Which is better: Reciprocating or Rotary Screw?

Choosing between a reciprocating and a rotary screw air compressor depends on how you use the compressor, how much-compressed air you need, and the environment that the compressor will be operating in. This article will hopefully help you decide which air compressor will be the best option for you.

When to use a Reciprocating Air Compressor:

Reciprocating or piston-type air compressors are most suitable for applications involving short bursts of intermittent air usage. These compressors are highly recommended for homeowners, DIY enthusiasts, small machine shops, construction work, and other small businesses. They can efficiently power manual air-powered tools, handle blow-off and cleaning tasks, facilitate tire inflation and other inflatables, as well as support airbrushing and sandblasting operations.

One significant advantage of reciprocating air compressors is their resilience to being run intermittently or operated below their maximum capacity. This characteristic allows users to invest in a larger compressor that can accommodate future air requirements as their workshops grow. It is even suggested to size reciprocating compressors at 50% higher capacity than the needed CFM (Cubic Feet per Minute) to enable proper cycling and avoid excessive heat generation and wear on the motor.

A helpful tip is to include an air receiver tank, which improves energy efficiency by storing air for short, high-CFM applications like blow-off and cleaning tasks.

When to use a Rotary Screw Air Compressor:

Rotary screw air compressors excel in applications demanding a continuous and steady air supply. These robust compressors are the workhorses of various industries, powering robotic manufacturing equipment and conveyor systems with unwavering efficiency. They are specifically designed to operate nonstop, producing a consistent and powerful flow of air.

Due to the cleaner air they produce compared to reciprocating compressors, rotary screw air compressors are the preferred choice for applications requiring clean and dry air, such as paint lines, food processing, and packaging.

Fixed speed rotary screw compressors are not ideally suited for intermittent use, and they may face performance issues if not used close to their full capacity. If your compressed air demand fluctuates, but you desire the benefits of a rotary screw machine, a variable speed drive (VSD) compressor might be a better option. Unlike fixed-speed compressors that operate at a constant RPM, a VSD compressor's motor can adjust its speed based on demand, offering enhanced flexibility and efficiency.

Rotary screw compressor features:

  • Optional designs and enclosures to reduce noise levels

  • More energy efficient

  • Generates less heat

  • Functional in extreme temperatures

  • Safe and relatively small in size

  • Continuous operation with no pistons to rest for cooling

Reciprocating compressor features:

  • Produces both high power and high pressure

  • No oil carryover

  • Greater compression range

  • Better for intermittent operation

  • Most commonly used compressor

  • Lower initial set-up cost