Air compressors are found in a wide range of environments for an even wider range of uses. You’ll see gas stations offering compressed air to inflate your vehicle’s tires and your tire shop using compressed air with an air tool to remove your tires. You may have seen small desktop air compressors used with an airbrush or a trailer-style gas-powered air compressor at a construction site powering jackhammers and concrete compactors.
In fact, you’ve likely been around many different kinds of air compressors and didn’t even know it — they may be hidden away in your refrigerator or the HVAC system at your local arena.
Air compressors have a multitude of uses for leisure and maintenance at home or in businesses to get work done efficiently and safely. The pressure that comes from compressed air has so many uses that we’re sure to leave out a few applications, but we have compiled a lengthy list that will widen your knowledge about the various ways that air compressors are used in a multitude of environments.
Different applications call for different types of air compressors and while there are many types of compressors in size and power supply, you will find two main designs for the majority of air compressors: reciprocating piston air compressors and rotary screw air compressors.
In these two designs you’ll find several models offering a selection ranging from the low pressure air in a small storage tank sufficient to pump up your bike or car tires to the ultimate power of pressurized air that will supply a heavy manufacturing facility with constant and reliable air for plant operations.
Unless you work in manufacturing or another industrial setting, you’re probably most familiar with reciprocating piston air compressors, but you may not have seen all the variations of this air compressor design. The tank can be vertical or horizontal, can be a single cylinder tank or double cylinder and can be a portable design with wheels to easily move around or a stationary model that stays in one place.
Air compressors can be grouped into three classifications: consumer grade, professional grade and industrial grade.
- Consumer grade air compressors can be described as a pancake or single-stage model. They’re used for household tasks like inflating tires and inflatable products and possibly some low-load air tools like staplers and brad guns.
- Professional grade air compressors provide more power and higher pressurized air. They could be two-stage reciprocating models or rotary screw models and can provide more power to run several air tools at once with intermittent use.
- Industrial grade air compressors will be the workhorse of a manufacturing plant or the reliable power source on an oil rig. They are designed to provide a steady flow of compressed air for long periods of time and can take fluctuating surges in use typical in major manufacturing plants. These compressors are built with high-quality components that allow for customization to the specific environment to improve performance, energy efficiency and reliability.
We’ll start small and personal by going over the typical air compressor applications at home.
Compressed Air Power at Home
Personal use of compressed air comes in many forms. For fun or profit, having an air compressor at your home will make many maintenance tasks easy to do yourself and allow for creative expression with hobbies and professional artistry. Any use at home will be covered with the selection of sizes and power offered in a reciprocating piston design.
The reciprocating piston air compressor is the most common type of compressor you’ll see, especially in any small shop setting or for use at home. These work by increasing air pressure by reducing the space that contains the air.
If you’re familiar with the workings of an internal combustion engine, then you are already familiar with the way a piston air compressor works. It has a cylinder, valve head, crankshaft and connecting rod and piston that moves up and down compressing air to be delivered to the storage tank. This type of air compressor can be powered by either an electric motor or a gas engine, which allows for remote uses and ease of mobility.
Most home-use air compressors will be small enough to be moved around on wheels or carried around. If you have a home shop using pneumatic tools, a bigger sized stationary tank would provide a better air source. In the reciprocating piston design there is also the option of a single-stage or a two-stage model — the two-stage models would provide a more powerful air supply with a higher PSIG rating.
An Air Compressor for Every Home Shop
Anyone who has set up a shop at home will likely have a use for an air compressor. Whether you’re working with wood, outdoor power equipment, precision painting or your own vehicle, an air compressor will be there helping you get the job done.
From the small hand held air compressor to the stationary 60+ gallon tank model, you’ll find all sorts of ways people are using compressed air for fun and to get work done around home. Here’s a list of the little and big hobbies, maintenance or repairs that may use compressed air:
- Blowing up balloons or inflatable products
- Adding air to tires on bikes and on vehicles
- Cleaning crevices and tight spaces on equipment or other durable items with directed air pressure
- Painting with an airbrush for small precision projects or on larger surfaces like bikes and the body of vehicles and recreational vehicles
- Using various pneumatic tools for home projects
Compressed Air Power in Business
From small business applications to large industrial uses, compressed air can be a necessity for running a business efficiently. Many companies use compressed air like an energy source, powering equipment and tools for a more reliable and efficient utility. Smaller businesses will be able to provide higher quality and quicker services with the use of an air compressor, from the simple task of inflating tired to the more demanding nature of an a manufacturing operation.
Small and Mid-Sized Business Needs for Compressed Air
The most common application for a reciprocating air compressor in smaller businesses is to power pneumatic tools. These types of tools are favored over their electric equivalents for their lighter weight and safer operation. Tools powered by electricity generate heat and can overheat or short out with continuous use.
With their strong history in industrial and manufacturing settings, air-powered tools have grown increasingly common in small businesses, especially in the construction industry. Almost every electric power tool is also made to operate using compressed air.
Businesses that provide small engine service, auto service, recreational activities and dental services can all be using compressed air to deliver their services to customers. Although producing compressed air can be expensive, you should always be aware of the most efficient way to have your system provide the right amount of compressed air at the appropriate pressure for the lowest cost. On average, it takes about seven or eight horsepower (hp) of electrical energy to produce one hp of compressed air energy.
Quincy Compressor designs its product with energy efficiency and the environment in mind and we have several models that offer considerable savings in operation over conventional air compressor designs.
Here are some of the typical air compressor applications of small- and medium-sized businesses:
- Painting vehicles in an auto body shop
- Sanding in an auto body shop or in woodworking
- Making snow at ski hills or for entertainment uses
- Using pneumatic nail guns for roofing
- Providing dental and medical services
- Using pneumatic drills and hammers on construction sites
- Powering various air tools in an automotive repair shop
- Using an air blowgun to clean machinery
- Sandblasting in a machine shop and manufacturing facilities
Industrial Uses for Compressed Air
Compressed air is the only option for some industries that require the safety of a non-heat producing power source and a reliable flow of that power. Since the first mechanical air compressor was manufactured in the early 1800s, the demand for compressed air systems has steadily grown from the specific beginnings of better equipping the mining and metal fabrication industry to a necessity in almost all industries. It’s often thought of as the fourth utility following electric, water, and gas.
This consistently growing demand has also driven advancement in the engineering of air compressors and vacuum products. When Quincy Compressor started operations nearly 100 years ago, we designed a few models of high quality reciprocating air compressors that served our customers and their various applications.
In 1970, we added the rotary screw technology to our line in response to the increasing use of compressed air for industrial environments. Efficient and reliable performance was needed for some of the most demanding applications like energy exploration, food and beverage processing and manufacturing. All air compressors perform the same basic function — they increase the pressure and reduce the volume of a gas, like air. However, each of our models has been designed with specific applications in mind to deliver a solution for production requirements.
Both our reciprocating piston and our rotary screw air compressor represent the best air compressor for every industry. Here is a list that shows the wide range of uses for industrial-sized air compressors for almost any application.
For productive and profitable farming operations, compressed air provides long-lasting performance and a low cost of ownership. Compressed air is used for:
- Moving feed and grain to and from silos with conveyors
- Glasshouse ventilation systems
- Spraying crops
- Powering dairy machines
- Operating pneumatic material handling equipment
Whether in refineries, plastics, assembly plants or metal fabrication, an air compression system is the central power source that keeps a business in production. Powerful air compressors aid in production by:
- Operating air tools on production lines
- Cutting and welding equipment
- Ejecting pieces from production molds
- Monitoring production
- Adjusting roller and feed machinery
- Blowing a molded gas tank or plastic bottle
- Efficiently performing basic tasks such as driving screws and turning nuts
- Increasing production efficiency with air cylinders that power positioners, clamps, air chucks, and air knives
- Finishing and packaging with pneumatic devices used for liquid padding, carton stapling, appliance sanding, dry powder transporting and fluidizing
- Sandblasting and finishing metal
- Operating automated machinery
Reliable air supply and a dependable system are required for this industry, which demands quality cleaning of garments. Compressed air is used for:
- Delivering chemical applications through cleaning guns
- Operating laundry presses and steam cleaners
Remaining clean, dry and oil-free are top priorities for this highly regulated industry that needs precision equipment and high performance systems. An air compressor setup works by:
- Moving product on conveyor systems
- Spraying coatings on pharmaceuticals
- Maintaining pressure in mixing and holding tanks
- Bottling and packaging products
The remote nature of this industry requires the most dependable power to minimize repair and maintenance costs. An air compressor will be:
- Powering pneumatic tools and equipment in onshore and offshore operations
- Compensating for motion caused by turbulent seas
- Inserting and withdrawing reactor rods
- Controlling valves in steam and coolant circuits remotely
- Powering ventilation systems for boiler houses
All types of food and beverage manufacturing uses air compressor systems for various production tasks. They need contaminate-free and consistent compressed air to run their constant operations. Compressed air is used for:
- Packing and palleting products
- Closing and checking devices
- Filling equipment for drinks
- Cooling and freezing products
Having power in the form of compressed air provides end-users with much more control over usage and air quality since it is generated on-site. Around 90 percent of all manufacturing companies use compressed air in their production and plant processes in some form.
Due to the long lists above of the many uses of an air compressor, you can already guess that this utility has a number of features that make it the ideal power sources for a vast range of uses.
Here are a few features of compressed air, each combined with an example of a situation that benefits from the feature. Compressed air:
Does not interfere with electrical monitoring equipment — preferred in hospital operating theaters
Can be stored in pressurized tanks of various sizes — provides breathing air for scuba divers
Equipment operated by pressurized air can be used in extreme temperatures — air tools are used for maintenance of furnaces and industrial freezers
Can be easily stored in application-specific tanks to be used in remote areas — powers snow-making machines
Other Things You Can Do With an Air Compressor
We’ve covered lots of different uses for home and business applications but there are a few other interesting uses for an air compressor that you should know about to get the whole picture of how air compressors are used. Some applications listed below reveal how an air compressor can be used in non-conventional ways:
- Scuba divers use air compressors in their diving equipment to deliver the oxygen from the tank while they’re underwater.
- Hospitals use air compressors to deliver oxygen to patients.
- Engines are designed with air compressors for the heating and cooling systems of the vehicle.
- Air conditioners have air compressors as their main power source to cool the surrounding air.
- Pressure washers are equipped with an air compressor to force out the pressurized water.
- Paintball equipment and air guns use compressed air for ammunition propulsion.
- Theme parks use compressed air to run attractions like roller coasters, fountains and animated characters.
- Trains and transport trucks use air brakes for their breaking systems.
- Refrigerators and freezers use an air compressor to chill the air inside the unit.
The Compressed Air Advantage: Reliable, Versatile and Safe Energy
Seen as the plant workhorse in business, the convenient helper at home and the efficient aid in , compressed air is a power source that is widely used even though many people fail to realize how common it is.
Individuals, business and industries benefit from the ability to produce on-site power through air compression. As we mentioned earlier, compressed air can be more expensive to produce, but since it cuts costs of production in many other ways it’s a necessary element of almost every manufacturing and industrial setting.
What are these benefits that make a seemingly “expensive” utility the top choice for many environments?
You may remember the benefits of using air tools in the section above. They are lighter and much more durable, especially when used constantly and in rough and dirty environments. Their use results in an increase in productivity and efficiency from quicker tool speed and user strain that is greatly decreased or eliminated altogether.
The tough applications that are typical in steel mills and foundries are not welcoming for electric-powered tools. The high temperatures and dirty surroundings are the perfect setting for frequent electrical overloading and equipment malfunctioning. Air tools require some periodic maintenance, but they require much less than their electric counterparts and are nearly indestructible.
Another favorable feature of compressed air is that it can be stored to support fluctuations in use. Not having to worry about spikes in electricity consumption that can trip fuses and sabotage equipment is a top priority of any production line. An air compressor can be installed to meet the demands of any constant and fluctuating use. With the right system you get the necessary pressure and storage tank to provide reliable and consistent energy.
Heat Recovery for Increased Efficiency
To counteract the high expense of generating pressurized air, compressor systems can be designed to recover the heat produced from compression to be used elsewhere in a facility. This heat can be put to good use for a different application like space heating, heating process water, lubricants or other fluids used for production or can be delivered to the plant locker room to supply hot water for showers.
One of the easiest heat recovery applications to implement is space heating, which can recover up to 94 percent of a compressor system’s input power. You can see that many industries could easily make the seemingly high cost of producing on-site power with air compression a low-cost opportunity for saving in other areas.
A Safer Alternative
Certain hazardous environments see their only option for power to be in the form of compressed air. Oil and gas platforms, mines and tunneling equipment are examples of situations that pose a high risk of explosion and fire. The heat and spark potential from electricity does not mix well with these environments, but the safer alternative of compressed air to drive controls and pumps allows for a cost-effective solution to an already hazardous environment.
Compressed air has been a solution to many industry challenges over the years. From its first use in allowing the mining industry to have a less hazardous environment to its efficiency-focused uses in manufacturing and construction industries, we are sure to see more applications in the future that use compressed air to make processes easier, cheaper or safer.
As an air compressor manufacturer for nearly 100 years, we have moved along with advancements in technology to provide various industries with real solutions to their production challenges. With new engineering, new developments and exciting opportunities to help other industries grow, we are committed to providing legendary performance and reliability in the market for another century. Learn more about the premium products we offer by contacting us or one of our dedicated sales and service representatives near you.