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What are the different types of compressors?

After deciding that your application requires an air compressor, and working out how much air you need, how you’re going to power it, and how you’re going to drive the compressor, you need to decide which one you actually need. Fortunately, Glaston is here to help. Continue reading our helpful guide on the different types of compressors to aid your selection process.

Different types of compressors

Air compressors are vital components for applications across many industries. There are many different types of compressors, each with their own qualities, uses and advantages.

Based on their internal mechanisms, air compressors can typically be categorised as either positive displacement or dynamic. Under these two categories, there are commonly four different types of compressors, which are:

  • Reciprocating air compressor
  • Rotary screw compressor
  • Axial compressor
  • Centrifugal compressor


What is a positive displacement compressor?

Positive displacement is an umbrella term for all compressors that are powered via positive air displacement. A cavity inside the machine stores the air brought from outside, and then slowly compresses the cavity to increase the air pressure and potential energy.

Compressors of this nature can be used for a variety of construction needs.

Reciprocating air compressor

Reciprocating air compressors are a popular type of compressor. They’re typically found at smaller work sites, such as garages and home construction projects. A reciprocating air compressor is not designed for continuous use and has more moving parts than a rotary screw compressor, for example. These parts are lubricated with oil to provide smoother movement.

A reciprocating compressor works via a piston inside a cylinder, which compresses and displaces air to create pressure. They’re generally available in single or multi-stage variations, which affects the pressure ranges they can achieve. So, if you require more power, a multi-stage compressor is more suited to your needs.

Multi-stage compressors can reach up to 30 horsepower and provide the power needed for intense construction projects, like auto assembly and maintenance.

Rotary screw compressor

Rotary screw compressors work by generating energy via two internal rotors that turn in opposite directions. The air is then trapped between the rotors and builds up pressure within the housing. They are large industrial-sized machines that can be run either oil-free or lubricated with oil.

A rotary screw compressor is one of the easiest types of compressors to maintain because they’re equipped with an internal cooling system. Because of this cooling system, these types of compressors can be run continuously and can generate between five and 350 horsepower.


What is a dynamic compressor?

Dynamic compressors generate power by bringing in the air with rapidly rotating blades, then restricting the air to create pressure. The kinetic energy is then stored as static within the compressor.

These types of compressors are designed for use in large-scale projects, like chemical plants or steel manufacturing.

Axial compressor

Axial compressors are usually found in high-speed engines on aeroplanes or ships and are highly efficient and powerful. However, they can be very costly.

These types of compressors can generate thousands of horsepower, which is why they’re favoured for use in high-speed engines and aerospace applications.

Centrifugal compressor

Centrifugal compressors slow and cool the air through a diffuser in order to generate energy. Using a multi-stage compression process, these types of compressors can produce high amounts of energy even in smaller machines.

They require minimal maintenance, produce oil-free air, and can deliver up to 1,000 horsepower. This makes them useful for chemical plants and steel manufacturing.


How to choose between different types of compressors

With many different types of compressors available to choose from, there are a range of considerations you should factor into your decision making.

  • Consider air quality – Most air compressors rely on oil to lubricate the inside mechanisms, and the fumes may contaminate the air. The risk is greatly reduced when using an oil-free air compressor. Oil-free compressors do cost more than their counterparts, but they’re the only option for clean manufacturing.
  • Use energy efficiently – Variable speed driven compressors can save energy by increasing and reducing output on demand. A fixed speed compressor constantly produces the same amount of energy and requires a cool down period while the machine comes to a stop. As the unit slows down, energy is wasted.
  • Portability limitations – If you need to transport your compressor between sites a portable one is a clever option. Smaller, lightweight machines can still deliver energy, but obviously not as much as larger, more static machinery. Take this into consideration when choosing between different types of compressors.

Air compressors at Glaston

At Glaston, we boast a comprehensive portfolio of products for the production of compressed air. We make a substantial contribution to increasing the energy savings and efficiency of many manufacturing plants throughout the UK. Many satisfied clients have benefited from a successful compressed air system installed by Glaston.

Our reliable air compressor systems are designed for round the clock operations, delivering consistently high performance. Air Compressors can be applied to a vast range of industry sectors, including food, chemical, engineering, automotive and other sectors. All of our compressed air systems conform to the specified requirements of all ISO8573.1:2001 quality classes.

For the latest cutting edge products and reliable air compression systems, contact Glaston today on 01695 51010, or email us at

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