Air compressors are efficient and versatile devices used to convert power into energy stored in pressurised air. The power can originate from a variety of sources including electric or diesel-powered motors.
The air compression process is achieved by the air compressor forcing air into its storage tank up to a defined limit, at which point it switches off. The kinetic energy produced by this bank of compressed air can then be used to in turn power an extensive range of other items.
Air compressors come in a variety of designs and sizes, from air positive displacement designs like rotary screw models, vane, piston air compressors and reciprocating air compressors through to dynamic air compressor units including centrifugal and axial, typically used in large manufacturing facilities.
Why choose compressed air?
Compressed air is often called the fourth utility. It is a safe option, reducing the risk of electric shock in the workplace. An air compressor is also usually more mobile than other power sources and can be moved around a site easily and quickly.
Pneumatic tools weigh less than their electric counterparts, and are usually cheaper and more robust, requiring less maintenance.
In the case of fixed-point compressed air systems, these are also easier to install and cost less than electric grids. They are easily modified to create multiple points of use.
So, where and what are air compressors used for?
Air compressors are used in almost every corner of commerce and industry to provide pressurised air. They’re also used around the home for domestic appliances and in the leisure world, providing reliable and safe sources of power.
In the construction industry
Air compressors are of particular use on construction sites where there might be reduced access to other sources of power such as electricity. This removes the need to run a generator.
They can be relied upon to provide an uninterrupted power source in remote areas for a wide range of equipment including hand tools like drills and hammers as well as larger pieces of equipment.
Across manufacturing in general
It is estimated that some 90% of manufacturing businesses use compressed air as an integral part of their production systems and processes. A compressed air system provides a reliable and safe source of power in workshops, factories, assembly plants and other environments to keep the business on the move.
As well as air tools, cutting and welding equipment and other pneumatic devices, compressed air is often the power behind conveyor belts, presses, automated processes, complex packaging equipment and other manufacturing plant.
In the agricultural world
Much of the machinery used in agriculture is mobile by nature. A lot of this equipment is powered by air compressors and pressurised air, including tractors, crop sprayers and pumping systems, providing consistent and cost-effective performance in use.
Other typical applications include venting systems for greenhouses and animal quarters and the complex machinery and equipment used in milking parlours for dairy farms.
Food & beverage manufacture
Food manufacturing requires compressed air which is proven to be free of contaminants for any applications coming into contact with food. This air is tested regularly to ensure it complies with the relevant BS and ISO standards.
Applications for air compressors include packaging processes, automated devices, filling and cleaning equipment, as well as air cleaning containers, canning, sorting and conveyors.
Heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC)
The air compressor is one of the most important components in any air conditioning system. Types of compressors include reciprocating, scroll, screw, rotary and centrifugal air conditioning compressors.
The compressor acts as an intermediate between the evaporator unit, which is built into the air conditioner, and the condenser unit which is usually located on an exterior wall.
Different kinds of HVAC compressors are used in HVAC systems throughout industry as well as for domestic applications. They provide compressed air for different purposes depending upon requirements and environments.
For spray painting applications
Small air compressors are commonly used in spray painting, from creative applications to commercial spray guns used for vehicle painting or to apply industrial coatings.
Methods include air-atomized applications, using compressed air to project fluids evenly over larger areas, airless spray with a high transfer efficiency rate and HVLP (high volume, low pressure) spraying for a fine and even spray pattern.
Offshore oil & gas operations
Offshore oil and gas need air compressors and pressurised air to operate drilling equipment safely and reliably with spark-free processes and stable output. Using compressors in extraction processes can raise oil and gas recovery rates by 40-50%.
The industry typically uses reciprocating and centrifugal air compressors for applications ranging from gas lift and gas gathering through to flare gas recovery, as well as processing applications, transmission and distribution and even reducing gas volumes by compression for storage or shipment.
Pressure washing applications require compressed air to produce pressurised water which is used for a variety of cleaning purposes.
From garden decking and commercial car and truck washes to more challenging applications like degreasing industrial floors, preparing surfaces and flushing out drains and ducts, air compressors provide a valuable and mobile source of clean air power capable of matching these requirements.
The pharma industries
The pharmaceuticals industry is highly regulated and automated, demanding precise and reliable operation which is clean and oil-free.
Oil-free air compressors provide the vital power behind conveyor systems, bottling and packaging processes and specialist processes such as nitrogen separation and tablet drying and coating.
Mining industries worldwide
Air compressors provide safe, robust and convenient energy sources for the mining industry. They are used in applications including blasting, transporting materials (fluidisation), cleaning, ventilation of deep mine tunnels where fumes and dust pose health risks and also the extraction of methane gas and coal dust.
Compressed air is also vital for refuge stations in mines where miners have access to life support systems and communications.
Working with wood and metal
Air compressors play a vital role in carpentry, woodworking and metalworking, with facilities requiring compressed air for applications like sanding and cleaning through to powering pneumatic air tools like nail guns. Many DIY projects also benefit from the use of small domestic air compressors for personal and commercial use.
As with all workshop applications, air compressors provide a safe and reliable power source for air tools which is also mobile and flexible.
Railway & transport networks
Trains on our rail networks use compressed air brakes and friction brakes where compressed air is used to press on a piston, applying pressure to the brake pad or shoe to stop the vehicle smoothly, safely and effectively. On our roads, larger trucks also operate air brakes for safety and efficiency.
Air compressors are also used in carriage suspension systems and for the mechanisms which open and close automatic doors.
Hospitals and healthcare
Compressed air is used across our health services, from hospitals through to dental surgeries where it is used to clear debris. In hospitals, air compressors are used in routine maintenance as well as the delivery of front-line care.
Specialised air compressors are used for the transportation of medical gases. Medical air compressors play a vital role in helping patients with respiratory infections and breathing difficulties. Air compressors also help to deliver clean air supplies throughout hospital buildings.
Compressed air filtration systems are used to control the spread of airborne diseases, and breathing ventilators use compressed air to supply oxygen to patients whose respiratory functions may be compromised. Equipment like variable-height hospital beds, operating tables and examination couches use compressed air to power their movement in a smooth and controlled manner.
Breathing air compressors
Breathing air quality, high-pressure air compressors are used to fill the oxygen tank diving cylinders used in scuba diving to enable divers to stay underwater, as well as other applications such as firefighters requiring oxygen when entering enclosed spaces during firefighting operations.
Air inflation processes
As well as using air compressors to inflate vehicle tyres, vehicle workshops also require compressed air to remove tyres and to air-clean rust and debris. Small air compressors – even domestic versions – are used for inflatable pools, vehicle and bicycle tyres and air beds, for both personal and commercial use.
Compressed air as an energy source is clean and easily available. This is why many industries are increasingly switching to pneumatic sources and air compressors to power their processes.
As well as safety and reliability, air compressors have an additional benefit; they can store energy to support fluctuations in power supplies. Air compressor systems can be designed to easily accommodate individual requirements, both constant and fluctuating use for reliable and consistent energy supplies.
Low service costs, improved productivity, mobility for remote sites, location flexibility and cleanliness all add to the benefits of choosing compressed air to power equipment.
It’s a relatively cheap power source with lower operating costs that can handle high loads over long periods without overheating. It is also suitable for manufacturing processes where hygiene and cleanliness standards are paramount.
The fourth utility – is a clean and safe source of energy with applications in every corner of commerce and industry.