Compressed air is a source of power used in many industrial sectors, and it has distinguished itself from other energy resources for its safety, flexibility and convenience. Most often used to power pneumatic tools, it’s known for providing smooth transitions with more uniform force. It also offers a higher power-to-weight ratio than other sources of power and is designed to compress air to higher pressures using a small volume of air.
Air-powered tools also eliminate the danger of electric shock associated with electrical tools, while using fewer moving parts, providing lightweight design and requiring lower-cost maintenance. Additionally, air power requires fewer parts than hydraulic power, lower maintenance costs, less downtime and simpler installation.
Air compressors are an integral part of many industrial processes and manufacturing plants. They play a vital role in nuclear power generation, chemical companies, food and beverage manufacturing, pharmaceutical manufacturing and more. The technology involved in air compressors has helped all of these industries become faster, safer and more efficient.
However, not all of these industries use exactly the same type of air compressors. Each industry has unique needs and specifications, and some air compressors are better suited to particular industries than others. Because of this, it’s important to know about the basic features of each type of air compressor and what makes them unique.
How to Choose the Right Air Compressor
With so many types of air compressors on the market, it can be difficult to narrow down your options. That’s why we’ve put together this industrial air compressor buying guide. By reviewing the different options available, you will be more informed and know how to choose the right air dryer for you and your business.
Types of Air Compressors
The most common type of air compressor uses positive displacement to generate pressure. Two of the positive displacement air compressors used most often include reciprocating piston air compressors and rotary screw air compressors.
- Reciprocating Compressor
Reciprocating compressors use cylinders or pistons to compress air. They’re low-capacity, small and designed for intermittent use. They can function as low-pressure or high-pressure machines and are often used in garages, workshops and construction sites. Reciprocating air compressors are ideal when you need small amounts of air and don’t need air compression 60 percent of the time. If you need high pressure — above 1,500 PSI — you’ll need a reciprocating compressor.
There are two configurations for reciprocating compressors: single-stage and two-stage.
Single-stage compressors draw air from the atmosphere and compress it to final pressure in a single stroke. Single-stage compressors are used for pressures from 70 to 135 PSI. Single-stage pumps usually offer higher cubic feet per minute (CFM) than two-stage compressors.
Two-stage compressors require two steps, compressing air to an intermediate pressure and then to a final pressure up to 200 PSI. Two-stage compressors are more efficient at higher pressures because the air gets cooled between states. They’re used in auto and truck repair shops, service businesses and industrial plants. Although most two-stage reciprocating compressors are oil-lubricated, there are also oil-less versions.
The names “oil-lubricated” and “oil-less” are somewhat misleading. Both versions need oil to operate with maximum efficiency. The difference is that the oil-less models do not have oil in their compression chambers. Instead, they rely on Teflon-coated scrolls, screws and pistons to run smoothly, meaning you don’t have to regularly check and maintain the lubrication. Oil-lubricated models, on the other hand, require frequent oiling.
When it comes to choosing which version is better for different industries, there are no set rules. Rather, it’s about what best suits your needs. For example, the oil-less models are better for lighter usage, since they tend to wear out faster. The oil-lubricated versions last much longer and are more appropriate for frequent, heavy-duty use.
- Rotary Screw Compressor
Rotary screw compressors use two screws turning in opposite directions to compress air. They’re low-pressure, high-capacity and designed to be used continuously — up to 24 hours a day. They’re typically large, industrial machines ranging from 10 HP to 1,000 HP.
Since screw compressors offer maximum pressure of 215 PSI, they’re not designed for high-pressure needs as reciprocating compressors are. Keep in mind that rotary screw compressors shouldn’t be left unused for long periods since extended disuse can lead to rust.
It’s important to know the distinctions between the types of available air compressors. But when you set out to choose the right air compressor for your company, you need more information than that. In addition to the different types available, you need to know what features are available and the options of each feature.
Here are some of the most common features of air compressors and the various options for each feature.
- Pressure, Capacity and Flow Rate — Maximum Required Operating Pressure
By assessing the maximum required operating pressure, you can determine the size and type of air compressor you need. Pounds per square inch, or PSI, is the measure of air pressure delivered by a compressor. The higher the PSI, the larger the volume of air it can compress in a minute. Most compressors offer pressures between 100 and 175 PSI. However, the required air pressure depends on the air consumption of tools typically used at the same time.
- Maximum CFM Usage
Cubic feet per minute, or CFM, is a measurement of volume flow rate. In other words, how much air can a compressor pump in one minute? Larger applications require higher CFM units.
The best way to compare compressors is to use SCFM, or standard cubic feet per minute, defined as the measured flow of air converted to a standard set of reference conditions: 14.5 PSIA, 68 degrees Fahrenheit and 0 percent relative humidity.
By calculating the total CFM of all the tools you’ll typically be using at the same time and adding 30 percent to that number as a safety buffer, you can determine CFM. Keep in mind, however, that adding up all the air tools to be used throughout the day will give you an inflated CFM.
Horsepower is the unit of measurement for the power produced by a compressor motor. Higher horsepower engines produce greater PSI and can handle heavier workloads. A typical range of HP for an air compressor is between 1.5 and 6.5 HP.
- Drive System
The environment for the air compressor is also an important consideration. If electrical power is always available, the drive system should use an electric motor, which is less expensive than other drive systems and requires less maintenance. If electrical power is not always available, a gasoline engine-driven compressor may offer portability and work area flexibility.
- Tank Size
When considering the best size for a compressor tank, you should consider your overall type of usage. A short tank is suitable for usage that comes in quick, concentrated bursts. Larger tanks will be necessary for continuous periods of usage. Units with larger tanks and powerful motors can generate higher levels of PSI for longer periods of time. An oversized six-gallon tank can store more air, requiring fewer pump cycles.
- Additional Features
Other helpful features include:
- Energy-efficient motors to help match output with the needed amount of energy
- Heavy-duty electric motor with rest to protect against overload
- Protected control panels and gauges
- Idle control when air tanks reach maximum operating pressure
- Two air outlets for dual-tool operation
- Electric start systems with air pressure release to reduce the risk of tripping circuits
- Ball-valve tank drains for easy draining
- Direct-drive oil-lubricated pump with a cast-iron cylinder
- Belt-drive oil-lubricated pump with a cast-iron cylinder
In addition to the above considerations, remember that an air compressor should power tools safely. Regularly examine your compressor for problems, and be sure to follow all operator’s manual instructions when using it.
Air Dryers Buying Guide
In addition to learning about the primary types of air compressors and how to choose between them, it’s also important to learn about what varieties of air dryers are available. Like air compressors, there are many different types of air dryers, and each one offers unique features that make it suited for different purposes.
Air dryers are commonly found in manufacturing plants, being used to help with day-to-day operations. They can also be found in many naval applications as well.
Types of Air Dryers
Excessive water in compressed air systems causes operational problems such as freezing of outdoor lines, fouling of processes and corrosion of equipment. Drying prevents water forming downstream, where it can cause product spoilage, operating problems and costly repairs.
Compressed air dryers are devices that take compressed air and remove the water vapor from it. By concentrating water vapor, the air compression causes condensation as the air cools downstream. A variety of commercial and industrial facilities use these devices.
A compressed air dryer prevents moisture from condensing by lowering the pressure dew point to a point lower than the temperature to which air lines are exposed. The pressure dew point — evaluated at 100 pounds per square inch gauge — is the temperature at which moisture begins to condense at a given pressure. The lower the dew point, the dryer the air. If the goal is to eliminate corrosion in the air system piping, you should consider a pressure dew point of -20 degrees Fahrenheit or less.
Compressed air dryers come in multiple different forms, including the following:
- Desiccant Dryers
Regenerative desiccant dryers — also known as regen dryers, twin tower dryers, pressure swing dryers or temperature swing dryers — soak up moisture on non-liquid desiccants like silica gel, molecular sieves or alumina. Moist air passes into the desiccant bed of one tower at the same time as a second tower dries, or regenerates, the desiccant.
Desiccant dryers guard control and instrumentation systems, moisture-sensitive operations and laboratory equipment. They’re useful when an application requires the maximum dew point performance — which can vary from -40 to -100 degrees Fahrenheit. This low dew point protects against airline freezing in the most severe weather conditions. Desiccant dryers should also be used for applications requiring flow rates over 100 standard cubic feet per minute, or SCFM.
There are three possible methods for reviving the desiccant bed.
- Heatless: When renewing the desiccant bed, heatless dryers employ compressed air to expand the atmospheric temperature enough to dry out the desiccant. Heatless dryers are safer because they don’t require high temperatures or voltages. In addition to being safer, they’re the least costly desiccant dryers, which are ideal for systems smaller than 2,000 SCFM. However, they can lead to high costs in bigger systems because the cost of air required is proportional to the size of the system. The desiccant in heatless dryers lasts from 10 to 15 years with an oil-free compressor.
- Internal heating: Heated desiccant dryers apply electrical resistance to dry out the desiccants, and are primarily used in the 500-3,000 SCFM range. These dryers are more expensive than the heatless dryers, due to the number of additional components. The more complicated controls may require additional skilled personnel to maintain them. Heated dryers can accelerate the aging process of absorbent material, requiring new desiccant material every three to five years.
- External heating: Blower-purge compressed air dryers dry the desiccant bed without the need for compressed air by opting for an outside blower to push heated air into the regenerating tower. Blower units tend to be the most expensive and are used in bigger systems — typically ones that are over 3,000 SCFM. When there’s a larger desiccant bed, it’s technically challenging to conduct heat evenly without using many heaters. It’s easier to heat the desiccants more evenly when using a blower.
- Membrane Dryers
With a dew point range of 20 to 60 degrees Fahrenheit, membrane dryers use a dehumidification membrane that removes water vapor from the compressed air. The variance of the compressed air flow rate and pressure controls the drying power of the membrane. Membrane dryers are quiet, have no moving parts, require no electricity to operate and can operate continuously. They require little maintenance, apart from changing the pre-filter cartridge twice a year. Membrane dryers are ideal for applications requiring dew points of 35°F to 52°F and flow rates up to 600 SCFM.
- Point-of-Use Dryers
Point-of-use dryers are compact, low-maintenance, plug-and-play dryers that provide clean, dry air where it’s needed most: the point of use. With a dew point range of -40 to -100 degrees Fahrenheit, they can run for up to 12,000 hours between desiccant replacements. Like membrane dryers, they require little maintenance, apart from pre-filter cartridge replacement.
- Refrigerated Dryers
Refrigerated dryers are the most commonly used dryers. They operate by condensing water in a heat exchanger, cooling air enough to condense the entrained moisture and separating it from the air supply. The cold, separated air is then reheated and discharged from the system.
Refrigerant dryers provide a constant dew point range between 38 and 50 degrees Fahrenheit, regardless of fluctuations in inlet temperature. They can’t achieve dew points below freezing. When operating such a dryer in dirty environments, it’s recommended to use a water-cooled condenser.
Refrigerated dryers run continuously, which permits immediate response to airflow demands. They’re used for applications that require constant use at full capacity, although enough low usage can cause problems. Cycle-type refrigerated dryers don’t respond as quickly, but they use less power and conserve energy when air consumption is low. Cycling refrigerated dryers are ideal if you don’t plan to consistently use your compressor at full capacity.
- Deliquescent Dryers
Deliquescent dryers use tablets to attract moisture and then dissolve. They produce a dew point range of 40 to 80 degrees Fahrenheit, which is directly related to inlet-air temperature, as it reduces dew point by a fixed amount below inlet-air temperature. Operating costs are directly proportional to air use, consuming no desiccant when there’s no air demand. Deliquescent dryers, however, require daily refilling with deliquescent tablets.
How to Choose the Right Air Dryer
Choosing the right air dryer will increase system efficiency, increase productivity and reduce downtime. When considering the purchase of an air dryer, the following considerations may be useful:
- Flow rate: Choosing the right air dryer depends on the maximum capacity of your air compression system. Capacity is determined in SCFM at 100 PSIG and can also be approximated by multiplying the air compression horsepower times four.
- Operating pressure: The best air dryer for your needs also depends on the minimum and maximum operating pressure of your system. Dryers are rated at 100 PSIG. For every increase from 100 PSIG, capacity is reduced. As pressure increases, moisture load decreases, reducing strain on the compression system.
- Air inlet and dew point temperature: You should also consider the minimum and maximum operating air inlet temperature, based on your system, and then determine the dew point requirements. The best dryer type will meet those requirements, working effectively at a dew point temperature below the lowest ambient temperature to which the compressed air system may be exposed. You can calculate the required dew point temperature by taking the lowest air temperature and lowering it by 20 degrees. While refrigerated dryers are sufficient for most purposes, critical applications requiring low moisture in the air line may require a desiccant dryer.
- Ambient temperature: By determining the minimum and maximum operating ambient air temperature of your system, you should be able to choose between a low-temperature dryer and a high-temperature dryer. Ambient temperature above 100 degrees Fahrenheit may exceed the maximum inlet temperature of your dryer. Consider larger driers or high-temperature driers, which can withstand higher ambient temperatures during summer months. The ideal pressure dew point for your air system should be lower than the lowest ambient temperature experienced at your facility. If not, moisture will condense in the air lines. You should consider whether air lines are exposed to outdoor temperatures in summer and winter or through air-conditioned areas.
- Application and environment: A significant factor in choosing the right type of dryer involves consideration of air usage. Most applications can use a refrigerated dryer, which produces air with 10 to 20 percent relative humidity. Desiccant dryers, on the other hand, produce less than 0.5 percent relative humidity in the outlet air, and are used in higher-quality air instrumentation applications that require a pure stream of air.
Other factors to consider include weather, indoor vs. outdoor use and location. A quality air compression company should be able to help determine the best air compressor and air dryer for your facility.
Choosing the Best Air Dryer Company
When purchasing an air dryer, consider the following questions when choosing a compressor company:
- How long has the company been in business?
- Does the company manufacturer machines, or is the company only a reseller?
- Does the company sell accessories for their machines?
- Does the company have a quality service network?
- Does the company have a broad distribution network?
- Does the company have a good reputation for building quality machines?
- Are they knowledgeable about air compressors and air dryers?
With more than 30 years of experience as a market leader in air pressurization and compressed air treatment systems, The Titus Company offers one of the most comprehensive parts and service networks in the industry. We have a full line of air pressurization equipment for a variety of industries, including telecommunications and electric utility, and we also offer state-of-the-art design, maximizing reliability with reduced operating expense. We serve locations throughout Delaware, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Maryland for your convenience.
Choose The Titus Company for Your Air Dryer and Air Compression Needs
The Titus Company offers a wide selection of air compressors. No matter what your needs are, we have something to suit them. We offer only equipment and products manufactured by companies we know and trust, so you can be sure you’re getting exactly what you’re paying for.
We not only offer a wide variety of air compressors and dryers, but we also offer filters, pumps, blowers and vacuums, chillers and coolers, dust collection equipment, generators, energy management solutions and much more.
But our work doesn’t end with simply selling these high-quality products. We also have years of experience in installing and repairing these types of products. We offer a full slate of repair, maintenance, installations and emergency services to ensure our customers have less downtime and increased profitability.