Transformers and How They Differ From Inductors

A transformer is an electrical device capable of changing the voltage level of an alternating current (AC) in a circuit. Transformers are only functional in AC circuits, and will not operate within a direct current (DC) circuit. In its most basic configuration, a transformer comprises two separate coils of wire wound around a single core. The coil that connects to the incoming voltage sources is considered the primary coil, while the coil connected to the outgoing voltage is the secondary coil. The core is an electromagnetic device that limits or amplifies the voltage flow depending on output requirements. This blog will seek to explain the way transformers work, their wide array of types, and how they differ from inductors.

Transformers do not generate electrical power, but rather transfer it from one AC circuit to another. This process starts when an electrical current enters a transformer. The current enters via a connection to the primary coil (sometimes called a winding). The winding around the core converts the electrical power into a magnetic field which subsequently moves through the core and into the secondary coil. The secondary coil then turns the electromagnetic flow back into electrical power at the required output voltage. There are five common types of transformers: power transformers, isolation transformers, autotransformers, audio transformers, and pulse transformers.

Power transformers are used to increase or decrease line voltages and can also aid in the transformation of AC voltage to DC voltage when necessary. Power transformer operation occurs at one of three frequencies measured in hertz (Hz). Some switch power transformers operate at frequencies of 2.5 megahertz and higher, though standard linear power transformers operate at frequencies of 50, 60, and 400 Hz. Hertz and other factors such as primary voltage, secondary voltage, and mounting characteristics should all be considered when purchasing a power transformer.

Isolation transformers and autotransformers are two subtypes of power transformers. An isolation transformer consists of primary and secondary windings that are wound independently of one another, meaning the coils are not contacting. This design provides the device with the ability to isolate parts of the circuit, thereby preventing shock from occurring. Autotransformers, however, use a portion of the primary winding as part of the secondary winding, thereby creating a direct connection between the two lines via copper wire. This configuration uses less copper in the coils which makes them both less expensive and smaller. Autotransformers are typically used in foreign markets where voltage requirements differ from the United States.

An audio transformer converts electrical signals that carry sound. Audio transformer coils have various levels of impedance (resistance to an electrical circuit) in frequencies that range from 20 Hz to 100,000 Hz. These different levels of frequency are produced by changes in the core material and affect the quality of the sound. The final type of transformer, pulse transformer, processes pulses of very high frequency (VHF) electrical currents without signal distortion. A pulse transformer’s ability to simultaneously increase or decrease a pulse is related to the turn ratio of the coils. Pulse transformers are also able to couple an AC pulse from one circuit to another while blocking DC signals at the same time.

An inductor is a passive electrical component that stores energy in a magnetic field when a current flows through it. Because inductors and transformers bear striking similarities in appearance and construction, it is a common misconception that they are one in the same. The main difference between the two is that inductors store energy while transformers move energy. An inductor consists of an insulated magnet that is wire-wound into a coil. When a current flows into the coil, it is stored in the coil’s magnetic field. The conductor can be insulated in enamel wire, copper foil strips, or high voltage insulated lead wire. When there is a change in the current that passes through the coil, a voltage is created.

From lighting systems to audio amplifiers and speakers, transformers have a variety of uses both industrial and commercial. At Aviation Distribution, owned and operated by ASAP Semiconductor, we can help you find all the transformer parts for the aerospace, civil aviation, and defense industries. We’re always available and ready to help you find all the parts and equipment you need, 24/7-365. For a quick and competitive quote, email us at or call us at 1-505-365-1770.


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