Air compressors are one of the most commonly used appliances in construction sites, serving as power sources for countless electric tools. There are varying types of air compressors, each of which have their own unique capabilities, advantages, disadvantages, and features. As such, this blog will cover the 4 principle types of air compressors, their uses, and how they work.
To begin, air compressors can be categorized as either positive displacement or dynamic displacement compressors, depending on their internal mechanisms. Rotary screw compressors and reciprocating air compressors fall under the former category, while axial compressors and centrifugal compressors can be categorized as the latter. To better understand how each fits in their respective categories, we will outline these four air compressor types below.
Positive Displacement Compressors
Air compressors of this variety generate power through air displacement. They work with varying internal mechanisms, but they all follow the same general principle: a cavity within the machine stores the air brought from the outside, and the machine slowly compresses the cavity in order to increase the air pressure and potential energy.
Rotary Screw Compressors
Serving as some of the easiest air compressors to maintain, rotary screw compressors are often preferred over their counterparts. This air compressor assembly is equipped with an internal cooling system that enables it to be used continuously with a range in power from 5 horsepower to 350 horsepower. Furthermore, rotary screw compressors are large in size and can be lubricated with oil or run optimally without oil as well. They produce energy through two internal rotors that turn in opposite directions. While the air gets trapped between the two opposing rotors, there is a build up in pressure within the housing.
These air compressors find use in smaller work sites, such as garages and home construction projects. Unlike rotary screw compressors, reciprocating compressors are not designed for continuous use. Due to their many moving parts, reciprocating air compressors require frequent lubrication to work properly. They take advantage of a piston inside a cylinder to compress and displace air in order to build pressure. Reciprocating compressors are available in single or multi-stage variations, which affects the pressure ranges that they are equipped to handle. For projects that necessitate large amounts of power such as auto assembly and maintenance operations, multi-stage compressors are good options. Single-stage compressors, on the other hand, are better-suited for smaller projects like woodworking and metalworking.
Dynamic compressors generate power by drawing in air with their rapidly rotating blades and then restricting the air to create pressure. This kinetic energy is then stored as static energy within the compressor.
Finding use in high-speed engines on ships or planes, axial compressors offer a higher efficiency rate than other types of air compressors. However, they are more expensive, so they are often reserved for well-funded aerospace research.
Centrifugal compressors slow and cool incoming air through the use of a diffuser to build up potential energy. Due to the multi-phase compression process, centrifugal compressors have the capacity to produce a high amount of energy in a small machine. More than that, they do not require frequent maintenance and some types can produce oil-free air. Lastly, centrifugal compressors are often found in demanding construction sites such as chemical plants and steel manufacturing centers since they can reach around 1,000 horsepower.
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