transformers with unique features. An example of this would be a transformer within a consumer product that must run as quietly as possible. Others will need a transformer that will produce very little heat while undergoing a tremendous amount of punishment. These unique features are just some of the reasons that transformers have become invaluable to our everyday lives.