An air compressor is a pneumatic device that supplies the airflow for all equipment in a system. It functions by converting power into potential energy stored in pressurized air using an electric motor, gasoline engine, etc. In the current era of pneumatics, air compressors are essential for operations in factories and workshops worldwide. As opposed to pumps, they are a relatively more recent invention over the course of the development of machining history.
The predecessors of air compressors were mostly tools powered by complicated systems with wheels, belts, and other cumbersome components; the machines were huge, heavy, and costly back in the days and were typically unfit for many small projects. Today, air compressors are available in a variety of shapes and sizes which can be fitted on any shop floor, including workshops of all sizes and even your garage.
Following the above, knowing the defining features of an air compressor will help you choose the right unit amongst all the different models in the market:
● An oil-free model is available to greatly reduce maintenance.
● For quieter models, opt for a belt-drive unit rather than a direct-drive unit.
● For continuous usage, most models are equipped with thermal protection to prevent motor damage from overloads.
● For portable applications, opt for a portable air compressor rather than a stationary unit.
● An air compressor comes with the relative accessories and tools, such as hoses, blow guns, and nailers. Not all air compressors come with hoses, however.
● An air compressor allows you to expand air storage capacity. You simply need to purchase an auxiliary air tank.
The mechanism of air compressors can be better explained by addressing the two kinds of piston configurations: the single-stage and two-stage designs.
● Single-Stage Air Compressor: For applications in the workshops or homes, single-stage, single-piston air compressors are the most commonly used models. When powered, a piston is driven by either an electric motor or gasoline engine, which compresses air and sends it into a storage tank. As the piston forces more air in, the air pressure continues to rise to a certain point where the compressor eventually stops running. The stored air is then used to power a tool, and the compressor subsequently builds air pressure back up again.
● Two-Stage Air Compressor: Two-stage air compressors come with two pistons, one of which compresses the air and forces it through a check valve to the other one, which further compresses it and delivers it to the tank. The two-stage models are usually massive, heavy-duty units that are capable of delivering a great volume of air at higher PSI. They are particularly ideal for successive uses in shops or to power multiple tools at once.
Air displacement can be seen as the cornerstone of the compression mechanism of an air compressor. There are two preliminary types of air displacement used for pushing air through the chamber of an air compressor:
● Positive displacement: Most air compressors adopt the positive displacement method by which air is pulled into a chamber. The machine reduces the volume of the chamber to compress the air first, then the air is sent into a storage tank and stored for later use.
● Dynamic displacement: This method is also referred to as non-positive displacement, which uses an impeller with rotating blades to send air into the chamber. Air compressors with dynamic displacement can generate a substantial volume of air. Hence, they are often used for turbochargers in automobiles.
An air compressor has many uses. It acts as a source of air supply for filling up something from as simple as inflatable toys to dedicated power tools. Some of the devices that often work hand-in-hand with compressed air power include drills, grinders, nail guns, sanders, spray guns, staplers, etc. Compared with other power sources, air compressors are more lightweight and compact, making them a lot easier to move than older machinery. They also have a long life and require less maintenance.
To elaborate more, high-pressure air compressors are often used for supplying clean air for driving the pneumatic HVAC control system valves of offices and school buildings. They are also commonly used for filling up high-pressure air tanks, tires, or as a major source of power supply in a large-scale industrial system (e.g., oxidation for petroleum coking).
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