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Transformers in general consist of primar y
and secondar y windings, across which
a vol tage and current transformati on
i s i nduced at constant power. Duri ng
normal operation the transformer will be
supplied on the primar y at rated voltage
and current. Current flowing in the primar y
windings will induce a magnetic field that
will link the windings of the secondar y,
inducing current flow. Current flow in the
secondar y will be inversely proportional
to the turn ratio between the primar y and
secondar y windings.
The generation of an electromagnetic
field inside the transformer is therefore
i ntri nsi c to transformer operati on. Thi s
electromagnetic field will however lead
to the generati on of forces i nsi de the
transformer windings stipulated by the laws
of magnetism viz. Faradays law of induction
and Lenz's law of electromagnetic force[1].
During normal operation, these forces are
relatively low and for this condition the
transformer design is based primarily on the
dielectric and thermal considerations – loss
reduction and insulation integrity. Under
short-circuit fault conditions the current
excitation increases significantly, possibly
8 – 10 times nominal current, resulting in
extreme forces in the transformer windings.
The short circuit withstand capability of
a transformer, is mainly a function of its
thermal and mechanical per formance.
However, due to the speed at whi ch
these faults occur and are cleared, the
pr i mar y concer n i s of a mechani cal
nature, and design considerations shift to
control the electromagnetic forces and
prevent mechanical failure. The basics
Electromagnetic forces in transformers
under short circuit conditions
by Nadim Mahomed, Powertech Transformers
Short circuit events generate high current conditions in transformer windings. These currents in turn induce excessive forces in a transformer.
Electromagnetic forces are important considerations in the design, manufacturing and operation of transformers. These forces can be
subdivided into axial and radial forces each with unique considerations and mitigating measures.
of electromagnetic forces are presented
here to guide toward an appreciation of
the significance of short circuit events in
transformer design. The discussion begins
wi th a descri pti on of the short ci rcui t
current, the i nduced el ectromagneti c
forces and finally methods of preventing
transformer failure.
Short circuit current
The most commonly occurring short circuit
event is a single-line to earth fault in which
one phase is short circuited to ground. This
type of fault may occur due to lightning
strikes, debris, pollution effects, animals
and vegetati on. Other types of faul ts
such as three-phase to ground, double
earth fault are also considered in short
circuit current calculations. In general the
short circuit current is calculated using
symmet r i cal component s f or var i ous
situations taking into account:
 Tapping arrangement
 Fault position (e.g. low voltage or high
voltage winding)
 Shor t ci r cui t power combi nat i on
(network and transformer)
 Short circuit type (e.g. single phase to
earth, three phase symmetrical, etc.)
T he s hor t ci r cui t cur r ent gi ven i n
Eqn 1.consists of two components: a steady
state component at power frequency, and
an exponentially decreasing unidirectional
component as shown in Fig. 1 [2].
i(t) = instantaneous short circuit current
Ip = peak short circuit current
 = angular frequency in rad/s
 = voltage angle at which short circuit
 = impedance phase angle
Fig. 1 shows that the first current peak is the
maximum peak, becoming progressively
smaller as the unidirectional (green line in
Fig. 1) component decays. For this reason
the first peak is usually used to calculate
maximum occurring forces.
To aid the understanding of short circuit
current and its relationship to the power
transformer, the simplest fault scenario,
viz. three-phase symmetrical short circuit
fault, is discussed. This allows the use of an
equivalent single phase circuit model, as
all phases remain balanced and nominal
or rated values of the transformer current
can be used. The steady state component
of short circuit current for this simple case
can be expressed as a multiple of nominal
current by the overcurrent factor "r" shown
in Eqn. 2. The steady state current under
short circuit condition is then r times the
nominal current.
= transformer impedance in percentage
= system impedance in percentage
To account for the initial direct current
(DC) offset and therefore the first peak,
a further factor cal l ed the asymmetr y
factor "k" i s used [2]. Thi s resul ts i n a
mor e accur ate r epr esentati on of the
current to precisely calculate the peak
electromagnetic force. Values of k are
specified in the applicable standards such
as the IEC 60076-5 [3]. The asymmetr y
factor is dependent on the ratio of the
transformer reactance (X) and resistance
(R). Values of k increase for increasing X/R
ratios. Values of 1,8 for transformers up to
100 MVA and 1,9 for transformers in excess
of 100 MVA are indicated when the X/R
ratio is unavailable [3].
Electromagnetic forces
The current carr ying conductors of the Fig. 1: Short circuit current [2].
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transformer windings are situated in the
magnetic leakage field. By the fundamental
postul ates of el ectromagneti cs these
conduct or s wi l l exper i ence a f or ce
due t o t he i nt er act i on bet ween t he
el ectri c (current) and magneti c fi el ds.
This electromagnetic force is calculated
as the vector product of current density
and magnetic field intensity as given in
Eqn. 3 [1].
F = force in N
J = current density in A/m
B = magnetic flux density in T
Short circuit current will influence both flux
density B and current density J in Eqn. 3
implying that force is proportional to the
square of the current. Fig. 2 shows the
relationship between current and force
and the nature of electromagnetic forces.
The electromagnetic force pulsates at
approximately twice the power frequency
and is unidirectional. Considering that the
overcurrent factor is typically between 8
and 10, the force generated can easily
be in the region of a hundred times the
nominal force magnitude and may reach
several thousand kN [2].
The direction of the forces are stipulated
by the vector product in Eqn. 3 indicating
that the force will act perpendicular to
the plane formed by the magnetic field
intensity and current direction. The force
direction can be determined using the
left hand rule, as indicated in Fig. 3 which
describes the field relationships for the
cross-section of a single conductor.
Electromagnetic force tends to minimise
t he magnet i c ener gy densi t y i n t he
volume. In this way the forces tend to :
 Reduce the radius of inner windings
 Increase the radius of outer windings
 Reduce t he hei ght of wi ndi ngs –
windings are compressed toward the
median horizontal
Vi ewi ng the tr ansfor mer fr om a cr oss
sectional view (Fig. 4), and taking into
account t he di r ect i on of t he cur r ent
as being constant, it is noted that the
force is perpendicular to, and follows the
bending of the flux lines. In the middle of
the windings this results in a radial force
pushing outward, and toward the ends of
the windings this results in an axial force
pushing onto the windings.
The explanation of the transformer cross
section is shown in Fig. 5. The 3D figure of
the full 3-phase transformer on the left is
a 360° rotation of the 2D diagrams on the
right about the axis (dashed line). This is a
single phase axi-symmetric simplification
of the transformer geometr y that may be
analysed in two dimensions as is the case
in Fig. 4.
El ectromagneti c forces i n transformer
windings can be sub-divided into axial and
radial force by means of associated axial
and radial modes of failure. Axial forces
occur in a direction parallel to the winding
height. Radial forces occur perpendicular
to the winding height. Axial and radial
f or ces, al t hough shar i ng a common
origin, can for the most part, be treated
as mutually exclusive modes [2].
Radial forces
The flux at mid winding height is for the
most part parallel to the winding height.
According to the left hand rule, the resulting
force therefore acts perpendicular to the
winding height. For windings on the inside
of the main flux field (situated between
primary and secondary windings) the force
acts i nward, and for outsi de wi ndi ngs,
outward as depicted in Fig. 5.
Forces acting on the inside windings result
in a compressive stress whereas on the
outer winding this force leads to a tensile
Fig. 2: Current and induced force waveforms.
Fig. 3: Directional relationship between fields.
Fig. 4: Magnetic field and associated
force directions.
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stress acting to elongate the winding turn
– as shown in Fig. 6 [2]. This is as a result
of the cylindrical profile of the windings
where forces, perpendicular to the winding
circumference, create tangential stresses.
Axial forces
Axial forces are generated parallel with
the winding height. Due to the pattern of
the magnetic leakage field, the windings
experience opposing forces at the winding
ends, leading to compressive forces. Axial
force is generated when the transformer's
magnetic field lines are radially orientated.
Fig. 4. shows that the highest ‘ bending' of
the magnetic field occurs at the winding
ends, consequently maximum axial force is
generated here. The local force generation
accumulates toward the middle of the
windings resulting in a maximum occurring
force at mid-winding height. This force is
compressive towards the winding centre as
the circulation direction of the magnetic
field leads to opposing forces at each end
of the winding. A schematic representation
of the axial force distribution, in a typical
transformer winding, is shown in Fig. 7.
I n addi ti on to the compr essi ve for ce
occurri ng i n the wi ndi ng the effect of
recoil is also considered as transformer
windings are essentially springs from a
mechani cal poi nt of vi ew. Thi s spri ng
action can be explained by noting the
nature of the electromagnetic wave in
Fi g. 2. The f or ce magni t ude f ol l ows
a si nusoi dal pat t er n and t her ef or e
compressive tension stored in the winding
is released as the force approaches zero.
This force will be exerted against the core
yokes and end insulation structures, and
will have a magnitude of less than the
compressive force generating it.
Winding displacement from the centre
line result in excessive axial forces, and
provision for this possibility is necessar y –
shown in Fig. 8. This is due to the difference
in the ampere-turns (i.e. mmf) distribution
along the winding heights resulting in more
pronounced bending of the field lines at
the point of missing ampere-turns or where
the displacement occurs. The forces then
work to increase the displacement i.e.
windings are pushed further apart, resulting
i n i terati vel y worse di spl acements and
therefore higher forces [2].
Mitigating the effects of short circuit
In essence there are two approaches to
reducing the destructive effects of short
circuit forces. At the outset transformer
Designers aim to decrease the occurring
electromagnetic forces by sound design
choices. Electromagnetic forces however
will always be of significant levels, and
measures to mitigate the effect of these
induced forces must be taken. Measures
agai nst el ect r omagnet i c f or ces ar e
primarily of a mechanical nature, involving
st r uct ur al count er measur es wher eas
reduci ng the ori gi n of these forces i s
primarily a magnetic field problem and
therefore electrical in nature.
As stated earlier, radial and axial short
circuit forces and their associated modes
of failure may be considered mutually
exclusive for the most part. Preventative
measures will involve manipulating the
magnetic field, and making choices in the
design that will lead to a more acceptable
field distribution inside the transformer.
One way to reduce the magni tude of
the magnetic field would be to decrease
the short circuit current by increasing the
Fig. 5: Transformer 2D diagrammatic representation explained.
Fig. 6: Conductor force directions and associated stresses.
energize - March 2011 - Page 40
impedance values of the system and/
or transformer thereby decreasi ng the
overcurrent factor. However thi s i s not
always practicable since these parameters
are usually dependent on a host of other
requirements such as network topology
and customer specifications.
Manipulating the field-winding relation can
be achieved by changing the geometries
of the transformer active part i.e. core and
windings. The goal of any field manipulation
would be, primarily, to reduce axial forces
by str ai ghteni ng the fi el d l i nes i n the
region of the winding ends. Less bending
of the field lines equals less axial forces.
Adjusting winding height, winding duct
width (space between windings), winding
inner diameter, distances from winding to
core are some of the considerations that
can have a significant impact on the field
pattern with limited effect to other design
I n addi ti on to fi el d consi derati ons the
transformer must be built to mechanically
withstand all forces generated under a
short circuit event. The structural rigidity of
the transformer active part is paramount
as high short circuit forces are inevitable.
The short circuit withstand capability of a
transformer is dependent on the occurring
stress vs. mechanical withstand ability of
the various structural parts.
Axial allowable stress limits are divided
into two categories namely limits relating
to the compressive forces in the windings
themselves and those related to axial thrust
forces toward the clamping structure. Axial
thrust forces are a consequence of winding
di spl acement (Fi g. 8) and the spr i ng
action of the windings (after compressive
forces). Compressive force is a concern
in the windings themselves whereas thrust
forces affect the end structures (between
the yoke and windings). End thrust forces
can lead to failure of the end insulation
structures, which include those structures
common to all windings. Since all windings
i n a mul ti pl e wi ndi ng transformer may
experience simultaneous end thrust forces
(all currents in a winding block being in
phase), the cumulative effect must be
taken into account. Compressive forces
on the other hand can lead to failure of
the windings themselves. Various modes
of fai l ur e ar e taken i nto account vi z.
conductors bending between spacers,
conductor tilting, conductor telescoping,
and spacers disintegrating [2]. Also worth
noting is the pulsating nature of the forces,
which can lead to deterioration of the
insulation structure and demonstrate the
importance of quick fault clearing times.
The risk of failure from any of these forces
is directly related to the processing and
assembly of the windings. Reducing the risk
of failure due to axial stresses, is concerned
with minimising winding displacements,
cor r ect wi ndi ng cl ampi ng, r educed
moisture content due to proper processing
and the use of quality materials.
Radi al f or ces l ead t o t ens i l e and
compressive stresses which display distinct
modes of failure. Tensile stresses are due
to forces acting to increase the diameter
of the wi ndi ngs. These forces resul t i n
stretching of the conductors and may lead
to rupture, if the conductor yield strength
is exceeded. Compressive stresses lead
to buckling of the conductors, in which
the conductors are forced inward and
could potentially bulge outwards at the
elastic limit of the conductor material.
Mitigating radial forces primarily involves
choosi ng the correct hardness of the
conduct or whi l e t aki ng i nt o account
cost and manufacturability. In addition,
a sound wi ndi ng desi gn methodol ogy
such as self-supporting windings, correct
dr ying and processing, and the use of
appropriate conductors minimises the risk
of radial failure.
Both axial and radial forces often lead
to secondar y failure which is dielectric in
nature. Failure of the insulation structures
due to the aforementioned failure modes
is common, leading to arc formation, and
dielectric breakdown.
Shor t ci r cui t event s t hat occur i n a
network induce high mechanical forces in
transformer windings. The electromagnetic
force is induced in the transformer windings
and i s due t o t he i nt er act i on of t he
magneti c fi el d of the transformer and
the current densi ty i n the transformer
windings. As such the force is exponentially
pr opor t i onal t o t he cur r ent r esul t i ng
i n excessi ve force generati on for any
increase in current. The radial and axial
force may be treated independently and
could result in radial and axial modes
of fai l ure i f the wi thstand capabi l i ty i s
exceeded. The magni t ude of t hese
forces may be reduced by manipulating
the magneti c fi el d by changes i n the
transformer geometr y. However provision
for these forces must be made, consisting
mai nl y of t he mechani cal wi t hst and
capabilities and positioning of the various
transformer materials. Initially a transformer
design is driven by thermal and dielectric
properties; however short circuit provisions
often supersede these desi gn choi ces
l eadi ng t o si gni f i cant cost i ncr ease.
Short circuit withstand is a complicated
interaction of electrical- and mechanical
engineering and its significance in any
el ectromagneti c machi ne shoul d not
be underestimated, least of all in power
[1] D K C h e n : F i e l d a n d Wa v e
Electromagnetics,Addison-Wesley Publishing
Company Inc., USA, second edition, November
[2] G Bertagnolli: Short-circuit Duty of Power
Transformers, ABB Ltd., Zurich, third edition, June
[3] IEC standard 60076-5: Power Transformers – Part
5: “Ability to withstand short circuit”, 2006.
Contact Nico Gunter,
Powertech Transformers,
Tel 012 318-9911,
nico.gunter@pttransformers.co.za  Fig. 8: Winding displacement
and induced forces.
Fig. 7: Cumulative and local force distribution along winding height.