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Industrial compressor - what to look for when selecting the right one

With so many choices out there, picking an industrial compressor seems difficult. But if you know your needs, they often choose themselves. Here’s how

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March 11, 2020

Industrial compressor - what to look for when selecting the right one

Estimated reading time: 5 minutes

what compressor size do I need?

At first glance, picking the right industrial compressor seems like a difficult task, especially for a layperson.

In addition to determining the right size, i.e. a unit with an output that meets your compressed air demand, you also have to choose between piston or rotary screw compressors, oil-injected or oil-free models, and you have to figure out whether you want a fixed speed or a variable speed version.

But there is some good news:

Many of these decisions will more or less make themselves based on your needs. That is why you first have to figure out what those are.

Know your needs

Here’s a list of questions you will need to answer.

What application do you need compressed air for? How much air flow and pressure do you require? Do you need clean air or dry air or does air quality not matter much? Will your industrial compressor run continuously or only part of the time? Do you need a quiet workfloor companion or is noise not a factor in a separate compressor room? What type of maintenance interval are you looking for? Do you want to invest more initially and save later with low energy costs? Do you need the same amount of compressed air or does your demand fluctuate? Are you planning to expand any time soon?

Once you know the answers to these questions, the selection of the right industrial compressor is often very easy.

Piston compressor versus Rotary Screw compressor – which one is the right industrial compressor?

an illustration about the types of compressors for the atlas copco wiki.

Think of a piston compressor as your starter model. It’s the perfect selection for a small business that does not require continuous compressed air.

It’s the most economical air compressor around and, in most cases, the best fit for small machine shops, body and tire shops, and small manufacturing facilities.

However, you have to keep in mind that they are only meant for intermittent use and require cooldown periods.

If you have to operate your air compressor for more than 30-35 minutes each hour, then a piston compressor is not the right choice. In those cases, you should consider a rotary screw compressor.

an illustration about the types of compressors for the atlas copco wiki.

These highly efficient air compressors are quickly becoming the norm because of the many advantages they offer. They are the right choice for operations that require a constant compressed air supply.

While they are more expensive than a piston compressor, their energy efficiency lowers the total cost of ownership significantly.

In addition, they are quieter and cleaner while also lasting longer.

Air quality matters in your industrial compressor selection

Next you have to figure out your air quality needs. Some applications require dry air while others call for particularly clean air. For the former, you can integrate a dryer. For the latter, you have to decide whether an oil-injected compressor with additional filtration suffices or if an oil-free compressor is required.

Oil-injected compressors are usually the right selection when the compressed air they produce does not have to be particularly clean, e.g. for inflating tires or powering tools.

An oil-free industrial compressor is generally the right choice for when the air purity has to be absolute, e.g. in the food and pharmaceutical industries where the compressed air comes in touch with an end product.

VSD versus fixed speed

The last decision depends on whether your air demand is consistent or whether it fluctuates. If it is the former, then a fixed speed air compressor is likely the correct solution. However, if demand fluctuates, for example in a business that operates with a lighter crew on weekends, then a fixed speed compressor is an inefficient choice and a variable speed compressor is the way to go as an energy-efficient alternative.

A VSD+ air compressor from Atlas Copco, for example, can reduce the energy costs by 50%. And that adds up quickly considering that these costs make up more than 70% of the total cost of ownership of a generator across its service life.

Finally, if you are still not sure what type of compressor is right for you, an Atlas Copco representative will gladly assist you.

Watch this video to know more about our Variable Speed Drive (VSD) compressors

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