Air Supply UK: Specialist Compressed Air Engineers

Published: 03/05/2022

Reciprocating air compressor vs rotary screw air compressor

For a number of businesses, compressed air is an essential for day to day operations. However, knowing which air compressor is right for your needs can be difficult as there are so many different options to choose from.

When looking for an air compressor, you will probably hear of both Reciprocating air compressors and rotary screw air compressors. They are the two most commonly used air compressors and, to help you choose the right compressor for your application, we have provided a quick comparison. 

Rotary Screw air compressors 

How does a Rotary Screw air compressor work? 

Rotary screw compressors have two helical screws, or rotors inside. These rotate towards each other and compress the air between them as they turn. 

These compressors are suitable for continuous operation so they can be run for up to 24 hours a day if required. Due to a lack of friction and the oil or lubricant used within these compressors, they operate at a lower temperature which means they do not require a rest period in the same way as a Reciprocating air compressor. 

If you want to know more about how a Rotary Screw air compressor works, read our guide. 

Do Rotary Screw air compressors require maintenance? 

The moving parts within a Rotary Screw air compressor do not cause friction inside which results in minimal wear and tear and means the parts don’t need to be replaced regularly. 

The only real maintenance required for these compressors is the occasional changing of the oil filters, the air/oil separators and making sure the oil levels are still at the optimum level. As a result, Rotary Screw air compressors provide a reliable and cost effective solution for your business. 

When can you use a Rotary Screw air compressor? 

Rotary Screw air compressors have a large amount of horsepower so are better suited to larger industrial uses then lower volume use. They provide the best choice for commercial applications with the best energy efficiency and lifespan. 

These air compressors are commonly used to power manufacturing equipment and conveyor systems. In addition, the air produced is much cleaner than the air produced by Reciprocating air compressors so they can be used in food processing and manufacturing as well as applications where clean, dry air is a must. 

The advantages of a Rotary Screw air compressor 

  • Energy efficient & cost effective – Rotary Screw air compressors generate less heat than other types of compressor which makes them a much more energy efficient option for most businesses. They also require less maintenance which makes them more cost effective over the long term as replacement parts can begin to add up.  
  • Larger capacity – these compressors have the ability to deliver more air than Reciprocating air compressors of the same size. They can deliver a large amount of air on demand without the need of a reservoir tank so you will not need to wait for your air compressor to compress more air before you can continue. This can help with business efficiency and increase daily output.
  • Work longer – Rotary Screw air compressors operate at a 100% duty cycle which means they can operate continiously. Most Reciprocating air compressors are only capable of 50%.
  • Long lasting – Rotary Screw compressors last much longer than reciprocating air compressors. They are designed to prevent internal parts from wearing out so will last longer and performance will not deteriorate throughout the lifetime of the compressor. 

Learn more about the advantages and disadvantages of a Rotary Screw air compressor in our guide. 

Reciprocating air compressors

How do Reciprocating air compressors work? 

Reciprocating air compressors, also known as Piston air compressors are one of the most common types of air compressors and the principle has been used for hundreds of years. These compressors work by using a piston to generate and compress air. 

This type of compressor offers an efficient, easy to maintain and is an all round performer for a range of general use applications. If you need an air compressor for intermittent use and small amounts of compressed air, this is the perfect solution. 

Reciprocating air compressors generate heat between 150-200 degrees Celsius, which means they can only be used intermittently to avoid overheating. The high number of moving parts inside the compressor mean that more heat is generated than within a Rotary Screw air compressor. 

Do Reciprocating air compressors require maintenance? 

As we have already mentioned, Reciprocating air compressors have more moving parts which means there is more likely to be wear and tear if regular maintenance is not carried out. It’s important to maintain your compressor to avoid expensive repairs in the future. 

When can you use a Reciprocating air compressor?

Due to the small amount of horsepower provided, Reciprocating air compressors are more suitable for lower volume usage rather than industrial applications. This makes them the most efficient choice for light use applications. 

These compressors are suited to small machine shops, construction work and other small businesses. They can also be used for running manual air power tools and for blow off and cleaning, tyre inflation, airbrushing and sandblasting. 

The advantages of a Reciprocating air compressor 

Reciprocating air compressors provide a number of benefits: 

  • Provides both high power and high pressure 
  • Provides a greater compression range 
  • Work well for intermittent operation 
  • Carry a lower initial set up cost

Reciprocating air compressor vs Rotary Screw air compressor: How to choose 

When you’re deciding between a Rotary Screw or Reciprocating air compressor for your business, it’s important to focus on your business requirements. 

Factors to consider include: 

  • Applications 
  • Duty cycle
  • Power 
  • Maintenance 
  • Energy efficiency 
  • Initial and ongoing costs 

For large industrial environments, we recommend rotary screw air compressors. However, if you work in a smaller workshop, we would recommend a Reciprocating air compressor. 

If you’d like more information on how a rotary screw air compressor could benefit your application, please contact our expert team

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