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Transformer core
Jan 17, 2018


Closed-core transformers are constructed in 'core form' or 'shell form'. When windings surround the core, the transformer is core form; when windings are surrounded by the core, the transformer is shell form design may be more prevalent than core form design for distribution transformer applications due to the relative ease in stacking the core around winding coils.Core form design tends to, as a general rule, be more economical, and therefore more prevalent, than shell form design for high voltage power transformer applications at the lower end of their voltage and power rating ranges (less than or equal to, nominally, 230 kV or 75 MVA). At higher voltage and power ratings, shell form transformers tend to be more prevalent. Shell form design tends to be preferred for extra-high voltage and higher MVA applications because, though more labor-intensive to manufacture, shell form transformers are characterized as having inherently better kVA-to-weight ratio, better short-circuit strength characteristics and higher immunity to transit damage


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 magnetizing current and confine the flux to a path which closely couples the windings. Early transformer developers soon realized 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. Later designs constructed the core by stacking layers of thin steel laminations, a principle that has remained in use. Each lamination is insulated from its neighbors by a thin non-conducting layer of insulation. The transformer universal EMF equation implies an acceptably large core cross-sectional area in order to avoid saturation.

The effect of laminations is to confine eddy currents to highly elliptical paths that enclose little flux, and so reduce their magnitude. Thinner laminations reduce losses,but are more laborious and expensive to construct. Thin laminations are generally used on high-frequency transformers, with some 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'.Such a design tends to exhibit more losses, but is very economical to manufacture. The cut-core or C-core type is made by winding a steel strip around a rectangular form and then bonding the layers together. It is then cut in two, forming two C shapes, and the core assembled by binding the two C halves together with a steel strap. They have the advantage that the flux is always oriented parallel to the metal grains, reducing reluctance.

A steel core's remanence means that it retains a static magnetic field when power is removed. When power is then reapplied, the residual field will cause a high inrush current until the effect of the remaining magnetism is reduced, usually after a few cycles of the applied AC waveform. 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 ligh load


Solid cores

Powdered iron cores are used in circuits such as switch-mode power supplies that operate above mains 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. Some radio-frequency transformers also have movable cores (sometimes called 'slugs') which allow adjustment of the coupling coefficient (and bandwidth) of tuned radio-frequency circuits.


Toroidal cores

Small toroidal core transformer

Toroidal transformers are built around a ring-shaped core, which, depending on operating frequency, is made from a long strip of silicon steel or permalloy wound into a coil, powdered iron, or ferrite. 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 minimizes the length of wire needed and 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 power capacity (see Classification parameters below). Because of the lack of a residual gap in the magnetic path, toroidal transformers also tend to exhibit higher inrush current, compared to laminated E-I types


Ferrite toroidal cores are used at higher frequencies, typically between a few tens of kilohertz to hundreds of megahertz, to reduce losses, physical size, and weight of inductive components. A drawback of toroidal transformer construction is the higher labor cost of winding. This is because it is necessary to pass the entire length of a coil winding through the core aperture each time a single turn is added to the coil. As a consequence, toroidal transformers rated more than a few kVA are uncommon. Relatively few toroids are offered with power ratings above 10 kVA, and practically none above 25 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 near 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. The magetizing inductance is drastically reduced by the lack of a magnetic core, resulting in large magnetizing currents and losses if used at low frequencies. A large number of turns can be used to increase magnetizing inductance, but doing so increases winding resistance and leakage inductance. Air-core transformers are unsuitable for use in power distribution. They have however very high frequency capability, and are frequently employed in radio-frequency applications, for which a satisfactory coupling coefficient is maintained by carefully overlapping the primary and secondary windings. Air cores are also used for resonant transformers such as Tesla coils, where they can achieve reasonably low loss despite the low magnetizing inductance


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