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The Different Types of Air Compressor

Air Compressors Buyers' Guide

There are a number of different types of air compressor available, all suitable for different uses and scenarios. Here we'll run through teh most popular types.

Reciprocating or Piston Compressors

In reciprocating air compressors, cylinder pistons squeeze the air and store it in a high pressure tank. You then release the compressed air by means of a triggered valve.

Reciprocating air compressors are popular for domestic and light industrial use. The machines are portable, available in a wide range of models, and reasonably priced.

Rotary Screw Compressors

Rotary screw compressors have twin screws, rather than pistons, to create high pressure air. They’re also available with higher operating ranges than reciprocating models. This makes them more suited for regular industrial work.

Two Stage Models

A two stage reciprocating or rotary screw compressor squeezes the air twice, thereby improving pressure and air flow. In other words, you can store a greater amount of air for use and reduce the amount of heat the compressor generates. This helps ensure the air compressor has a longer operating life.

Reciprocating or Rotary Screw?

You must decide whether your use of an air compressor will be continuous or intermittent. A spray painter, for instance, is continuous, and a nail gun is intermittent. For continuous use, choose a rotary screw air compressor; for intermittent, opt for a reciprocating air compressor.

The reason for this distinction is the reciprocating air compressor’s “duty cycle”. This is the time the compressor is able to work each hour. If you have a reciprocating air compressor with a duty cycle of 25%, for example, you must let the machine cool down for 15 minutes of every hour worked. A rotary screw air compressor, on the other hand, can work without a break.

Centrifugal Compressors

Centrifugal air compressors are not for general use. They are large engines similar to turbines with blades that develop extremely high air pressure needed for heavy industry and power plants. They’re not financially viable for small-scale work.

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