When on the hunt to find the best air compressor to suit your needs, the first decision you’re likely to come across is whether you need a piston or rotary screw air compressor. Both forms of air compressor have a unique list of benefits, so understanding each of their capabilities is key to finding the right one for you.

Piston Air Compressors

Piston compressors use a crankshaft-driven piston and cylinder, which drives in and compresses air into its storage tank. The air can then be harnessed to operate a range of air powered machinery, however, due to the piston design, the flow of air is not constant.

Piston air compressors are more widely used in smaller workshops or for small domestic work. As they have a smaller duty cycle (percentage of time a compressor can operate without overheating or causing excessive wear) they can only operate in shorter bursts. This means for situations where you require a constant flow of air, piston compressors may not be the ideal choice.

The benefits of piston air compressors are that they are usually easier to maintain, are easier to transport and usually come with a much lower price tag than a screw compressor. If you are looking to operate your air powered tools in short bursts, a piston air compressor is likely the best choice.

Key Features:

  • Cheaper up-front cost
  • Smaller in weight and size, making it easier to transport
  • Requires simple, but more frequent maintenance
  • Only provides limited airflow at any given time

Ideal For:

  • Smaller renovations around the house
  • Small workshops
  • Light industrial work such as small manufacturers

Rotary Screw Air Compressors

Rather than operating with a piston, rotary air compressors use a combination of two meshing helical screws to suck in and compress air. The constantly rotating screws allow for a continuous air flow, so the output has minimal pulsating or surging flow.

Most rotary screw compressors have some great benefits and features. They are most commonly found in moderate to large industrial applications where air powered tools are constantly in operation. For example, manufacturing lines, workshops and large factories usually require a screw compressor to keep up with their need for consistently flowing compressed air.

Rotary screw compressors, due to their ability to provide a large quantity of constantly flowing compressed air attract a larger price tag. The machinery is often of higher quality, and the components usually have a longer life meaning major maintenance does not need to happen as frequently as piston compressors. However, due to the intricacy and high-quality components, the cost associated with the maintenance is also usually higher.

Rotary screw compressors are not ideal for a situation where the constant flowing of compressed air is not required. They are made to continually provide air, and if they aren’t, they will show signs of wear and tear much more frequently.

Key Features:

  • Perfect for large industrial and workshop use
  • Provides a high volume of constant compressed air
  • Requires less frequent maintenance
  • Operates at a much lower temperature than its piston counterparts

Ideal For:

  • Commercial renovation companies
  • Production lines
  • Heavy industrial works

When Deciding on Which Air Compressor Is Right for You, Also Consider:

  • Oil lubricated or oil free

In most cases, you will likely stick to an oil lubricated air compressor. By having your screw compressor lubricated, the machine is often quieter in operation and the components will last much longer due to reduced wear. However, if you require a completely oil-free environment (such as big food factories due to chances of contamination), your only option is to go with an oil-free air compressor. As you’ll be using the compressor for renovations around your home, you’re better with an oil lubricated model.

  • Compressor size

Picking the right size is essential to ensure you can operate all air powered tools when they are required. Their size is measured in cubic feet per minute (CFM). Make sure to check the requirements of your air powered tools, and purchase a compressor that’s CFM is around 20-30% greater than what you require. This will ensure the longevity of your air compressor if you purchase new tools in the future.

  • Product lifecycle costs

Make sure you understand the extra costs associated with the purchase of an air compressor. Ask your air compressor specialist about maintenance, the cost of components and the work involved. The cost of power is also a big factor associated with understanding the true costs of operating the compressor.

Final Consideration

So which compressor should you purchase? Well if you’re considering doing some DIY renovations around the home, a piston compressor is the way to go as you’ll only be using it occasionally depending what type of renovation you’re doing. However, If you’re a renovation company with multiple employees operating multiple tools on a job site at once, a rotary screw compressor may be the better option.

It’s important when purchasing large or small machinery to think about the environment and the impact your products can have on it. Have a look at some electrical air compressors, they are often quieter and more power efficient. Everyone needs to do their part to help reduce our impact on our planet, keep the environment in mind with every purchase you make, even small day-to-day purchases.

About the Author

This article is written by Alex Hamilton, who writes on behalf of Cleveland Compressors – Western Australia’s largest independent provider of compressor products and services. You can catch him on Google+.

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