Guide to compressed air

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Guide to compressed air

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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Air compressor types: the piston compressor

Take a look at our guide to piston compressors if you want to discover more! 

How does a piston compressor work?

The piston air compressor (or reciprocating compressor) is the oldest and most common type of compressor. 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. 

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;

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

Read more about screw compressors in our guide to screw compressors!

How does a rotary-screw compressor work?

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. 

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. 


Oil-free or oil-lubricated air compressors: which one do I choose?

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.

Type of industrial air compressor: oil-free

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Let us help you decide

Still not sure what air compressor you should choose? Our experts give you the right advice: just let us know and we’ll answer all your questions as soon as possible. 

Read more about air compressors in related articles

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