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How to choose the right commercial air compressor for your needs

To select the right air compressor for your needs, you must understand your application and demand for air. The right type and size compressor can help you reduce energy costs and optimize productivity.

Contact us to learn more

24 June, 2020

How to choose the right commercial air compressor for your needs

Estimated reading time: 5 minutes

To select the right air compressor for your needs, you must understand your application and demand for air. The right type and size compressor can help you reduce energy costs and optimize productivity. Here’s how to get it right.

Understanding pressure and flow

Compressed air flow is typically measured in cubic feet per minute (CFM) or liters per second (l/s). Compressed air pressure is typically measured in pounds per square inch (PSI) or bar. Think of flow as the ability to perform a process within an acceptable time frame, and pressure as the ability to support multiple processes at once.

Selecting the right size compressor

How to choose compressor
A compressor that’s too small won’t produce enough flow and pressure to complete required tasks. A compressor that’s too large will cost more to buy and operate, and can lead to mechanical problems. Right sizing a compressor requires real data about your needs, not guesswork. Whether you’re upgrading your current compressor or designing a new system, ask a compressed air sales professional to conduct an air system audit to measure your actual demand.

If you’re planning for future capacity, keep in mind that a compressor should be sized to address actual demand. Instead of anticipating potential future demand by oversizing today, add a compressor when the time comes to provide flexibility and redundancy as your operation expands. Also keep in mind that process improvements often reduce air demand; you may be able to expand your operation without expanding air production.

Watch this video to know more

Selecting the right compressor technology

Most commercial air compressors designed for commercial duty are either of two types: piston or rotary screw.

Piston Compressor

Piston (or reciprocating) compressors are used in many small machine shops, body shops, tire shops, service centers and small manufacturing facilities. Simple and robust, piston compressors are relatively inexpensive and easy to maintain—both advantages—but their design has some limitations. For example:

• Piston compressors are meant for intermittent use. They can work for 50-60% of their duty cycle (about 30 to 35 minutes per hour).

• Piston compressors require proper cooling time between duty cycles, or they will overheat and perhaps fail.

• Piston compressors produce significant oil in the compressed airstream. This must be treated properly to prevent damage to pneumatic piping and equipment.

• Piston compressors are loud in operation, which can be hard on employees or customers.

If these disadvantages don’t impact your operation, a piston compressor may be an economical choice.
Rotary screw compressor
Rotary screw compressors are sophisticated machines designed for operations that require a constant supply of compressed air. They can run continuously.

Rotary screw compressors are often equipped with an integrated dryer to provide clean, dry air. They come sizes ranging from a few to a few hundred horsepower. Some units are mounted on an air tank to provide additional storage capacity. Integrated systems combine the compressor, dryer and tank in one unit, enabling plug and play installation of a complete system with a small footprint.

Variable Speed Drive


Air demand may fluctuate as work progresses. A Variable Speed Drive (VSD) compressor senses demand changes and speeds up or slows down automatically to match production of compressed air to demand. That’s important because energy accounts for over 70% of the total cost of ownership of a commercial air compressor. A VSD compressor can reduce energy costs by 35-50%. VSD air compressors are becoming the norm rather than the exception, with many users reinvesting annual energy savings into their business.

Ask an air system professional about the best options for your needs.