Why Do Some Transformers Fail Prematurely?

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In perfect conditions, certain types of transformers can last a decade or even longer, though most warranties last between three and five years. Some transformers fail totally prematurely, within the first year or two of operations.

How and why does this happen? And how can you prevent this from happening to your business?

The Lifespan of a Transformer

An electrical transformer, like any piece of advanced equipment, is going to have a finite lifespan. Complex machines and devices suffer wear and tear over time, ultimately limiting their ability to operate indefinitely.

Transformers do sustain intense electromagnetic and mechanical stress under natural operating conditions, even though they operate somewhat passively. Depending on the type of transformer you buy, you can generally count on them to last a decade or longer, with high-quality transformers lasting 25 years or more.

It’s not unheard of for a transformer to prematurely fail within the first five years of operation; this is usually due to a manufacturer issue, such as use of poor materials or damage during transportation. Subsequent failures after the five-year mark are possible, but significantly less likely. And after a couple of decades, the risk of failure becomes higher and higher with additional wear and tear.

If a transformer fails after decades of use, we can’t call the failure premature.

So what about failures before that?

The Culprits of Premature Transformer Failure

Premature failure of electrical transformers is usually attributable to one or more of the following issues, says elscotransformers.com:

·       Materials. Sometimes, the issue comes down to poor choice in materials. If the manufacturer attempts to cut corners by purchasing cheap, unreliable materials, it’s only a matter of time before the transformer fails.

·       Craftsmanship. Similarly, poor craftsmanship is responsible for many premature transformer failures. Many manufacturers have turned to automation as a way to reduce costs and improve production speed, but sloppy automation processes are much lower quality than processes overseen by experienced human professionals. Some manufacturers skip quality assurance and quality control entirely, reducing overall quality of completed products significantly.

·       Design. Some transformer designs are simply better than others. For example, round-wound designs tend to stay cooler, run quieter, and offer lower risks of short circuits. And some types of transformers are only suited to certain conditions; if they’re misused, it could result in a premature failure.

·       Logistics and installation. Shipping, delivering, and installing a transformer each carry a risk of damage, which can result in failure. It’s important to ensure these processes are carried out responsibly.

·       Operating conditions. Suboptimal operating conditions, like those with high temperatures, can also accelerate the natural degradation of a transformer and cause it to fail prematurely.

·       Maintenance. It’s important to practice preventative maintenance on your electrical transformer; if you don’t, the risk of failure will be higher.

How to Maximize the Lifespan of Your Transformer

These are simple strategies that can help you maximize the lifespan of your transformer and generally avoid premature failure:

·       Familiarize yourself with the basics. First, get familiar with the basics of transformers (see here). The better you understand how electrical transformers operate, the better you’ll understand the risks, and the better position you’ll be to take good care of your electrical equipment.

·       Be ready to spend a bit more. As we’ve seen, electrical transformers made with lower-quality materials and craftsmanship are at much higher risk of premature failure. Superior transformer craftsmanship is accessible, but it also tends to be more expensive. Be prepared to spend a bit more.

·       Do your due diligence on transformer manufacturers. There are many transformer manufacturers in the market, and most of them do a good enough job to warrant consideration. But there’s no doubt that some manufacturers are better than others, offering better products and more support. Do your due diligence to choose a manufacturer with excellent products, a fair price, and accountability to ensure your purchase is worth it.

·       Exercise caution with transportation and installation. Transportation and installation are vulnerable events for a transformer; if it’s mishandled, it could easily cut its lifespan short. Always exercise caution by hiring professionals and ensuring best practices are followed.

·       Improve operating conditions (when possible). Different types of transformers are designed for different conditions, so always make sure you’re using your transformer responsibly. High temperatures, over a long enough time, can damage your transformer (source), so consider keeping the environment as cool as you can.

·       Practice routine maintenance. Don’t forget about maintenance. Regularly schedule and practice preventative maintenance to keep your transformer operational.

There’s no surefire strategy to avoid premature transformer failure, as some failures are the result of unpredictable and largely unpreventable events, like lightning strikes. But with these strategies, you can greatly reduce the likelihood of a premature transformer failure and help your electrical device last much longer.

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