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Industrial compressors: compressed air, it’s everywhere

Industrial compressors power today’s industrial production. Without them, large parts of the world would stand still. Here are some of their uses

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March 11, 2020

Industrial compressors: compressed air, it’s everywhere

Estimated reading time: 5 minutes

Industrial Compressor
Most people don’t think a lot about compressed air as they go about their everyday life – even though it is being used all around them.

In fact, it is impossible to overstate the pivotal role that compressed air and industrial compressors play in the global economy. Used in almost every industry, compressed air is widely considered the fourth utility – in addition to water, electricity and natural gas. Today, industrial compressors are as important as steam engines were during the industrial revolution.

Without them, most manufacturing plants across the globe would stand still. After all, about one-third of the energy a typical factory consumes is related to compressed air. But compressed air is not just needed in production facilities. It is also essential for operating ships, trains and cars, e.g. as a vital part of the brake system, the suspension and to ensure that airbags get deployed in case of an accident. In addition, compressed air is used by a wide range of professionals – from car mechanics to dentists.

Watch this video to know more about our Industrial compressors

Energy air and active air

There are two main types of compressed air: “Energy air” and “Active air.”

As the name indicates, energy air is used for storing and transmitting energy required for mechanical work. Specifically, that means that this type of compressed air is used to power pneumatic tools – from a jackhammer to a dental drill.

Active air refers to compressed air that comes into contact with an end product. It is used to better preserve food and beverages, in the chemical and pharmaceutical sectors and in the semiconductor and electronics industries, to name a few.

While the quality of energy air often is of secondary importance, active air usually has to be of a higher purity. That means contaminants, such as oil, water or dust, have to be filtered out. An apt comparison would be that the water needed to power a turbine or flush a toilet can be of much lower quality than drinking water or the distilled water used for experiments.

Picking the right industrial air compressor

Oil free or oil injected compressor
That is why it is important to select an industrial compressor that is right for the job. The first step is usually to determine whether a business can use an oil-injected compressor or an oil-free compressor.

The former is less expensive and should be used if there is no immediate need for oil-free compressed air, for example in most manufacturing settings. The latter is more costly but produces the kind of high-quality air needed in food production or the pharmaceutical sector. Or, in other words, oil-injected industrial compressors are better for energy air and oil-free air compressors better for active air.

Different compressor technologies for different needs

Next, you have to decide whether you want/need a piston compressor or a screw compressor.

Piston compressors cost less and are easier to maintain. They are primarily used for applications that do not need a lot of compressed air and/or only need part of the time, for example in a garage. They are also noisier, which makes them an imperfect solution in a setting such as a dentist’s office or a laboratory.

The other option is a rotary screw compressor. Here, the initial investment is higher but these air compressors have many advantages. They operate at a higher speed and can produce more compressed air. In addition, they are quieter, have a small footprint and are better suited for continuous operation. Perhaps most importantly, they are more energy efficient.

Rotary screw compressors come in two versions: Fixed speed and variable speed. Fixed speed compressors are the right solution for applications that require a steady flow of air. Variable speed compressors, like the VSD+ from Atlas Copco, are perfect for applications where the air demand fluctuates. They are even more energy efficient, meaning that their higher initial investment can easily be recouped through energy savings down the road.

Oil-injected and oil-free versions are available for both piston and rotary screw compressors. That gives businesses a wide range of options to pick the industrial compressor that is right for their applications … whether they operate a rollercoaster, a Formula 1 team, an oil tanker or a small manufacturing plant.

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