A transformer is a static device that transfers electrical energy from one circuit to another through inductively coupled conductors—the transformer's coils. A varying current in the first or primary winding creates a varying magnetic flux in the transformer's core and thus a varying magnetic field through the secondary winding. This varying magnetic field induces a varying electromotive force (EMF) or "voltage" in the secondary winding. This effect is called mutual induction.
If a load is connected to the secondary, an electric current will flow in the secondary winding and electrical energy will be transferred from the primary circuit through the transformer to the load. In an ideal transformer, the induced voltage in the secondary winding (Vs) is in proportion to the primary voltage (Vp), and is given by the ratio of the number of turns in the secondary (Ns) to the number of turns in the primary (Np) as follows:
By appropriate selection of the ratio of turns, a transformer thus allows an alternating current (AC) voltage to be "stepped up" by making Ns greater than Np, or "stepped down" by making Ns less than Np.
In the vast majority of transformers, the windings are coils wound around a ferromagnetic core, air-core transformers being a notable exception.
Transformers range in size from a thumbnail-sized coupling transformer hidden inside a stage microphone to huge units weighing hundreds of tons used to interconnect portions of power grids. All operate with the same basic principles, although the range of designs is wide. While new technologies have eliminated the need for transformers in some electronic circuits, transformers are still found in nearly all electronic devices designed for household ("mains") voltage. Transformers are essential for high-voltage electric power transmission, which makes long-distance transmission economically practical.
The transformer is based on two principles: first, that an electric current can produce a magnetic field (electromagnetism), and, second that a changing magnetic field within a coil of wire induces a voltage across the ends of the coil (electromagnetic induction). Changing the current in the primary coil changes the magnetic flux that is developed. The changing magnetic flux induces a voltage in the secondary coil.
An ideal transformer
An ideal transformer is shown in the adjacent figure. 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, so that most of the magnetic flux passes through both the primary and secondary coils.
The voltage induced across the secondary coil may be calculated from Faraday's law of induction, which states that:
where Vs is the instantaneous voltage, Ns is the number of turns in the secondary coil and Φ is 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 flux density 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, the instantaneous voltage across the primary winding equals
Taking the ratio of the two equations for Vs and Vp gives the basic equation for stepping up or stepping down the voltage
Np/Ns is known as the turns ratio, and is the primary functional characteristic of any transformer. In the case of step-up transformers, this may sometimes be stated as the reciprocal, Ns/Np. Turns ratio is commonly expressed as an irreducible fraction or ratio: for example, a transformer with primary and secondary windings of, respectively, 100 and 150 turns is said to have a turns ratio of 2:3 rather than 0.667 or 100:150.
Ideal power equation
The ideal transformer as a circuit element
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:
giving the ideal transformer equation
Transformers normally have high efficiency, so this formula is a reasonable approximation.
If the voltage is increased, then the current is decreased by the same factor. The impedance in one circuit is transformed by the square of the turns ratio. For example, if an impedance Zs is attached across the terminals of the secondary coil, it appears to the primary circuit to have an impedance of (Np/Ns)2Zs. This relationship is reciprocal, so that the impedance Zp of the primary circuit appears to the secondary to be (Ns/Np)2Zp.
The simplified description above neglects several practical factors, in particular the primary current required to establish a magnetic field in the core, and the contribution to the field due to current in the secondary circuit.
Models of an ideal transformer typically assume a core of negligible reluctance with two windings of zero resistance. When a voltage is applied to the primary winding, a small current flows, driving flux around the magnetic circuit of the core. The current required to create the flux is termed the magnetizing current; since the ideal core has been assumed to have near-zero reluctance, the magnetizing current is negligible, although still required to create the magnetic field.
The changing magnetic field induces an electromotive force (EMF) across each winding. 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.
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