Different types of air compressors: reciprocating compressors

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Different types of air compressors: reciprocating compressors

We’ve already told you about the different types of compressors. In this article, we’d like to zoom in on one specific kind of compressor: the reciprocating (piston) compressor. What are the specifications? For what use are they especially good?

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Reciprocating (piston) air compressors

Mark Piston Compressor

Let’s get down to the basics: a reciprocating air compressor uses positive displacement to function. That means that they generate compressed air through a system of valves and pistons, much like the combustion engine in your car. The fact that pistons help compress the air is why the terms ‘piston compressor’ and ‘reciprocating compressor’ are used interchangeably. A rotary screw compressor, on the other hand, uses rotors instead of valves or pistons to function.

Reciprocating air compressors are the oldest air compressor system in use today. They are used in a wide array of applications. There are two types: 

High speed (separable) reciprocating compressors

These compressors are called ‘separable’ because they are separate from their driver (i.e. the energy source). They are driven by engines or motors. They are, on the whole:

  • Relatively low-cost;
  • Easy to move;
  • Available in a wide range of sizes.

You have to keep in mind, however, that these types of reciprocating compressors will need more maintenance and therefore require more maintenance costs than the integral ones. They are also called high-speed compressors because they operate on a speed between 900 and 1,800 rpm. 

Low speed (integral) reciprocating compressors

These types of reciprocating compressors are called ‘integral’ because their driver is mounted into the frame of the compressor. They are called ‘low speed’ because they operate at a speed between 200 and 600 rpm. Some specifications:

  • They are larger and heavier than high speed reciprocating compressors.
  • They often need additional installations, for example noise and pulse suppressors.
  • They require less maintenance than high speed compressors.

Everything depends on the purpose of your compressor. We’ll discuss a few of the industries that typically make use of reciprocating compressors. 

Using reciprocating compressors

Piston or reciprocating compressors are mostly used in these types of industrial settings:

  • Gas processing;
  • Chemical industries;
  • Oil plants and refineries;
  • Refrigeration technology.

However, due to the wide variety of reciprocating compressors, they are used in almost every work setting. Although they have more maintenance requirements, they are very energy-efficient. You still have a lot of choice regarding the size and volume of your compressor


What type of reciprocating compressor do I need?

As always, everything depends on the purpose of your air compressors. What kind of power would you like to generate? Does your compressor have to be moveable? What kind of maintenance would you prefer? It might be the case that a certain type of piston compressor or even rotary screw compressor is ideal for your purposes. 

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