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A transformer is an electrical device that transfers energy from one circuit to another by magnetic coupling with no moving parts. A transformer comprises two or more coupled windings, or a single tapped winding and, in most cases, a magnetic core to concentrate magnetic flux. An alternating current in one winding creates a time-varying magnetic flux in the core, which induces a voltage in the other windings. Transformers are used to convert between high and low voltages, to change impedance, and to provide electrical isolation between circuits.
The transformer is one of the simplest of electrical devices. Its basic design, materials, and principles have changed little over the last one hundred years, yet transformer designs and materials continue to be improved. Transformers are essential for high voltage power transmission, providing an economical means of transmitting power over large distances. The simplicity, reliability, and economy of conversion of voltages by transformers was the principal factor in the selection of alternating current power transmission in the "War of Currents" in the late 1880's. Audio-frequency transformers, then referred to as repeating coils, were used by the earliest experimenters in the development of the telephone. While some early electronics applications of the transformer have been replaced by alternative techniques, transformers are still found in many electronic devices.
Transformers come in a range of sizes from a thumbnail-sized coupling transformer hidden inside a stage microphone to huge gigawatt units used to interconnect large portions of national power grids. All operate with the same basic principles and with many similarities in their parts.
Transformers alone cannot do the following:
An analogyThe transformer may be considered as a simple two-wheel 'gearbox' for electrical voltage and current. The primary winding is analogous to the input shaft and the secondary winding to the output shaft. In this comparison, current is equivalent to shaft speed, voltage to shaft torque. In a gearbox, mechanical power (speed multiplied by torque) is constant (neglecting losses) and is equivalent to electrical power (voltage multiplied by current) which is also constant.
The gear ratio is equivalent to the transformer step-up or step-down ratio. A step-up transformer acts analogously to a reduction gear (in which mechanical power is transferred from a small, rapidly rotating gear to a large, slowly rotating gear): it trades current (speed) for voltage (torque), by transferring power from a primary coil to a secondary coil having more turns. A step-down transformer acts analogously to a multiplier gear (in which mechanical power is transferred from a large gear to a small gear): it trades voltage (torque) for current (speed), by transferring power from a primary coil to a secondary coil having fewer turns.