Transformers can seem complicated, but in reality are really very simple machines. Salespeople, and marketing teams capitalize on uniformed buyers to upsell unnecessary and expensive features and accessories. Here are 4 fake facts that will have you paying more for your transformers than you need to.
Fake Fact #1: Natural ester fluid (AKA, FR3) gives your transformer magical powers
Neither claims are backed by research, or are even logical. Even the environmental effects are over-blown. According to the EPA (as of January 2020), the exact same clean-up procedures are required for an FR3 spill as for mineral oil. While it may be bio-degradable, it won’t cost you less on the clean up!
There are actually a couple of drawbacks to the fluid.
Drawback #1) High viscosity - it’s thick
Because of this, transformer manufacturers have to wind the coils with wider duct work. Duct work are the spaces between the windings where the cooling fluid circulates. This isn’t really an issue, as long as the fluid stays warm. Mineral oil is thinner, and therefore a more efficient coolant.
Drawback #2) It absorbs moisture faster than mineral oil
Any ingress of moisture into the transformer tank will immediately be wicked up by the FR3, sometimes causing oil and electrical tests to come back bad. There normally should never be any moisture in a transformer, but it may be introduced if the unit is opened during a repair or inspection, and FR3 will make sure it gets sucked right into the unit.
It's not a bad fluid, but it's not all it's cracked up to be either. Sorry guys. FR3 is not the fountain of youth. And with a price tag of $10-$15/gallon compared to around $5/gallon for mineral oil, you might want to skip the FR3.
Fake Fact #2: Copper windings are better than aluminum windings
Both copper and aluminum have been used as electrical conductors since the invention of transformers. During WW2, electrical manufacturers increased the use of aluminum as their conductor due to copper shortages, and it stuck. Aluminum is cost effective, and performs similarly to copper as transformer winding material.
Efficiency ratings are now governed by the US Department Of Energy. So unless you’re specifying a particular efficiency rating, or have specific loss requirements. An aluminum wound transformer from any manufacturer will be the exact same efficiency as its copper wound counter part.
Transformers are built to IEEE standards which dictate certain running temperatures for transformers (65C for example), regardless of winding conductor. Again, copper and aluminum are built to the same standards.
The biggest contributor to longevity in transformers, besides being free of manufacturing defects, is the integrity of the insulation paper, not the conductor material. The misconception that copper windings last longer than aluminum windings may have come from the observation that aluminum oxidizes in open air faster than copper does. However transformer windings are always immersed in cooling fluid (if liquid filled) or encased in resin (if dry-type) and are not exposed to open air, so they never oxidize.
In summary, aluminum wound transformers are as efficient, and reliable as their copper wound counterparts. Save 20-30% on your transformer, and stick with the industry standard aluminum windings!
Fake Fact #3: Step up transformers are different than step down transformers
Transformers run on AC (alternating current) electricity. In the US, the current changes direction (alternates) at a frequency 60 times per second. So which direction is the electricity flowing through the transformer? Both directions. The transformer doesn’t care if it’s stepping up, or stepping down. There is technically no such thing as a "step up transformer", or a "step down transformer". They are the exact same machine.
The machine becomes a “step down transformer” when the load is on the low voltage side, and the power source is on the high voltage side, and inversely it becomes a “step up transformer” when the load is on the high voltage side, and the power sources is on the low voltage side.
There are (2) design features that are more common in step up applications than step down applications. These two things might indicate the transformer was designed for step up operation.
It might be a step up transformer if...
1) The low voltage is delta connected, and the high voltage is wye connected
Primary voltages tend to be delta connected, and secondary voltages tend to be wye connected.
2) The adjustment taps are on the low voltage side (small 600V class transformers)
This only applies to small 600v transformers! Medium voltage transformers (2400v and above) keep the taps on the high voltage side regardless if they’re for step-up or step-down operation.
Some manufacturers (Maddox included) stamp “Suitable for step-up operation” on the nameplate. But this is just to put uninformed users at ease.
There’s no difference between a step up transformer, and a step down transformer. You might pay a little more for a step up transformer, but that's only because of supply and demand. It has nothing to do with the way the transformer is actually built.
Fake Fact #4: You need to change your oil every once in a while
This is the most shameful upsell by service companies out there.
The oil in your transformer does NOT break down over time like the oil in your car engine. Transformers have no moving parts, so the only thing that causes oil to breakdown in a transformer is internal electrical issues. If you’re needing to change or filter the oil in your transformer, something is wrong, and your transformer may need to be repaired! Don’t mask the issue by blindly replacing or filtering the transformer. That just erases the evidence of a potentially fatal issue.
Before paying for "premium" transformer features, be sure to do a basic cost-benefit analysis. Be weary of transformer axioms like "copper is better" or "FR3 makes it last longer". The price premium often carries little to no performance increase.
This article is primarily discussing medium voltage, oil-filled distribution transformers, but the same logic can be applied to most other types of transformers as well.
To begin with, we should first understand why buying a reconditioned transformer, unlike so many other types of reconditioned equipment, is a sound consideration. Not all equipment easily lends itself to being reconditioned by nature of its design. This isn’t the case with most transformers.
Why Transformer Reconditioning Is Practical
For a product to be economically practical for reconditioning, it must meet the following criteria:
Transformers meet all three requirements!
Having established that there is indeed an economic case of reconditioned transformers, we should now analyze the benefits and risks.
1) Speed Of Delivery
New transformer manufacturing lead-times in the US stand between 10 and 30 weeks depending on market conditions. This time frame is simply not an option for many projects, especially emergency replacement situations. Maddox reconditioning lead-times stand between 1 and 3 weeks. Additionally, the US has one of the oldest, and therefore most colloquial distributions systems, meaning that dozens of different distribution voltages exist. This lack of standardization means that almost every single transformer is still engineered-to-order to this day. The cost to maintain a sufficient inventory is far outside the scope of most electrical distributors. This creates an opportunity for rebuilders to maintain an inventory with a broad range of voltages to fill needs as they arise.
2) Lower Cost
Reconditioned transformers tend to be between 10% and 40% lower cost than new. But what about power cost savings with new, more efficient designs? While slight efficiency gains have been made in transformer design (around 1-2% as of DOE 2016) the savings in power bills from the utility will never offset the added upfront cost for a new transformer.
3) Lower Risk Of Failure
The vast majority of transformer failures happen immediately upon energization. Relatively few failures occur between year 3 and year 30 of service. Which means that if a transformer has been successfully been energized, served for a time, and then removed from service with no issues, the secondary buyer of such a unit has the added insurance of getting a transformer that has truly been proven in the field.
4) Lower Environmental Impact
Some propose that newer, more efficient transformers are more environmentally friendly due to lower losses. However, the slight efficiency gains made in recent years will never offset the environmental impact of manufacturing a new transformer. According to the EPA, manufacturing produces 5 percent of total U.S. greenhouse gas emissions. The rebuilding process produces almost no green house gasses. So go green, and buy reconditioned!
1) Issues Created By Low-quality Rebuilders
The transformer may have been taken out of service with no issues, but a low quality rebuilder may have introduced an issue not previously present through poor workmanship.
2) Shortened Life-span Due To Unknown History
A previous owner may have gotten rid of the transformer because of some known issue.
Minimizing The Risks
A quality rebuilder can easily offset these considerable risks. This why it’s key that you qualify not just the product but also the rebuilder. Before buying any reconditioned transformer, make sure that the company producing the transformer can, at a minimum...
Transformer reconditioning has been a niche industry nearly since the invention of the technology. Buying a reconditioned transformer is often an excellent option when needing to make project deadlines and budgets. New is not necessarily better than reconditioned, but you should always do your due diligence, and qualify the rebuilder to ensure you are getting a quality product.
Maddox Industrial Transformer specializes in new and reconditioned 3-phase transformers, keeping thousands in stock at all times. Contact us today to see how we can help you! Whatever your needs, Maddox has both new and recondition solutions for your project.
*More About DGA Results
The oil inside a transformer acts as an electrical insulator, and as a cooling medium. But it also gives us an excellent diagnostic tool. Any internal issue with the transformer (such as arcing, or overheating) changes the chemical makeup of the fluid, and produces combustible gasses. These gasses are easily tested for via DGA testing. This testing gives you an idea of the unit’s history. If some gasses do show up, the rebuilder should be able to explain why they are present, and what they intend to do to fix the issue that caused the gassing in the first place. Transformers that have been “run hard” by over-heating, or over-loading often have some gas build-up caused by insulation paper breakdown. It is important to know the condition of the transformer prior to rebuilding to make a determination. Some low-quality rebuilders will simply replace the oil with new in an attempt to erase the evidence of abuse.
Recently, when thousands of residents, tourists and businesses were left in the dark on the Outer Banks of North Carolina, Maddox Industrial Transformer was called into action to assist in getting power restored.
With this time of year being peak vacation season on the islands, this power outage left thousands of residents facing evacuation, threatened the loss of extensive annual revenue for local businesses and ended many families’ beach vacations on a less than happy note.
Upon receiving the call for help, Maddox was ready and able to supply six (6) 2500 KVA Transformers. Having these units in stock at our Simpsonville, SC headquarters, our highly skilled technicians were able to have them ready to ship the same day that the emergency request was made.
This is all in a day’s work at Maddox. With 8 locations nationwide and thousands of new and reconditioned transformers (liquid-filled and dry-type) in stock and ready to ship, Maddox Industrial Transformer is just a call away to help get the lights back on when your power goes out!
Please give us a call or e-mail us with any transformer needs you may have!
Maddox Industrial Transformer, LLC.
800-270-2011 - email@example.com
Solomon Corporation and Maddox Industrial Transformer are collaborating to create a powerful Alliance Partnership designed to meet and exceed customer’s needs in critical situations.
Tom Hemmer, CEO of Solomon Corporation and Randall Maddox, Founder of Maddox Industrial Transformer made the announcement today.
Solomon Corporation has been a leader in transformer sales and service for more than forty years. With four locations nation-wide, unmatched technical support and a full line inventory of transformers for re-sale, Solomon is uniquely capable of providing a wide range of products and services for utility and industrial markets.
Maddox Industrial Transformer was formed by a leadership team with decades of transformer experience in the quick ship commercial and industrial transformer markets. The team’s experience in providing high quality work with short lead-times is making them invaluable to commercial and industrial market customers.
By combining strengths in fulfillment, purchasing, and inventory management the alliance will provide customers with unparalleled availability, speed and ease of doing business with total US geographic coverage.
“Randall Maddox pioneered the quick-ship industrial transformer model during his time at Sunbelt. His team brings experience, expertise and customer relationships it would have taken us decades to build on our own,” said Tom Hemmer, CEO of Solomon Corporation. “Together with Solomon Corporation’s capabilities, inventory and geographic reach we will very quickly become the one-call transformer solution for industrial, commercial and utility customers.”
“We are thrilled to be associated with Solomon Corp. Their sales force, customer base, vast inventory, and technical capability greatly enhances the service we can deliver. We share a commitment to excellence in product and customer service.” - Camden Spiller, CEO and Randall Maddox, Founder, Maddox Industrial Transformer.
While maintaining independent ownership, the two companies will utilize this Alliance to provide the best in industry service to new and existing customers.