How to Select an Air Compressor for Your Shop

December 5, 2020 9:00 am


Compressed air systems generate pressurized air and deliver it either continuously or intermittently to power hand tools and certain functions of machine tools like CNC machines. Many applications carried out in a machine shop require an air compressor.

Air compressors are used differently depending on the type of shop, but in machine shops, they’re used with grinders, air guns, routers, mills, lathes, and more.

In this article, we’ll review the main types of air compressors commonly used within machine shops and manufacturing facilities. We’ll discuss some considerations to make when planning a purchase, review the challenges of using air compressors, and as always, provide some recommendations for the best models.

Professional Air Compressors

These are systems designed for small pneumatic devices, like pneumatic grinders for example. Professional air compressors are more powerful than consumer style air compressors as they are used in job shops and for commercial setups.

If this is the type of compressor you are going to be using in your shop, one thing we recommend keeping in mind when making your selection is portability. You will likely need to move the air compressor around, so make sure to select a model that fits that need.

Compressed Air Systems for Industrial Use

Compressed air is used with CNC machine tools in several different ways. The first being to clear chips, dust, oil, and other contaminants. Contaminants, when not removed properly, will interfere with the performance of the cutting tools and thus the overall application. So, the compressed air ensures a clean surface.

In addition to clearing unwanted materials, compressed air is also used to activate tool changes. Rapid clamping is one of the many operations that is completely sustained by compressed air.

Lastly, there are robotic movements within CNC machines that rely on air compressors, specifically motions like lifting and placing parts.

Factors to Consider

The size of the air compressor tank will greatly impact its performance. If your machine tool needs steady air flow for longer periods of time, a smaller air compressor that provides short bursts of air won’t be a good option.

Definitely pay attention to the CFM requirements (cubic feet per minute). In machine shops, those metrics should be on the higher side, so make sure you check what your machine tool CFM requirements are so you select a compressor that can deliver accordingly.

What power supply will support your air compressor? Will it run on gas or electric power? These decisions will also impact your options.

The last suggestion would be to look into oil vs oil-free options. Oil compressors and oil-free compressors both come with their fair share of pros and cons so do your homework.

Challenges of Using Air Compressors

A major problem with air compressors is their noise. Here are some key, controllable factors, that influence how noisy the system will be.

  • Gas-powered air compressors are louder than electric ones.
  • The more moving parts within the air compressor system, the louder it will be.
  • The environment the air compressor lives in greatly impacts the noise. For example, smooth floors and large open areas will amplify the noise.

If you have the ability to purchase an air compressor with controlled noise, do it. Why? Because noise disturbance can create a chaotic work environment and significantly impact morale. Severe noise pollution from air compressors can also make employees susceptible to NIHL (noise induced hearing loss), among other hearing disorders.

All air compressors come with a decibel rating that rates the level of noise made by the machine. Most air compressors today are somewhere in the 40dB-90dB range. The lower the dB rating, the better.

If your employees are expressing concern about the noise pollution in your facility, please take it seriously and consider how to make the situation better. Or, if you are a concerned employee, feel confident to bring it up to your management. It is a viable concern!

Types of Air Compressors

Beyond the factors mentioned above, an important decision to make is whether a rotary screw compressor or reciprocating compressor is best for your needs. You can learn more about the pros and cons of each type here.

Recommended Models

Industrial Air Cast Iron Air Compressor

Industrial Air IV7568075 Vertical 80 gallon Two Stage Cast Iron Industrial Air Compressor

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This air compressor has an integrated control panel for added control and convenience. The Industrial Air cast iron air compressor offers an expertly designed heavy duty, 7.5 HP motor that operates on 460 volts.

Quincy Reciprocating Air Compressor

Quincy QT-54 Splash Lubricated Reciprocating Air Compressor

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The Quincy reciprocating air compressor features an industrial-grade, US-made Baldor motor. This compressor is built for efficiency and lowers operating costs, producing more compressed air at a lower horsepower. This compressor also boasts a 30,000-hour pump life rating.

Ingersoll Rand Rotary Screw Compressor

Ingersoll Rand Rotary Screw Compressor

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The technology in this rotary screw compressor allows it to operate for extended periods of time at very low temperatures, making it ideal for industrial applications. This compressor has a full sheet metal enclosure to manage noise.

California Air Tools Ultra Quiet & Oil-Free Air Compressor

California Air Tools 20020 Ultra Quiet & Oil

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This oil-free air compressor is designed to be one of the quietest air compressors in the industry with 70 decibels of sound. The pump is designed to have a life cycle of 3,000+ hours. The two, no flat wheels and sturdy handle make moving this air compressor very easy. Designed for metalworkers looking for power, air flow and at least 30% less noise.

HPDAVV Rotary Screw Air Compressor

HPDAVV Rotary Screw Compressor

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This is the most intense option made for heavy-duty, large industrial situations. This rotary screw compressor operates without the elevated vibration and sound levels normally associated with typical piston compressors. HPDAVV compressors are built to provide exceptional reliability and extremely low maintenance.

Important Information

If you are investing in an air compressor, do it the right way. There are a couple accessories that are truly must-haves.

Dryer: A lot of moisture develops during the air compression process. You never want water or moisture to make its way into your machine because metal plus moisture equals rust. It is imperative that you pair your air compressor with a dryer to keep that compressed air dry.

There are different air compressor dryer types. The main difference between them is the agent that they require to dry the air that moves through. The different air dryers match up with different air compressors, so it is important you know which dryer is compatible with your air compressor system. The dryer systems best for machine shops are as follows:

Learn more about which dryer is right for your application and compatible with your air compressor here.


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1 Comment

  • Jane yu says:

    A very comprehensive sharing. The selection of air compressors is also very important to the brand. There are many things to read, but I hope that a more detailed comparison article can be published next time, so that you can understand more comprehensively.

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