Air compressors offer their services to machinery, manufacturing processes and tools in a wide range of industries, such as automotive, home and office construction, sports and recreation, construction, commercial art, purification services, and marine safety.
Common automotive applications of industrial air compressors include surface finishing, airbrush painting, parts cleaning, and tire inflation. Their counterpart, gas stations, use air compressors to power gas pumps.
Home and Office Construction
Meanwhile, homes and offices alike may be painted using air compressor tools. Building-related projects, along with a number of surfaces, may also be serviced with power tools that use compressors, such as staplers, sandblasters, sanders, spray guns, nail guns, and drills.
Sports and Recreation
In the sports and recreation industry, air compressors power products like paintball gun canisters.
Heavy-duty construction activities may employ products like rock drills, needle scalers, air chisels, chipping hammers, tuggers/winches, jacklegs, and jackhammers. Power tools like these use either permanent or portable compressors.
Commercial artists frequently require the air compression power channeled through airbrush tools.
Industrial air compressors supply air for atmosphere control systems such as blast forges, air purification systems, temperature control systems, and air lock systems. Air compressors used in air conditioning units are called air conditioning compressors.
In the marine industry, air compressors allow for deep sea swimming and research by filling the oxygen tanks used by deep sea divers.
The history of air compressors begins with the invention of bellows. Bellows consist of a bag or bags, handles and an intake valve. As long ago as the 3rd century BC, the Han Chinese of ancient China were using bellows. They rapidly opened and closed the bellows in order to pump in air, and then release it in a compressed stream. Bellows were essential tools in metalworking; they allowed metalworkers to coax fire to temperatures high enough to melt copper and gold. Bellows became popular and spread all over the earth, from Japan to England and everywhere in between.
Many, many years later, Otto von Guericke, a German engineer and physician, designed the precursor to the modern air compressor. This was an air pump that featured one cylinder and one piston. He used his air pump to experiment with air pressure and help advance the understanding of air pressure and combustion in the 1650s.
The next advance in air compressor technology was the blowing air cylinder, invented in 1762. This air compressor could produce 14.5 pounds of pressure per square inch. Then, in 1799, a British mechanical engineer named George Medhurst invented the first motorized air compressor.
In the 1800s, a number of different manufacturers improved on the air compressor and/or created air tools that worked using the principles of an air compressor. For example, in 1852, Isambard K. Brunel designed the caisson, which is a watertight chamber with an open bottom that uses pressure force to keep water out. With it, workers could perform underwater construction. Five years later, Thomas Cochrane invented a drill that, by working with compressed air distributing pipes, was able to tunnel through the earth. In the late 1800s, engineers started integrating pneumatics into air compressor applications.
During the 20th century, air compressors underwent a great many changes. First, in 1902, Ingersoll Rand, the company owned by the famous inventor Simon Ingersoll, developed the first portable air compressor. Then, in 1927, the company designed air compressors to assist in the construction of the faces on Mount Rushmore. In 1954, they designed the first atomic submarine, which relied partially on air pressure control.
Another company that was important to the advancement of air compressors, Atlas Copco, introduced the first modern piston compressor in 1904. Almost half a century later, in 1950, this air compressor brand started working on oilless air compressors. Other changes from the 20th century include, but are not limited to: the introduction of centrifugal compressors, the introduction of axial flow compressors, and the introduction of screw air compressors.
Today, air compressors are increasingly diverse in size and application. Modern air compressor manufacturers are currently focused on developing air compressors that are more energy efficient and more environmentally friendly.
By and large, manufacturers build air compressors from one of three metals: cast iron, steel, or aluminum. However, if an application calls for a lightweight compressor, like a portable or mini compressor, they may use plastic in the place of metal.
Considerations and Customization
When designing your air compressor or when helping you select an air compressor, manufacturers consider a number of applications and design factors, such as the required amount of air pressure per minute (CFM), required portability, how much air the compressor must hold, your standard requirements, etc.
To that end, manufacturers offer air compressors in a wide variety of styles, sizes, and methods of power. For example, to fit your application requirements, manufacturers can make compressor tanks in a number of different shapes, which most specify as pancake, twin tank, vertical, and horizontal. Pancake compressors have oblong, oval shaped tanks.
While electric air compressors are most common, if you are looking to reduce energy consumption and costs, manufacturers can design your air compressors so that they are driven by natural gas.
Customers also have the option of buying a used air compressor, rather than a new one. Used air compressors sold by reputable suppliers are generally in excellent shape and can be counted on to provide years of service. To learn more about the air compressor design options of any given air compressor manufacturing company, talk to one of their representatives.
The two main components of all compressors are the compression energy source and the compressing mechanism. Other air compressor parts include a storage tank, where the compressor stores and pressurizes air, inlet and outlets, and a compressor filter.
Air compressors pull air into the tank using energy generated by the energy sources. As air flows into the tank, the compressing mechanisms start to compress it. When the tank gets full, the energy source automatically shuts off, and the air stays in there until operators use it. When it gets low again, the air compressor turns back on and starts sucking in air again. Users measure air compressor power in cubic feet per minute (CFM) air intake. In addition to CFM, they also often use the secondary measurements of power kw and pressure bar flow.
Compression energy sources that manufacturers may install include gas-powered motors, electric motors, and power takeoffs. Electric air compressors are available either with rechargeable 12 voltage batteries or with a power cord. Gas air compressors and diesel air compressors exclusively operate with the assistance of a gasoline-run motor.
Compressing mechanisms that manufacturers commonly install include impellers, pistons, and vanes. The choice of which mechanism depends on the compressor configuration and required CFM.
All air compressors can be divided into two major groups based on their displacement type. These are positive displacement and dynamic displacement.
Positive displacement compressors function by forcing air into the tank and then decreasing the volume of the tank in order to compress the air. Once the compression chamber (tank) cannot hold any more pressure, an outlet valve automatically opens up and discharges the air into the outlet system. Examples of positive displacement compressors include reciprocating piston compressors, rotary screw compressors, vane compressors, and scroll compressors.
Dynamic displacement compressors work by forcing air into the compression chamber, speeding up the air until it hits high velocity, then restricting airflow. This causes the air pressure to increase. Examples of dynamic displacement compressors include axial compressors and centrifugal compressors.
The next largest group of air compressor configurations available for purchase consists of three compressor types: rotary screw air compressors, centrifugal compressors, and reciprocating compressors.
Rotary screw air compressors may be portable or they may operate as central facility units. They use two meshed helical screws that rotate rapidly in opposite directions. In this way, they extract air in small doses and compress it as it cycles through the rotating screws. In addition, the internal parts of rotary screw compressors are usually lubricated. Usually, they are designed with oil separators attached downstream to filter out contaminating lubricants. Sometimes, though less commonly, rotary screws work as oil-free air compressors.
Centrifugal compressors, sometimes also called radial compressors, are oil-free dynamic air compressors that work by converting introduced kinetic energy into increased potential energy. Using a rotating impeller, the centrifugal compressor creates air velocity (kinetic energy), which it then pushes through a diffuser, thus slowing flow and compressing air. This compressed air is then either released immediately into a pressure system, ready to work, or stored in a holding tank.
Reciprocating air compressors generate air compression through the use of pistons. These pistons enter and exit a cylindrical mouth, allowing air in and out of the compressor only when its useful, and without changing its compression process. Because they are cost-effective and have broad output capabilities, reciprocating compressors enjoy an established popularity. Like rotary screw compressors, reciprocating compressors may be portable or stationary air compressors.
Other types of air compressors include oilless air compressors, axial flow compressors, single stage air compressors, two-stage compressors, and high-pressure air compressors.
Oilless compressors, also known as oil-free compressors, are advantageous for applications that require a guaranteed pure airstream. They eliminate the risk of filters not catching oil contaminants 100% of the time. Also, because they do not use downstream filtration components, they usually have lower maintenance costs.
Single stage air compressors, also known as piston compressors, only compress air once. Generally, they work by pulling air into a compression cylinder, compressing it to 120 psi and then passing it on to the storage tank.
Two-stage air compressors, sometimes called dual stage compressors, compress air twice. They start out the same way as single stage compressors, but instead of sending air to the storage tank after compressing it, they pass it onto a small compression cylinder. There, they compress it to around 175 psi and then send it to the storage tank. Two stage air compressors are most useful for the operation of high-power equipment.
Axial flow compressors work using fixed or stator blades, along with rotating blades or rotor blades. They accelerate air by passing it first through a row of rotor blades, then through stator blades. This movement builds the kinetic energy present in the air. As the air pushes back and forth through the rotors, it diffuses energy and increases pressure inside the compressor.
High pressure air compressors provide high air pressure upwards of 650 psi; they usually cap out at 6000 psi. They are used in applications that require exceptionally high-pressure levels, such as PET plastic blowing, scuba gear, paintball, fire extinguishing, etc.
Air compressors offer the advantage of letting an individual tool run using a quiet and efficient motor. Without air compressors, tools would have to be connected to big, loud, and clumsy motors. Another benefit of air compressors is the fact that, because they use the surrounding air, they are more energy efficient than other equipment powering devices. Also, they are convenient, easy to use, and have lower maintenance costs than other equipment.
To make sure that your air compressors are healthy and long-lasting, establish a maintenance routine. During your maintenance check, make sure to do the following:
1. Regularly inspect for air leaks and oil leaks.
2. Check to make sure the compressor filter has the correct differential pressure.
3. Avoid overheating by checking the operating temperature.
4. Check compressor fittings. If they are loose, tighten or replace them.
Things to Consider
To find the highest quality air compressor for you, whether it’s a new custom air compressor or it’s a refurbished air compressor, you need to connect with a high-quality manufacturer. To help you on your way, we’ve put together a list of some of the best manufacturers and suppliers working in the air compressor market.
Before you check them out, take some time to put together a list of your application specifications and requirements, so that you can better focus your search. Remember to jot down your budget, delivery deadline, delivery preferences, installation assistance preferences, and standard requirements. Then, pick out three or four manufacturers that look promising to you, based on your specifications. Reach out to each of them for a chat and go over your application in detail. Once you’ve done that, compare and contrast your conversations. Decide which ones is the complete package and get started on your project. Good luck!