Drive down a U.S. highway for long enough, and you will eventually pass an industrial area where you'll see large transformers. These are industrial transformers, and even though you may be able to identify them, you probably don't know a lot about them. That's about to change. Here are some basic facts about those industrial transformers you see by the highway. You'll feel more informed the next time you drive by!
Industrial transformers take years to make.
Someone does not just decide, one day, to erect a transformer in the area. Once it's determined that an additional transformer is needed, there is a whole bidding process that various manufacturers must go through. Once a manufacturer is selected, making the transformer will take a year or more. The long time frame is because the company has to obtain some specialized materials, and then build the transformer partially on-site and partially off-site.
They don't last forever.
Industrial transformers generally last about 40 to 50 years. So, as transformers age, the owners must make plans for replacement. Often, a new transformer is built in the same place and put into operation before the old one is moved. This is why you often see what looks like an old transformer and a new one side by side. Ideally, the old one is pulled out of service when it is still functioning, since the risk of failure goes up with age -- and having a transformer go down can be a huge hassle.
There are only a few companies that make them.
Even though there is a bidding process before a transformer is assembled, there's not a ton of competition. There are only a few companies that erect transformers in the U.S. In some areas, one company will be the only option, so the bidding process progresses quickly. In other areas, there are three or four companies operating -- but that's about it.
Transformer failure can be caused by lightning or electrical disturbances.
It is really important that the power grid to which the industrial transformer is connected is stable. Otherwise, it may cause the transformer to fail, which could be very costly. Sometimes, lighting strike damages a transformer. Other causes of damage include foreign object, such as when a car accident causes a transformer to go down, and overload, which can happen when a new transformer is needed but has not been added to the system yet.