Plenty of organizations, including the National Truck Equipment Association (NTEA), have invested in major market research projects to understand current trends in service vehicles, and the industries they serve. The reports are substantial, however, VMAC identified an opportunity to focus on data related to service vehicle equipment and more specifically, onboard air compressors for service trucks and vans. And so VMAC created its own survey –the 2020 State of the Mobile Compressed Air Industry Survey.
VMAC completed the survey in January 2020, having surveyed 205 professionals representing industries such as construction, heavy equipment, general equipment, infrastructure, tire service, oil and gas, and more. Survey participants were asked different questions related to air compressors for service trucks, and here are the results:
OPERATORS/MECHANICS RATE COMPRESSED AIR AS VERY IMPORTANT
When asked about the importance of compressed air, 87% of survey respondents shared that it was just as important or more important as other vehicle-mounted equipment. More specifically, 62% of respondents shared that it is just as important, and 25% rated it as more important. Only 13% felt compressed air is not as important.
When segmenting down to the Operator/Mechanic group of respondents, those numbers shifted towards the importance of compressed air. 96% of Operator/Mechanic respondents identified compressed air as just as important or more important, with only 4% rating it as not as important.
This question’s results, showing the importance of compressed air, are like those outlined in the General Equipment section of the survey, where respondents were asked to rate their top two most important pieces of equipment. Operators and Mechanics revealed their top two most important pieces of equipment were air compressors (94%) and welders (36%). See full details on the General Equipment section of the survey here.
MOST PEOPLE PREFER ROTARY SCREW AIR COMPRESSORS
As a manufacturer of rotary screw air compressors, VMAC was naturally very curious to see how survey respondents would respond when asked if they prefer rotary screw or reciprocating air compressors.
67% of survey respondents indicated they preferred rotary screw air compressors over reciprocating compressors for their service vehicles. 33% of respondents preferred reciprocating air compressors.
ROTARY SCREW AIR COMPRESSORS RESPECTED FOR THEIR PERFORMANCE
When asked to explain the various reasons they prefer rotary screw air compressors, 83% of respondents noted performance, 39% cited size and weight, and 38% noted quality and reliability.
Brent Thompson, Product Development at Summit Truck Bodies in Wathena, Kansas explains further: “Customers that use their air compressor only occasionally and at low duty cycles are well served by a reciprocating air compressor, but they may have to wait at certain points to allow the air compressor to catch up.”
Performance is where rotary screw air compressors really set themselves apart from reciprocating air compressors, as Brent notes: “The job world nowadays does not have time to waste, and many operators demand immediate and non-stop results from their tools. Customers who want on-demand air, and at a high volume typically lean towards rotary screw air compressors.”
RECIPROCATING AIR COMPRESSORS ARE CHOSEN FOR EASE OF REPAIR
33% of survey respondents indicated they preferred reciprocating air compressors over rotary screw air compressors.
Out of those who preferred reciprocating air compressors, almost half (48%) indicated it was because of ease of service/repair. 43% also selected price, and 37% selected availability.
“Reciprocating compressors are typically lower duty cycle, sometimes rated for higher pressure, and generally less expensive, but that cost discrepancy is getting smaller and smaller, and is almost non-existent,” explains Brent Thompson. “Manufacturers are making rotary screw air compressors that far outperform reciprocating compressors, and at a very reasonable price.”
As rotary screw air compressor manufacturers continue to refine processes and make design advancements, cost will likely be less of a consideration when industry professionals are purchasing a new onboard air compressor.
ABOVE-DECK GAS, ABOVE-DECK DIESEL, AND UNDERHOOD™ AIR COMPRESSORS ARE PREFERRED POWER METHODS
When asked for their preferred method of powering their service vehicle’s air compressor, 22% of respondents selected the above-deck gas engine drive option.
The second most popular option was a tie between the above-deck diesel engine drive and UNDERHOOD/engine drive, each with 19% of the vote.
With the results relatively flat across the top answers—above-deck gas and diesel engine drives, UNDERHOOD/engine drive, and PTO drive being within just percentages of each other—it’s clear there’s a variety of popular air compressor power options. Rob Beukema, Vice President at Work Truck West in Langley, British Columbia weighs in: “There are a lot more choices for end users to consider nowadays, and we are also noticing that application for compressed air has become a lot more specialized for end users. It’s imperative that as a truck equipment specialist, we ask our customers the right questions so we can spec the correct type of air system on their new work truck for their specific application.”
Rob explains further the types of considerations that can help determine the best type of air compressor: “Tooling, repair methods, type of machinery or equipment being worked on, idle or cycle time, duty cycle, truck brand preference and size (payload) along with weld or boost requirements all need to be considered so we can give our customers the right air compressor system recommendation.”
DECK-MOUNTED AIR COMPRESSORS REMAIN THE MOST POPULAR STYLE
The next question categorized the different types of air compressors into broader categories: deck-mounted, UNDERHOOD/engine drive, underdeck/PTO drive, portable/hand-held, and tow-behind.
When asked to select the types of air compressors on their service vehicles, 69% of survey respondents selected deck-mounted air compressors. This result was followed by 27% with UNDERHOOD/engine drive, 20% with underdeck/PTO drive, 15% with portable/hand-held air compressors, and 11% with tow-behind air compressors.
When asked what type of air compressor is preferred, there were some shifts in the popularity of certain air compressor types. Deck-mounted, portable/hand-held, and tow-behind air compressors all lost numbers, while UNDERHOOD/engine drive held steady at 27%. Underdeck/PTO drive air compressors increased from 20% of respondents currently with underdeck air compressors to 25%.
MOST OPERATORS REQUIRE UNDER 60 CFM ON THEIR SERVICE VEHICLES
VMAC was also curious to know how much air survey respondents needed on their service vehicles. Through anecdotal conversations, VMAC found that sometimes operators feel more comfortable knowing they have an air compressor with a high CFM range, even if it’s not necessarily needed. Though this still may be true, the survey results found that the lower CFM ranges were still the most selected in the survey.
Over half of all survey respondents (54%) stated they only required up to 59 CFM on their service vehicles. When including CFM ranges up to 99 CFM, this group grows to 79% of all respondents.
Only 6% of respondents required CFM capabilities at 150 CFM or above.
SERVICE VEHICLES TYPICALLY REQUIRE LESS THAN 150 PSI AIR COMPRESSORS
Along with asking about CFM requirements, VMAC’s survey also asked respondents about their psi requirements. Most respondents said they need under 150 psi on their service vehicles, with 74% of respondents choosing a range between 90 and 149 psi.
The mid-range psi requirement of 120-149 psi was selected by 40% of survey respondents. 25% chose 100-119 psi, while 22% selected 150-174 psi. Outliers were the 4% who required more than 175 psi on their service trucks.
THE MOST POPULAR TOOLS ARE IMPACT WRENCHES, TIRE INFLATORS, AND BLOWGUNS
We asked survey respondents to select all the tools they used on their service trucks. Most respondents included impact wrench, tire inflator, and blowgun in their answers.
Drill, angle grinder, ratchet, chisel, and hammer all were next in popularity, with 41% – 30% of respondents choosing these tools. Sander, pavement breaker, saw, nail gun, rock drill, and tamper were among the less popular tools on service vehicles.
AIR COMPRESSOR COLOR DOES NOT MATTER
When it comes to the preferred color of the air compressor, survey respondents generally didn’t indicate that color was important.
53% said that it doesn’t matter, while 20% chose black, and 18% chose white. A combined 9% chose blue, red, or other, which included green, yellow, and custom wrapped to match the truck.
The Air Compressor Results—Summarized
The air compressor section of the State of the Mobile Compressed Air Industry Survey covered a lot, so we’ve recapped the most interesting findings here:
- Compressed air and air compressors remain the most important assets on a service truck—87% of all respondents agree
- Rotary screw air compressors are preferred for their performance, size and weight, quality and reliability
- Reciprocating air compressors are preferred for ease of repair and cost, though expert Brent Thompson from Summit Truck Bodies notes that the difference in cost is becoming less important as rotary screw compressors become more affordable
- Above deck air compressors remain the preferred style of air compressor, followed by UNDERHOOD. Expert Rob Beukema from Work Truck West explains that when it comes to choosing an air compressor, it’s important to consider the application and many other unique variables to ensure the right compressor is chosen
- Most respondents need less than 60 CFM and less than 150 psi
- Looks aren’t important—over half of respondents said color doesn’t matter, and another 38% prefer neutral colors like white and black
About VMAC’s State of the Mobile Compressed Air Industry Survey
VMAC surveyed 205 people for the State of the Mobile Compressed Air Survey, between October 2019 and January 2020. Each participant spent approximately 7 minutes, answering 25 questions in an online survey to share their perspective on the state of the industry.