Air Compressors: How They Work For Various Applications

Posted on29/09/2022

Air compressors are ubiquitous in both the industrial and home workshop setting. They offer a versatile set of functions, such as powering tools like nail guns or spray painters and can also be used to inflate tires or as a general-purpose clean air supply. But how do air compressors work? This article will explain how an air compressor works and why it is such a valuable piece of machinery.

Air compressors can be powered by electricity, gasoline, or diesel.

  • Electric air compressors are the most common type, typically smaller and more portable than gas-powered models.
  • Gas-powered air compressors are more powerful and can be used for heavy-duty applications, such as construction work. 
  • Diesel-powered air compressors are the most significant and most potent type but also the most expensive.

There are many factors to consider when buying an air compressor. No matter what type of air compressor you have, it is crucial to maintain it properly to ensure that it works properly and lasts for many years. Be sure to read the owner's manual for your specific model so that you know how to care for it properly.

How does an air compressor work?

The process of air compression is used in a variety of applications, from powering hand tools to operating large machinery. At its most basic, air compression is taking in air at atmospheric pressure and then releasing it at a higher pressure. This increase in pressure is achieved through a series of mechanical steps, which can be broadly divided into five significant steps:

  •       Intake
  •       Compression
  •       Integrated storage
  •       Integrated cooling
  •       Discharge

The intake step involves drawing in air from the surrounding atmosphere, which is then moved into the compressor, where a series of pistons or rotors compress it. The compressed air is then stored in an integrated storage tank, which can be used as needed. In some cases, an integrated cooling system may also cool the air.  Finally, the air is released from the storage tank and discharged into the atmosphere at a higher pressure than when it first drew it in. 

While the air compression process may seem relatively simple, it plays a critical role in many applications. By understanding how air compressors work, you can ensure that your equipment always operates at peak efficiency.

Why are air compressors useful?

Air compressors are helpful because they allow energy storage in a small space. By compressing air, you are effectively increasing its density, which makes storing large amounts of energy in a relatively small tank. Compressed air is often used as a power source for tools like drills and spray painters. It is also used in many industrial settings where heavy machinery needs to be operated.

Uses of air compressors 

Air compressors are used in various industries because they have many applications. For example, Contractors use air compressors to power tools such as jackhammers, drills, and staple guns. Engineers use air compressors to power pneumatic tools and to test prototypes. And industrial factory purchasers use them to run assembly lines.

The difference between oil-lubricated and oil-free air compressors

Oil lubricated air compressors use a small amount of oil to help keep the compressor's parts cool and moving smoothly. This oil also collects moisture and dirt from the air, which can cause problems if not properly filtered. On the other hand, oil-free air compressors do not use any oil in the compression process, making them more maintenance-free and less efficient. 

There are two types of air compressors displacement - positive displacement and negative displacement.

Positive displacement compressors work by trapping a volume of air in a chamber and then reducing the size of that chamber to increase the pressure of the trapped air. 

Negative displacement compressors draw air into the chambers and force it out by compressing it.

Types of air compressors and how they work

1. Reciprocating Compressors: Reciprocating compressors are perhaps the most common type of air compressor found in industrial settings. They use a piston to compress air in a chamber, much like an internal combustion engine works. The piston is attached to a crankshaft turned by an electric motor or gas engine. As the crankshaft turns, the piston moves up and down, compressing air in the chamber.

Reciprocating compressors are available in both single-stage and two-stage models. 

  •       Single-stage models are typically used for applications requiring lower pressures, such as in domestic settings. 
  •       Two-stage models are more commonly used in industrial environments, achieving higher pressures. 
2. Rotary Screw Compressors: Rotary screw compressors use two rotating screws (hence the name) to compress air. As the screws turn, they trap air in a chamber and force it through a series of small holes, squeezing it as it goes. These compressors are often used in industrial settings because they can run for hours at a time without needing to be shut down for maintenance. They're typically used in applications requiring higher pressures, achieving more excellent compression ratios than reciprocating compressors.

Rotary screw compressors are available in both oil-lubricated and oil-free models. Oil-lubricated models require less maintenance than oil-free models but may be more expensive to operate due to the cost of lubrication oil. 

3. Centrifugal Compressors: Centrifugal compressors use an impeller (rotor type) to draw air into a central chamber. The impeller spins at high speeds, causing the air to flow outward from the chamber's centre. The centrifugal force created by the spinning impeller compresses the air as it flows outward. Centrifugal compressors are typically used where very high pressures are required and in large-scale industrial applications, such as natural gas pipelines.


An air compressor is a mechanical device that transforms power - electricity, diesel, gasoline, or natural gas - into kinetic energy by compressing and pressurising air. Air compressors are used in various industries, including manufacturing, construction, and mining.

Air compression is a vital process in many industries, and a thorough understanding of the basics is essential for anyone involved in its operation.

So, which type of air compressor is right for your application? It depends on several factors, including the required pressure, desired flow rate, and budget. Be sure to consult with an expert before making your final decision. 

Hopefully, this information has helped you understand the basics of how these machines operate. Please browse our catalogue today to find the best air compressor in Singapore! We also offer a reliable solution for a wide range of wet and dry vacuum cleaners. If you have questions about our products, don't hesitate to contact us today!


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