An air compressor is a mechanical device that increases the pressure of gas by reducing its volume. An air compressor is a special type of gas compressor. There are two types of compressors: reciprocating compressors and centrifugal compressors (also called dynamic compressors).
Air compressors are used in all industrial processes that require the use of compressed air.
How to choose an air compressor
To choose the right air compressor, you must first determine how often it will be used based on your compressed air needs.
You should also determine if you need a portable air compressor or if it will be installed indoors. In this case, the air compressor must be well ventilated to ensure optimal cooling.
Another important element to consider is the running time of the air compressor. Manufacturers usually specify a duty cycle for their products. This duty cycle allows you to determine how long the air compressor will run in one hour. An air compressor with a 30% duty cycle can only run for 18 minutes and needs to cool down in 42 minutes.
Air compressors allow the use of various portable pneumatic tools: hammers, nails, screws, spray guns, sand guns, etc.
Stationary or portable air compressors can also be used in industry or agriculture, for example:
- Use of pneumatic tools on production lines.
- Blowing to form bottles or cylinders.
- Supply of pneumatic cylinders.
- Sandblasting to finish metal parts.
- Spray plants.
- Greenhouse ventilation, etc.
Air compressor size
To size an air compressor, you must first know the maximum pressure you will need to power the machine or pneumatic circuit. This pressure is determined by the characteristics of the industrial or agricultural equipment or pneumatic circuit powered by the air compressor. It can be expressed in pounds per square inch (psi), bar, or pascal (Pa). Depending on the pressure, you may need a single-stage air compressor (up to 135 psi or 9 bar) or a multi-stage air compressor that will increase the pressure significantly.
You also need to know the maximum flow rate required. Airflow is the amount of air available to power the various devices connected to the air compressor. It can be specified in cubic feet per minute (cfm), liters per second (l/s), or cubic meters per hour (m3/h). It's best to allow a margin of 30% of your requirements to avoid unpleasant surprises without oversizing the air compressor.
The capacity of the air compressor depends on the desired air flow and output pressure. When an air compressor comes with a high power rating but low flow, it is designed for intermittent use and requires long pauses for cooling.
Air compressors typically have a compressed air reservoir that allows the motor to run on demand for compressed air. This tank must be properly calibrated so that the engine is not under constant load. Some air compressors have a vertical reservoir that reduces the space required when they have to be installed in a confined area.
Types of air compressors
There are two types of air compressors: reciprocating air compressors and centrifugal air compressors.
Most air compressors are reciprocating air compressors, which means it has a mechanism that reduces the volume of air in order to compress it. These air compressors are usually driven by electric motors. There are several different technologies:
- Piston air compressors. They can be single-cylinder. This type of air compressor can increase the pressure up to 10 bar. They can also be multi-staged to increase the pressure to 400 bar per stage. Reciprocating air compressors are usually the most economical. You can choose this type of air compressor if the air compressor you are looking for can operate intermittently: the maximum duty cycle is 60%, ie. It works 35 minutes an hour. Another potential drawback of this type of air compressor is that it throws oil along with the compressed air. If the air you need must be clean, you should provide a filtration system or choose a low-fat air compressor. In addition, reciprocating air compressors are relatively noisy, which can be unpleasant for people working nearby.
- Screw air compressors. This is the most common industrial model. Screws are used instead of pistons. The resulting pressure can vary from 5 bar in the case of a single-stage model to 13 bar in the case of a multi-stage model. This type of air compressor typically provides a high flow and single-stage power factor, allowing manufacturers to offer smaller air compressors than similar piston models. A screw compressor can have a 100% duty cycle, allowing it to operate continuously. Some screw Herring compressors are variable speed. They can adjust the rotation speed according to the need of compressed air to optimize the energy consumption.
- Curtain air compressors. The plates are inserted into the rotor, which causes the air to be compressed. The energy efficiency of these air compressors is generally attractive. These are very compact products compared to other technologies. At the same pressure and flow rate, these air compressors have a slower rotational speed than screw air compressors, reducing wear and tear on parts and the need for maintenance. In this way, the operation of the air compressor can be extended. Such air compressors are used in various fields such as printing, wood or packaging. In industries where clean air is required, such as energy or medical applications, many models are available without oil.
Centrifugal air compressors are of the second type. In these air compressors, the air is moved through the machine by the rotation of the impellers. This is the same principle as in turbochargers in the automotive industry. They are usually used where a constant high flow rate at high pressure is required. This is especially true for industries related to energy production and the chemical industry. These air compressors are usually designed for optimum engine performance. These air compressors can deliver up to 500,000 m3/h at pressures up to 200 bar.
There are three configurations of the air compressor:
- Stationary air compressors. These are vehicles that are not intended for transportation. As a rule, they have a very high capacity, provide high flow rates and pressures.
- Mobile air compressors or semi-stationary. As a rule, they have the same characteristics as stationary monobloc air compressors, but they can be moved to different places (for example, on construction sites). Their base is usually designed to pass the forks of pallet trucks. These air compressors are usually equipped with a thermal engine.
- Portable air compressors. They are usually not designed for intensive use, but have the advantage of being very easy to move around.
When should we use an oil-free air compressor?
Some air compressors can be operated without oil, resulting in cleaner output air. Therefore, they are considered greener air compressors. They are commonly used in the electronics industry, including the semiconductor industry, as well as in the pharmaceutical, chemical, medical, automotive, and food industries.
If you must choose an oil-free air compressor, make sure it complies with ISO 8573-1 Class 0, as it is the only one that guarantees zero oil. Higher models determine the maximum amount of oil in the compressed air, which requires the use of an air dryer. These air compressors, which cannot deliver very high pressures, are generally not designed for heavy duty use.
For a reciprocating air compressor, the lubricant can be replaced with a Teflon or silicone coating to protect the moving parts. Lubricant can also be replaced with water or water in a closed circuit. These air compressors are generally noisier but require less maintenance.
The most economical air compressors are equipped with electric motors, but they are also the least powerful, especially if they are powered by a single-phase network.
There are also air compressors with internal combustion engines. Air compressors equipped with an internal combustion engine are mainly intended for outdoor use due to the presence of exhaust gases.
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