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What is a K-factor?

It is a value used to determine how much harmonic current a transformer can handle without exceeding its maximum temperature rise level. K-factor values range from 1 to 50. K-factor of 1 is used for linear loads only, and a K-factor of 50 is used for the harshest harmonic environment possible.

A K-factor of 13 is typical. When transformers use a K-factor value, they are said to be K-rated. A K-rated transformer is one which is used to deal with harmonic generating loads. Harmonics generate additional heat in the transformer and cause non-K-rated transformers to overheat possibly causing a fire, also reducing the life of the transformer. K-rated transformers are sized appropriately to handle this additional heat and tested to UL 1561 rigid standards for K-factor rated transformers. The way a K-rated transformer works is it uses a double sized neutral conductor and either change the geometry of their conductors or use multiple conductors for the coils. Quality transformers are manufactured with high grade silicon steel, copper windings, and more air ducts. The use of a K-rated transformer is anywhere non-linear loads are present. Prime uses would be in factory automation, computer rooms, and office buildings because of the high harmonic content in these areas. Typically a K-13 rated transformer is sufficient for most applications. Loads approaching 1005 non-linear or more Than 75% THD should incorporate a K-20 rated transformer. Over the past several years there has been dramatic growth in the use of equipment incorporating switching type power supplies. Examples are personal computers, video display terminals, fax machines, copiers, electronic high efficiency ballasts, UPS systems, variable speed drives and various medical electronic monitors. The nature of all these loads is non-linear; they only demand current during part of the cycle and/or change their impedance during the voltage cycle. This type of load creates harmonic currents, which in turn generate heat in the distribution equipment, neutral conductors and distribution transformers. Underwriters Laboratories (UL) has designated K-factor as a means of rating a transformers ability to handle loads which generate harmonic currents, UL recognizes K-factor values of 4, 9, 13, 20, 30, 40 and 50. The K-factor ratings are based on information contained in ANSI/IEEE C57.110-1986, Recommended Practice for Establishing Capability When Supplying No sinusoidal Load Currents. The K-factor number tells us how much a transformer must be de-rated to handle a definite non-linear load or, conversely, how much it must be oversized to handle the same load. The following rules will generally result in an acceptable choice of K-factor value: 1.Follow successful past practice in sizing the transformer. 2. Where the harmonic current producing equipment is less than 15 per cent, use a standard transformer. 3. Where the electronic equipment represents up to 35 per cent of the load, use a K-4 rated transformer.

4. Where the electronic equipment represents up to 75 per cent of the load, use a K-13 rated transformer. 5. Where 100 per cent of the load is electronic equipment, use a K-20 rated transformer. 6. Higher K-factor ratings are generally reserved for specific pieces of equipment where the harmonic spectrum of the load is known. K-rating is a heat survival rating, not a treatment of associated power quality issues like voltage distortion, and efficiency isnt typically discussed. Surviving the extra heat means using more core and coil material, and sometimes use of different construction techniques. Depending on the manufacturers design, harmonic losses may be reduced to varying degrees. Ironically, even though the designated use of the K-rated transformer is to feed nonlinear load, manufacturers publish their loss data under linear load conditions.