The Top 7 Questions When Adding a Compressor to Your Industrial Engine

November 7, 2022

When you plan to put a compressor on any industrial engine, some key questions about your engine and your application need answers. Regardless of whether your engine is a Cat, Cummins, DEUTZ, John Deere, Kohler, Kubota, Scania—or a multitude of others—these questions must be answered to determine the best solution!

Here are the seven most important questions to ask when adding a compressor to your industrial engine:

1. What are you using the air for?

First, you need to clearly understand what you are using the air for to ensure you are choosing the most appropriate solution for your unique requirements. Once you know exactly how the air will be used, identify how much CFM (cubic feet per minute) of air you require for the application.

When determining your compressed air needs, also consider the following:

  • How critical is the air requirement for day-to-day operations?
  • How much will downtime cost you?

2. What duty cycle do you require?

Do you need air continuously or infrequently? First, you need to clearly understand what you are using the air for to ensure you are choosing the most appropriate solution for your unique requirements. Some applications will require 100% duty cycle, in which the compressor runs continuously, while others applications use air intermittently at reduced duty cycles.

High duty cycle applications tend to require a robust solution like a rotary screw air compressor, while low duty cycle applications may find better value in a reciprocating air compressor.

3. What is your engine load?

Engine load is another important consideration. If multiple pieces of equipment are running simultaneously, the power drawn from the engine is greater than if you turn off each component when not being used.

Ask yourself:

  • Do you require air while running another piece of equipment from the same engine?
  • How much horsepower are you already using for your equipment?
  • How much horsepower will be available to power the compressor?

Not only does this information help calculate the power requirements, but it also acts as a guide to the type and complexity of the control system needed. It is essential to question, “what is really required?” instead of, “what would be nice to have?”

4. What air pressure do you require?

Pressure helps determine the power requirements for the compressor system, and it potentially determines what type of compressor will be required. For example, high pressure applications require specialized compressors.

However, avoid over-specifying your pressure needs. Higher pressures often increase costs, create less reliable systems, and potentially shorten tool and equipment life downstream of the compressor.


5. What environment do you operate in?

Environmental information is important to identify cooling and filtration requirements correctly. For example, compressors in:

  • Frigid conditions require careful design to ensure the compressor works well in the cold
  • Extreme heat needs more cooling to keep the system from overheating
  • Dusty environments need protection from dirt and other debris to improve the compressor’s longevity

Understanding how the engine and equipment behave while operating is also a requirement. Will the compressor be moving or rocking back and forth? Movement creates additional challenges that must be accounted for within the system design.

6. What is your engine and equipment mounted to?

Often, compressors must be mounted to an existing piece of equipment that already has a frame and a sheet metal enclosure without making changes to the existing structure. Vibration also needs to be addressed if your equipment operates in a high-vibration environment.

Consider the following:

  • Are you mounting your equipment to a stationary skid or trailer?
  • Is it vehicle mounted or on an auxiliary piece of equipment attached to a vehicle?
  • Does the space around the unit limit you?
  • Is there a requirement for the equipment to be within the confines of an enclosure?

7. What engine are you using?

There are many options available from engine manufacturers, and some are extremely important to the mounting of an air compressor. A few things to consider are engine mounts, coolers, water pump options, auxiliary ports, alternator size, front cover, harmonic balancer, and pulleys.

When evaluating your engine, ask these critical questions:

  • Can you make changes to your engine if needed?
  • What is the horsepower of the engine?
  • Is an auxiliary port available? If so, what type is it?
  • How much free space is around the engine?
  • Is there extra cooling capacity available in the radiator (to handle the heat load from the compressor), or will you need to increase its size or add additional cooling capacity?

Along with the engine details, you need to know your engine’s speed. What is the typical operating RPM (revolutions per minute)? The minimum and maximum RPM information are also necessary.

In addition, if you want a belt-driven, clutch-actuated compressor solution, you will need to know at what engine RPM the clutch engages. If speeds are too high, there is a risk of the clutch burning out prematurely; a control system would be required to prevent this from occurring. Compressor safety systems can also be programmed to prevent occurrences like over-temperature conditions.


Building an air compressor system is complicated and requires answers to numerous questions. Fortunately, nobody knows your business, environment, and equipment better than you. With your knowledge and answers to these questions, you are well on the way to adding a compressor to your equipment.

The next step is to find an air compressor provider that will work with you and provide the support and expertise you need. Do your research to ensure you get the results you require. The ideal manufacturer will partner with you and help you determine your needs and identify viable solutions.

For example, VMAC’s OEM team specializes in designing compact, lightweight and powerful rotary screw air compressor systems for industrial engine applications with annual volume sales of 20+ units. VMAC works with partner companies to find optimal solutions for their unique application needs.

Lastly, try to enjoy the process! Building an air compressor system is complex but highly rewarding. All the hard work is worth it when you see your system design in action.