Your air compressor guide

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Your air compressor guide

Air compressors can be used in a wide range of industries and applications. In this article we want to show you the different types of (industrial) air compressors that MARK has to offer, and their specific properties. That way you have an idea of which type of compressor might be best suited for your specific situation. 

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How air compressors work

Air compressors create compressed air by drawing in environmental air and pressurising it. Air treatment systems clean the air during the process, resulting in clean pressurised air suitable for a wide array of applications.

How exactly air is compressed depends on the type of compressor.

Air compressor types: the piston compressor or reciprocating compressor

The piston air compressor (or reciprocating compressor) is the oldest and most common type of compressor.  Piston compressors are often the first compressor to buy when just starting out. The mechanism works as follows:

Type of industrial air compressor: piston compressor

Essentially, a piston compressor contains a valve system and two valve discs. When the piston moves down, it draws air into the cylinder. One of the valve discs folds downward, allowing the air to pass. When the piston moves upward, the large disc folds upward also, and closes. The compressed air is then delivered to the end process. Essentially, the mechanism is that of a  - small -  combustion engine,  like the ones that are used in cars.

Piston compressors are available in different configurations. For instance, there’s a difference between oil-free and oil-lubricated compressors. Read more about this difference at the end of this article. There are also single-stage, two-stage and multi-stage piston compressors. This last type of piston compressor contains an extra step where the air is compressed a second, third or even fourth time. 

➥ Find out everything about piston compressors

In what industries are piston compressors commonly used?

Although piston compressors are available in lots of different configurations, they are most commonly used in: 

  • garages;
  • DIY settings;
  • workshops;
  • small industries;
  • oil-refineries;
  • the chemical industry;
  • gas industry;
  • refrigeration

The advantages of a piston air compressor

Generally, a piston compressor offers the following advantages: 

  • The purchase costs are low;
  • Piston compressors can be moved around easily;
  • Piston compressors are easy to control and operate.

Air compressor types: the rotary screw compressor

Type of industrial air compressor: rotary-screw compressor

Instead of a valve system, this air compressor uses rotors to compress air. Male and female rotors turn in opposite directions, thus trapping the air between them. This causes the volume of the air to be reduced. The compressed air can then immediately be used in different kinds of applications. The rotary-screw compressor does not have a valve system: therefore the risk of mechanical unbalance is reduced. This type of air compressor can be operated at high air flow rates. 

There are 3 different types of screw compressors:

  • Belt drive: motor is connected to the pump with a belt
  • Gear drive: motor is connected to the pump through gears
  • Variable speed drive: motor and compression pump are synchronised to produce precise amounts of compressed air


➥ Find out everything about rotary screw compressors

In what industries are rotary-screw compressors typically used?

Rotary-screw compressors can be used in the same industries as piston compressors. In many cases, they replace them because of their higher capacity and the fact that they can deliver a constant air flow. Some industries specifically require a constant air flow, like the:

  • food processing industry;
  • packaging industry;
  • automotive industry;
  • automated manufacturing industry.

The advantages of a rotary-screw compressor

  • Rotary-screw compressors differ from piston compressor in the following ways:

    The volume capacity is much higher than that of a piston compressor;
  • It can supply a continuous airflow, because of its lower internal temperature;
  • It produces less noise than a piston compressor because the moving parts are not in contact with each other. 

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Air compressor types: oil-free or oil-lubricated air compressors

Both the piston compressor and rotary-screw compressor come in an oil-free and oil-lubricated version. In the latter, oil is mostly used to lubricate, seal and cool the compressed air. In oil-free air compressors, the same is achieved through different means, for instance pre-lubricated cylinders and an intercooler.

It is important to first figure out the exact process the air compressor will be used for. In some applications, even the slightest risk of contamination is not to be taken. For instance: 

  • the food and beverage industry;
  • the pharmaceutical industry;
  • the paper industry;
  • electrical manufacturing. 

In these industries, oil-free air compressors offer an elegant solution. They weigh less and there is obviously no contamination risk.

However, in some - smaller - processes, oil contamination is not an immediate issue. It might be wise to make use of an oil-lubricated air compressor, since they have less maintenance requirements, have a longer life span and produce less noise or heat.

Whether you need oil-free or lubricated compressors depends heavily on your needs and sector.


Type of industrial air compressor: oil-free

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What air compressor do I need?

As you can see, the most obvious difference between both types of compressors is that rotary screw compressors can deliver a continuous airflow, while piston compressors cannot. But if you don’t need a continuous flow of compressed air, you might still be faced with the question: ‘What type do I choose?’. Everything depends on the volume capacity, maintenance and noise requirements that are integral to your industry. MARK helps you find the right compressor for your specific goals.

What type of air compressor you need, depends on a number of factors. Generally speaking, the following applies per sector:

  • Rotary screw compressors
    • Food processing industry
    • Packaging industry
    • Automotive industry
    • Automated manufacturing industry
    • Garages and workshops
    • DIY-settings
  • Piston or reciprocating processor
    • Gas processing
    • Chemical industries
    • Oil plants and refineries
    • Refrigeration technology

Find out more about the specific types of compressors in the dedicated articles linked above or take a look at our assortment of piston compressors and screw compressors.


What size of (industrial) air compressor do I need?

The size is definitely a determining factor in choosing an air compressor. If it’s too small, you’ll waste time while waiting for the right pressure. If it’s too big you’ll waste your resources and won’t be able to move it around when necessary. 

Size can mean two things: mainly the actual size of the system (the physical size) and install size (measured in horsepower).

➥ Read more about the sizes of (industrial) air compressors

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Let us help you decide

Looking for some personal advice? Get in touch with MARK's experts for tailored support and the perfect compressed air systems for your needs.

Read more about air compressors in related articles

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