Piston vs. Rotary Screw Compressors: What’s the Difference?

The right compressor can add a great deal of value to your supply chain. Knowing which type to invest in upfront can save you trouble down the line, and better yet, help with the company bottom line as well. Piston and Rotary Screw are two common types of industrial compressors, both of which serve different purposes. If you’ve got your eye on one of these, or both, it’s worth knowing what the differences between the two are, in order to make a more informed decision about how it can help make your business operations as efficient as possible.

Piston Compressors

Piston compressors, also known as reciprocating compressors, are typically designed to displace gas as a result of increasing levels of pressure. These are the most commonly used type of compressors on the market, and are highly efficient at increasing the pressure of an enclosed volume of air or gas. Primarily, these compressors contain one or more cylinders, alongside pistons (hence the name) which move in cycles from within the entire system. The way it operates is somewhat comparable to an internal combustion engine. Piston compressors usually last for about 10 000 hours before it has to be rebuilt. Because this is significantly less than Rotary Screw compressors, they are generally cheaper upfront.

Rotary Screw Compressors

Rotary Screw compressors on the other hand, are also gas compressors, but they go about serving their purpose in a different way to the counterpart mentioned earlier. These compressors use rotary type positive displacement mechanisms in order to reduce the volume of trapped air as it moves through the various rotors contained within the machinery. This reduction in volume leads to compressed air, which is generally used to operate power tools, as well as a host of other applications. Rotary Screw compressors last exponentially longer than Piston compressors, typically around 70 000 hours, which also drives up the price in comparison to their counterparts.

Other Differentiating Factors

Although it’s worth mentioning initial costs to buy these compressors, it’s even more important to factor in maintenance costs as well. Pistons might have lower initial costs, but Rotary Screw compressors are far cheaper to maintain due to their longevity. Pistons are ideal for low daily running hours, mainly because they are limited in their duty cycles. Rotary Screw compressors can handle long duty cycles, and may even be able to run all day, every day without too many problems. Noise levels should also be considered, especially if they will be used in an open plan environment. The right Piston compressor can be low noise, but typically Rotary Screw compressors are slightly less noisy based on their internal mechanics.

Getting Your Hands on Either Compressor Type

The Capstone Engineering team knows all about pairing the right compressors with the right businesses, having done so in the South African market for over four decades already. We would go as far as calling compressors “our game”, whether you’re on the market for either of the two premium products we’ve mentioned here, or their electric, diesel or petrol counterparts. From manufacturing through to the pharmaceutical industry, we’ve got you covered based on your specific needs. So what will it be, a Piston or a Rotary Screw compressor?

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