The Ultimate Air Compressor Guide
How to Pick the Perfect Air Compressor
Too much talk about air compressors can get complicated. Let's make it simple.
When you think about it, air compressors are everywhere—from the garage to your dentist office, from large factories to even your local car wash. That’s because they’re reliable and make tough jobs easy.
Every year we discover more uses for air compressors. As soon as you put one to work, you’ll feel its impact on your time and energy right away. In this guide, we'll give you the confidence to pick the right tool for the right job and get back to what matters most.
A compressor works by continuously sucking in surrounding air and mechanically squeezing it through internally-moving components and into a usable force for powering air tools. Once the maximum air pressure is reached (PSI), the duty cycle is complete.
The overall air volume a compressor can generate is measured in cubic feet per minute (CFM), and this is often the most important factor in choosing the right one to power all your tools. There are many types, but the most common types are listed below.
Right Tool—Right Job
We all know for every job there is a right (and wrong) tool to use. Air compressors would be useless without the machines and air tools they power, but with so many applications, choosing the right air compressor can be tough. Asking yourself the right questions early on like "what will the compressor be used for," "where will it be installed," and "how much power do I need" are great places to start.
This next section is broken down by the type of user and common applications they have, and each has its own detailed guide to help you discover the perfect compressor for you.
Owning a small compressor means always being ready for what life throws your way. It means never having a flat tire again. It’s the satisfaction of knowing you fixed something yourself like a pro. It's easier than you think to improve the value of your home with the help of an air compressor.
Whether it’s fixing your sagging deck or replacing old trim boards, in one afternoon you can save thousands of dollars on basic repairs and finish projects just like the pros. All you need to know is how your compressor and tools work and suddenly your boring “fix list” becomes instantly easier and even a little fun, too.
For the freedom to be the weekend warrior or the seasoned Do-It-Yourself-er, getting a larger single-stage air compressor or upgrading to a professional model works best. Larger tanks and more power mean more capability when it comes to woodworking in the garage, re-siding the house, building a shed, or for doing other advanced home-improvement projects on your own.
For contractors and commercial business owners, there is no second best. You already know that the right air compressor doesn’t just power your workshop or job site, but also saves you money by only working as hard and long as you do.
We’re talking about the air compressors that make building dozens of decks, painting hundreds of cars, or changing thousands of truck tires each year a breeze. With the right compressor, you’ll feel good hanging up your hose at the end of the day.
Professional-grade air compressors are built to withstand the rigors of any job-site and are designed to be durable and portable wherever you need it.
To run your business efficiently, you know it’s better to measure twice and cut once. You won’t find the same air system in a dentist’s office as you would in a tire shop. You owe it to yourself and your business to ask the right questions before you buy.
In an ever-changing economy, factories and entire industries rely heavily on industrial-grade air compressors to keep up with the constantly changing demands. Choosing the right system will drive success by keeping production moving and efficiency at a maximum.
It’s no secret that these air compressor systems are the most powerful in the field, and with serious power comes a serious investment—so knowing the critical information will arm you to make the decision that makes the most sense for you and your company.
It’s also important to consider your growing business. Your air demands today could double in five years, and your air system should be able to adjust for that growth.
Decisions on the environment, location, pump lubrication, CFM, 1 or 3-phase power requirements, air treatments, air dryers, line filters, regulators, and turning over every stone is essential for a proper fit. While under sizing a compressor is bad business, remember that oversizing your system can cost you in wasted electricity, too. That’s where VSD technology becomes increasingly important.
The options for commercially-operated air compressors are extensive and even include custom builds for unconventional applications. To keep things simple, this guide is specifically geared toward commercial/industrial applications.
Air Compressor Types
Knowing the basic mechanics behind how something works isn't just for gearheads; everyone benefits from understanding technology.
Reciprocating piston compressors are the most widely used. Like your car's engine, an internal crankshaft drives the pistons inside the cylinders in a back-and-forth motion, creating a vacuum that sucks air in when retracting and pushing air into a tank when extending.
Because the internal components touch, these compressors create friction and run hotter and louder than other types of air compressors; however, newer technology like oil-less and dual-piston compressors reduce overheating and noise associated with piston-type compressors.
The trusted workhorses of the auto industry, rotary screw technology was introduced for heavy-duty applications that require high power during extended periods. Just like a supercharged hot rod, these compressors are ideal for maximizing air intake and maximizing payout. As air enters the sealed chamber, it is squeezed between two (helically-opposed) male and female rotating screws.
As the screws inter-mesh, they reduce the volume of trapped air and deliver it compressed, at the proper pressure level. Unlike reciprocating piston compressors, rotary screw rotors don’t touch and have fewer moving parts, and because they are oil-sealed, they require much less maintenance over time.
Scroll compressors use two spiral-shaped circular pieces that rotate around one another to compress air. One scroll is fixed in place and doesn't move, and the other fits inside the stationary scroll and moves in a tight circular motion without rotating.
Scroll compressor technology is all around us. They are found in a wide array of applications, from refrigeration to electronics manufacturing, to even turbos in high-efficiency vehicles.
Also, these compressors are capable of producing the cleanest industry-standard air according to ISO standards. These ratings make them ideal for use in the electronics, pharmaceutical, dental, and food industries because of their 100% oil-free and quiet operation.
Air Compressor Tech
Although the concept of mechanically compressed air has been around for well over a hundred years, in the last fifty years air compressor technology has rapidly evolved to keep up with the constantly changing needs and uses of compressed air.
Starting with single-stage machines that compressed air in a single "stroke" to two-stage compressors which compress at twice the air pressure, technology has rapidly progressed to further fine-tune the needs of compressor applications that require maximum efficiently at all times.
Newer technological advances like variable speed drives allow the compressor to only run at the speed and voltage required to give you the right amount of compressed air at the right pressure, and at the right time. Even newer is Variable Frequency Drive innovations that allow the compressor to control the motor speed and torque by alternating from A/C to D/C power and controlling the input frequency and voltage.
There's no shortage of innovations as new uses for air compressors are discovered, and has led to quieter, cleaner, faster, and stronger machines. Teflon-coated cylinders and bioengineered designs are only a few examples of how innovation is used to solve unique problems in the field.
Keeping the Noise Down
It's important to consider noise level and quiet compressor operation whether you're working at home indoors or have a mechanic in an auto shop with the compressor in the same bay. No matter the type of air compressor or location, there are solutions to help cut down noise like enclosures, dampeners, and compressors that use sound-dampening materials.
With technology advancing, we now have quiet, oil-free compressors that are exceptionally low-noise due to their enclosures and can run all day without slowing down—making them ideal for industries that require around-the-clock operations. Other technologies like VSD, VFD, and dual-piston designs help with quieter operation, too.
Completing Your Air System
At Air Compressors Direct, we supply fully-outfitted compressed air systems to make sure you've got every piece you need to make the right investment.
Pneumatic tools revolutionized the way people and business work. For the first time, they allowed more work to be done much faster at a fraction of traditional costs and, unlike battery-operated tools, air tools don’t require internal motors or external power to work but still deliver optimal power and performance.
Filling a garage-workshop with a pneumatic impact wrench, spray gun, nailer, stapler, ratchet wrench or sandblaster will allow you to complete nearly any task at home using one power source (air compressor) and without breaking the bank.
Proper air treatment is like life insurance for your air compressor; dirty air causes damage over time until you’re faced with very expensive repairs and costly downtime.
Clean, dry air is paramount to protecting your tools and machines run by your compressor. Air dryers remove moisture and some contamination, while air filters refine the air further by removing fine particulate and aerosol contamination. Clean air not only protects your tools, but also your compressor’s tank (by using a drain) and air lines from a constant barrage of unfiltered, moist air that causes damage to the internals over time.
We offer air compressor accessories and kits that improve the performance of your air compressor system. These include lubricators, regulators, additional air tanks, replacement pumps, air hoses, extension cords, oil, and gauges. We also offer air delivery solutions to bring your air anywhere you need it.
The beauty of portable air compressors is that they can go exactly where they're needed. Whether it's a handheld inflator that fits under your car seat or an off-roading DC air compressor for your weekend getaways, there are portable compressors to support any lifestyle.
For homeowners and contractors, portability means being able to carry a twin-stack or hot-dog compressor around the house, or even utilize mobile air compressors that are truck-mounted or mounted to a wheelbarrow for the job site. You'll never have to worry about how you'll power your air tools on the roof or in the crawl space under the deck.
Larger stationary air compressors and industrial-grade air solutions for manufacturing will need to be installed with the help of a certified installer who is familiar with state and local codes and can ensure that the proper protections are in place, and that they are up to power and application requirements.
Choosing the Right Air Compressor
Air compressors at all levels of use can improve productivity every day they’re used. Although finding the right one may be daunting at first, you now have the knowledge and tools you need to make an educated decision on which compressor is right for you.
If you’re looking for an industrial air compressor system for your facility and you’re concerned about the complicated logistical decisions, we can make it easier— just give us a call and our experts will talk you through exactly what you need.
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