Shops use air compressors to power their pneumatic drills, lifts, paint guns, car washes and everything in between. There's no question about it: Air is everywhere.
Now packed with more features than ever, air compressors let techs take on more demanding jobs with more hp, more cfm, more psi and longer run times. From 5 hp to 50 hp, compressor companies have units to suit most needs.
THE FOURTH UTILITY
There are few things as simple — and necessary — as air. And in true form to energy-saving campaigns, compressors are receiving constant upgrades.
"[Manufacturers] have increased the price, but also the competitiveness," said Dana Schrack, vice president of Mi-T-M Corp. "This business is an old business. There are even companies that sell air to the large car manufacturers. They'll go in there and put huge systems in and sell them just like you would buy your electricity and water … that's how important air is these days.
"We have a big plant facility out here, and when we lose an air compressor we're not able to ship products because our lasers depend on air, [as do] all our power tools, assembly lines, etc. — that's why I call it a 'fourth utility.' And I think that some day, this concept of selling air is going to expand in the market."
STOP ALL THE NOISE
So where to start? With so many applications requiring air to function, it pays to compare compressors, see what's out there, and weigh the pros and cons. Typical compressor models include single-stage and two-stage, reciprocating and rotary screw — to name a few.
"Rotary screw compressors are 100-percent duty cycle and operate at much cooler temperatures," said Pat Reilly, national sales administration manager at Kaeser Compressors Inc. "They never need to 'cycle down' and cool off. Plus, most have much lower noise levels, allowing shop owners more flexibility in unit placement and often eliminating the need for special rooms or foundations."
In addition to a quiet run, "Screw compressors have two helical screws that mesh but do not touch — so there are no seals or rings to break down," said Reilly. "Today's screw compressors feature replaceable inlet air and oil filters that help remove contaminants. A little routine maintenance goes a long way in improving air quality and tool life."
Whereas reciprocating models are "your old reliable, been-around-forever compressor," according to Dian Sommers, senior product specialist at Champion/Gardner Denver, she said that "price-wise they're a lot cheaper; noise-wise they're louder."
The price point for these two compressors will vary. However, buyers can generally expect to start at $1,500 for a high-quality, smaller model with reciprocating compressor. Rotary screw models start out at around $4,000 for the same thing.
"There's a big price-point difference here, and that [often] makes a determining factor on what people buy," said Sommers.
THE TWO FACES OF DUPLEX
Tuning already-reliable models to make them more energy efficient, or easier to install, allows manufacturers to stay on the cutting edge.
Just like its name indicates, the duplex unit is two air compressors — two electric motors — on one tank, in one package.
"What happens is you always have a backup," said Sommers. "So if you order a 10 horsepower, you have a five horsepower pump on one side and a five horsepower pump on the other, and when they turn on you've got 10 horsepower of air."
The duplex is "very popular, especially in automotive," said Sommers. "If you only have requirement for five horsepower, only one compressor's running. When that happens you save money. It only turns on both units when there's a requirement for 10 horsepower."