What Does a Transformer Do?

It may pass in a rare conversation about electronics but the workings of a transformers aren’t quite as discussed as the word itself. What goes on in a transformer? What does it actually do? It’s actually quite handy and much more common than you think.

A transformer usually consists of two coils wrapped around a core capable of magnetic permeability. Silicon steel or iron make up this core, while the coils are usually copper or aluminum wires coated with a thin layer of insulation. This combination wire of metal and insulation is often referred to as magnet wire or enameled wire. The two coils are referred to as the primary coil and the secondary coil.

The basic function of the transformer is to convert the incoming power to a different output power. Basically, it pumps up the voltage that goes out of the transformer. To do so, a varying current will go through the primary coil and create a varying magnetic flux in the core. This magnetic flux in the core will induce a varying magnetic field through the secondary winding and create an electromotive force—otherwise known as EMF. Electromotive force is the voltage generated by the magnetic force within the transformer. The higher voltage allows energy to be transmitted more easily over long distances at a low current.

Each transformer is based on two principles. The first is that an electric current runs through the primary coil to create the necessary magnetic field. The second is that a varying magnetic field exists in the secondary coil, which creates a voltage across the ends of that coil. Even though each transformer is based on these principles, they still have a wide range of possible designs and sizes that accomplish the same thing. A transformer can be small enough to fit into a microphone, or it can weigh several tons.

In extremely simplified terms, a transformer takes an electric current and, through electromagnetism, boosts the voltage that comes out of the transformer so it can go longer distance more easily and cheaply. Of course, there is much more to a transformer than that and plenty more complicated words that require a dictionary, but that is the cut down definition and workings of a transformer. Transformers are complicated, but they do something simple for us: they transmit energy over longer distances than would otherwise be possible at the same cost of materials. They aren’t just handy, they’re money-savers.

What Does a Circuit Breaker Do?

Every now and then, your circuit breaker is tripped. A room in the house goes dark, or your electrical plugs don’t work and you simply flip the switch back to where it should be. But what exactly is going on when that switch flips off? What does your circuit breaker do for you? The simple answer is that your circuit breaker is there to protect you, but how it does so is a little more complicated.

Circuit breakers are called such for a reason. When a dangerous surge of energy is detected, your circuit breaker will interrupt the electric flow by opening the circuit to prevent possible fires or other damage. When the circuit is opened, it creates what is called an arc, which is a large amount of heat created by the interruption of the electric flow. The breaker is designed to withstand this arc and then extinguish it to avert any possible danger.

When an overabundance of energy is detected, the circuit is opened by what are called contacts, which are made of highly conductive metals to ensure that the contacts can endure the arc. But, these contacts can wear out after battling the many arcs that come their way. Luckily, many circuit breakers have replaceable contacts so it’s easy to keep your home or any other building safe from fire or electrical damage. When you flip the switch back on, the circuit closes and resumes the electric flow to give you that light and electricity you need.

While the contacts are able to hold the heat of the arc, the arc must be extinguished before the electric current can be reestablished. This can be done with air, oil, insulating gas or vacuum, depending on what type of circuit breaker it is. It sounds complicated, but it doesn’t take long for the arc to be extinguished. Most arcs can be snuffed out in 30 to 150 milliseconds. That’s about 0.03 to 0.15 seconds. So, when you finally lug those old boxes aside, the arc has been extinguished and the circuit is ready to resume that electric flow to your television.

When the circuit breaker is tripped, it seems like a bit of a nuisance to go flip it back on. But, in reality, your circuit breaker is protecting you, like a security system for malevolent electric surges. Except, unlike a security system, it not only detects the problem, it gets rid of it for you. Just reset it and that trusty circuit breaker will be ready to defend you from the next fire or power surge.