As the only girl in a family of boys, I often had to forgo my toys of choice if I wanted some company during playtime. Certain playthings, however, appealed across gender lines. One such example for me was a toy that looked like a semi truck or sports car but could transform into a robot action figure if you knew how to slide out the wheels, snap open the chassis and flip up the robot’s head. Once transformed, these disguised robots could do things that a normal toy car could not such as fly or shoot lasers. Electric transformers are devices that share very little in common with the toys of the same name except for their ability to change. Electric transformers either increase or decrease the voltage of an electric current. They transform the flow of electricity from one voltage level to another which is a very important undertaking. A current traveling from a generator to a residence must have enough power to make it the physical distance to the building where it should then be reduced to a suitable power level for the internal circuitry. Just like how the planet and all its inhabitants would be in mortal danger in the absence of the transforming robots I used to play with, so too would everyday electronics be in danger of improper and safe function without electric transformers.
Photos courtesy of Epco Products, Inc.
There are two kinds of electric transformers: those that add strength and power to the current and those that remove it. Step up transformers increase the voltage in a circuit while step down transformers do the opposite and decrease it. These devices are able to accomplish this through use of electromagnetic induction which creates voltage through changing magnetic fields. Every electric current has a magnetic field and whenever that field is altered, the current is altered. Inside an electric transformer is a round core with an open center. Wires are coiled around two opposite sides of the core with one wire being wrapped tighter than the other. The tighter the coil, the stronger the current.
In the world my brothers and I used to create, a regular car on the street could suddenly change into a powerful robot: disguised robots were everywhere. Power transformers are not disguised but are widely used. The most visible examples are power line electric transformers that are mounted on electric poles. As electricity travels from the power plant to residences and commercial buildings, it must be stepped down through many transformers before entering the local circuit to ensure that it is not too strong. Multi-ton high voltage transformer units are used at power plants to step up the current so it can travel the distance to a residential or commercial building where small transformers step it back down. Small instrument transformers are found in handheld appliances or electronics. Thanks to electric transformers, power can be distributed over great distances in a fast, efficient and dependable way without risking personal safety or property damage.