Industrial air compressors are versatile pieces of equipment that provide pressurized air for several industrial processes. When choosing an air compressor for an application, it is important to make sure the selected unit can deliver the desired results while keeping maintenance and operating costs low. The best air compressor for a given application will depend on several factors, including its intended use, the tools or processes it will support, and the project’s budget. Ultimately, your decision should be guided by careful consideration of your performance requirements and available resources rather than simply purchasing the least expensive or most powerful option.
As you navigate the selection process, the following factors are important to keep in mind:
- Mobility requirements (stationary or portable unit)
- Environment (indoor or outdoor use)
- Drive system type
- Required cubic feet per minute (cfm), pounds per square inch (psi), and horsepower (hp)
- Storage tank size
Compressed Air Systems offers an extensive selection of industrial-grade air compressor units designed to fit the needs of various operations. As an authorized Kaeser dealer, we stock a complete line of high-quality air compressor units in a range of sizes, makes, and models. Options include:
Often referred to as the fourth utility, compressed air keeps vital operations running smoothly and efficiently in several key industries. Having access to a reliable, continuous supply of compressed air can be as critical to a manufacturing plant’s daily activities as electricity, water, and gas. Industrial air compressors are designed to deliver a steady stream of compressed air while providing the durability to satisfy the demands of modern manufacturing operations. These units are integral to several manufacturing applications, including:
- General manufacturing operations
- Food and beverage production
- Metal fabrication
- Furniture construction
- Glass, stone, and clay handling operations
- Plastics, silicone, and rubber manufacturing
Industrial air compressors have become increasingly specialized to perform specific tasks with exceptional efficiency. Three of the most widely used compressor designs are discussed below.
One of the most common compressor types is the positive displacement air compressor, which is designed to store a certain volume of air in one or more compression chambers. When air is released from the chamber, the compressor responds by increasing the internal chamber pressure until reaching a set pressure ratio. This action facilitates a steady and consistent flow of air.
Two types of positive displacement air compressors used in industrial applications include:
- Rotary screw. A rotary screw compressor uses a pair of continuously turning helical screws to compress air. It operates by drawing air into the chamber, then reducing the chamber size to compress it.
- Reciprocating/piston. In contrast to rotary screw compressors, reciprocating air compressors use a series of pistons as the mechanical component. They operate by continually drawing air into a cylinder, then compressing that air using the motion of the pistons.
Two-stage air compressors operate according to a similar mechanical principle as single-stage reciprocating compressors but with an additional compression step. First, air is pulled into the chamber and partially compressed by the piston. The partially compressed air is then transferred to another chamber, where it is cooled and compressed for a second time. Capable of achieving pressures as high as 500 psig, two-stage compressor units are often preferred over single-stage designs in high-capacity manufacturing applications.
Centrifugal air compressors are among the largest industrial compressors, making them a staple in medium- and large-scale manufacturing plants that rely on a constant volume of compressed air. Typically powered by electricity or steam, these extremely efficient units can handle high capacities, high pressure levels, and heavy use. However, they are generally more expensive and require more specialized maintenance than other industrial compressor types. Given their continuous operation and high rotational speeds, repairs and part replacements can become considerably expensive over time.
Industrial air compressors are powerful and efficient compressors that exceed 100 psi and 200 hp. Built from high horsepower motors and sturdy components, these heavy-duty units are designed to operate at much higher pressure levels than their commercial counterparts. Examples of air compressors used in industrial applications include centrifugal compressors, scroll compressors, turbo air compressors, and rotary vane pumps. These units perform several essential tasks in demanding industrial applications, from powering pneumatic tools in manufacturing plants to supporting critical oil and gas operations.
Given the power demands of the applications they support, industrial air compressors tend to require a considerable upfront investment. Appropriately sizing the unit according to the application’s needs is critical for achieving optimal performance while minimizing maintenance costs and unexpected downtime.
Much like the engine of a vehicle, most industrial air compressors rely on the motion of a piston to compress air within the unit. Powered by electricity, gas, or diesel, the piston presses downward on the air entering the compressor, and the air is then moved into a pressurized storage tank beneath the unit. The amount of compressed air that can be stored by a unit is indicated by its cfm rating.
To select the appropriate air compressor size, it is important to understand your airflow requirements and the amount of pressure needed to perform the given task. For example, imagine a wooden block that must be moved a certain distance across a surface. If 90 psi is the minimum amount of pressure required to move the block, a compressor incapable of providing an equivalent or greater level of force would not be suitable for accomplishing the task. Not only will an improperly sized air compressor fail to provide the required capacity to support the operation, but it can also increase expenses due to wasted energy.
Before purchasing an air compressor, the following key questions should be addressed:
- What is the air compressor’s application?
- How much airflow is required?
- What are the pressure requirements?
- Is clean and/or dry air needed? If so, what type of filters or dryers will be required?
- How many hours per year and shifts per day will the compressor be operated?
- Will the flow demand fluctuate?
- Are you planning to expand your facilities or increase the scope of your operations in the future?
Oil-injected air compressors use oil to create seals, lubricate moving parts, and help cool air during compression. While most industrial-grade air compressors use an oil-lubricated pump, certain units are specifically designed for oil-free operation. Oil-free air compressors provide several advantages, especially in food production, pharmaceutical manufacturing, and other sensitive applications where oil contamination would have serious consequences on product safety and quality. However, these units tend to be considerably more expensive than their lubricated counterparts since they require more specialized designs and materials.
For applications in which oil contamination is less critical, oil-lubricated units such as oil-injected screw compressors are generally the most cost-effective option. Small traces of oil in the compressed air can be minimized with properly installed filters and pre-filters. For example, coalescing filters can remove oil-based contaminants as small as 0.01 microns with exceptional efficiency. When paired with a carbon-activated pre-filter, coalescing filters can achieve close to a Class 1 air purity level.
Compressed Air Systems leverages 55 years of experience, cutting-edge air compressor technologies, and collaborative client relationships to deliver optimal performance and reliability for each unique project. Our industrial air compressors are built to handle everything from robust, high-capacity manufacturing operations to smaller-scale commercial and professional applications. With our client-focused and detail-oriented approach, we work hard to make sure that each air compressor unit is built with the needs of your business in mind. Our products are thoroughly tested in-house and independently certified to ensure reliability and compliance.
For more information about our industrial air compressors and other capabilities, please contact us today.