Types of Air Compressors: What you need to know

Air compressors are an indispensable piece of machinery across many industries, providing power for vital operations. There are many types of compressors, including reciprocating, rotary screw, centrifugal, and scroll air compressors. There is also the choice between oil-free and oil-lubricated compressors. Picking the right compressor will ensure your operation is as efficient and as cost-effective as possible. Let’s discuss the types, their applications, advantages, and drawbacks, so that you can select the type of air compressor suited for your specific needs.

Reciprocating (Piston) Air Compressors

Reciprocating compressors, also known as piston compressors, are robust and economical. They utilise pistons to compress air within a cylinder. As the piston moves back and forth, it draws in air and then compresses it. This type of compressor is valued for its versatility, cost-effectiveness, and durability. As they have a maximum duty cycle of 60%, they are well-suited to operations with fluctuating air demand such as construction sites, workshops, and small-scale manufacturing. However, reciprocating compressors can be noisy and require regular maintenance as they have lots of moving mechanical parts.

Rotary Screw Air Compressors

Rotary screw compressors have higher flow rates and operate by trapping air between interlocking helical screws and then reducing its volume as the screws rotate. This continuous compression process leads to efficient and consistent air supply over prolonged periods. Screw compressors can run at a 100% duty cycle whilst maintaining the same flow and pressure. Rotary screw compressors are known for their reliability, longevity, and high output. They are commonly used in large-scale industrial processes, such as manufacturing, food processing, and pharmaceutical production. Screw compressors have a long service life, however are more expensive upfront but are more cost-efficient for the long-term.

Other Types of Air Compressors

There are also other types of air compressors such as centrifugal and scroll air compressors. Centrifugal compressors use high-speed impellers to accelerate air, producing kinetic energy that is then converted into pressure. Commonly found in large-scale applications such as power generation plants. Scroll compressors are used small settings such as laboratories and refrigeration due to their compact size and ability to deliver clean, oil-free air. But for larger volume demands, screw compressors may be the more efficient alternative.

Oil-Free vs. Oil-Lubricated Compressors

The difference between oil and oil-free compressors is that oil-free compressors operate the compressor’s air-end without oil and are preferred for applications demanding clean air, while oil lubricated compressors are typically longer lasting, less expensive and are preferred in general industrial settings.

Oil-free compressors are designed to produce contaminant-free compressed air, making them essential in industries such as pharmaceuticals, food and beverage and electronics manufacturing. They employ advanced sealing mechanisms to eliminate the need for lubricating oil, ensuring the purity of the compressed air. If air quality is paramount to your industry, an oil-free compressor is the right choice for you.

Oil-lubricated compressors also known as oil-injected compressors operate with the assistance of lubricating oil. They are known for their durability and efficiency in heavy-duty applications and are commonly used in industrial settings where consistent and high-volume air supply is essential. Oil-lubricated compressors are best-suited to industries such as construction and manufacturing. Proper maintenance and management of oil levels is crucial for these compressors.

Making the Right Choice

There are many types of air compressors to choose from, and picking the right one depends on the demands of your industry. If your air demands fluctuate, and you run a small-scale operation, then a reciprocating air compressor might be the best and most economical option for you. If you require a continuous, consistent air supply on a large-scale, then a rotary screw compressor is likely to be the better option. You also need to consider your size, pressure, and flow requirements for your application which you can read more about  here.

If you are still unsure what type of compressor you need discuss this with our experts. At Mobile Compressed Air, we will thoroughly investigate and determine the most efficient and cost-effective solution for your operation. For advice from a highly-trained professional, contact us today.

About Mobile Compressed Air

Mobile Compressed Air has been proudly serving South Australian businesses since 1985. We are proud to be the Compressor Company of Choice for many of the state’s leading manufacturers. Backed by international experience and support from our suppliers, you can rest assured that your air compressor system is energy efficient and will run reliably for many years.

Mobile Compressed Air is a proud member of The Crommelin Group.