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Rotary Screw vs. Piston Compressors – Which Will Serve You Better? Part 1

For quite some time now, compressed air has been an important utility in the regular operations of most industrial businesses. Every company is very much aware of how much air compressors are needed. However, for some who are either new or unfamiliar with compressors, it could be challenging to choose the perfect one for their operations. Which one should you get – the piston type or the rotary screw?


These are the two most popular variations or types of compressor. For you to be able to select the best one, it is vital that you know the differences, as well as the similarities between the two. While compressors could be used with a range of gases, air compression is still by far the largest application. Rotary screw compressors which are stationary probably account for 40% of the air market. Reciprocating compressors have about 21%. Let’s see how these two fare in these factors:



Rotary screw compressors are taking over almost all of the plant air market (100-150 psig) above 30hp. Experts say that it has something to do with the improvements in the performance, as well as the reliability of this particular type.


A rotary screw compressor that is well maintained can provide about a decade of dependable service, if not more. A screw compressor can also control systems with its capability for diagnostic and troubleshooting. Its ability to indicate intervals for oil change depending on the operating temperature increase longevity and reliability too.

A double acting reciprocating or piston type compressor is still the most efficient compressor there is. However, due to design innovations, machine upgrades and improved rotor profiles, rotary screw compressors are closing the gap.



Maintenance wise, rotary screw compressors are at an advantage. Why? Their compressor packages usually come with an electro-pneumatic or microprocessor-based controller. These allow the compressor to stay loaded all the time. Among the main functions of a controller is to allow for the regulation of airflow for the unit to run efficiently.


However, if your plant is experienced and with maintenance knowledge of reciprocating compressors, then they would do well to keep it and run business as usual. For new buyers though, it is important to know that reciprocating compressors usually require periodic maintenance and it is wise to be strict with their upkeep if you want them to function optimally.


There are many other factors to consider when putting rotary screw and reciprocating compressors side by side. We will soon discuss the differences and similarities between the two when it comes to lubrication and installation.

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