3 Types of Air Compressors For Your Industrial Engine Application

You’ve decided that your current application needs compressed air. You’ve also figured out how much air you need, how you are going to drive the compressor and what engine you are going to use to power it.  Now it’s time to decide what type of air compressor is best suited for your needs!

There are 3 styles of air compressor commonly found in mobile industrial applications:

  • Reciprocating, Piston Compressors
  • Rotary Screw Compressors
  • Rotary Vane Compressors

Each of these air compressors have their own particular benefits and challenges, which we will break down in this article.

Reciprocating Compressors  Reciprocating Compressors

Reciprocating compressors are the most common air compressors found in mobile applications, and they are the type most people are familiar with.  There are a wide variety of manufacturers and suppliers worldwide, providing an array of options.


Of the three compressors types, reciprocating air compressors generally have the lowest initial purchase price.  They are suitable for low duty cycle operations.  Unlike many vane and screw compressors, most reciprocating compressors can be serviced or rebuilt in the field with simple hand tools.


Reciprocating compressors are typically the largest and heaviest when compared to compressors of equal CFM.  They have the most moving parts and, like the vane compressor, experience increasing amounts of oil carry over.  Because of the way reciprocating compressors produce air, more after treatment is required to reduce air temperatures and pulsation before the compressed air reaches your tools and equipment.  An air receiver tank is also required with a reciprocating air compressor and takes up additional space.

Rotary Screw Compressors

Traditionally, rotary screw compressors were found in stationary applications and were not widespread in mobile applications. However, times have changed! Rotary screw compressors have become more affordable and their benefits are increasingly recognized across diverse industries. Today, rotary screw air compressors are used in numerous industrial applications and are being manufactured by companies around the world, including VMACRotary Screw Compressors.


Rotary screw compressors are known for long life and high air flow delivery in a relatively compact size. High duty cycle applications are suited for rotary screw compressors as they are designed to run 100% of the time. Generally, a screw compressor does not need an air receiver tank for operation. Compared to the other compressor types, rotary screw air compressors have fewer wearing parts and maintenance usually consists of changing filters and oil.


Rotary screw compressors generally have a higher initial cost when compared to the other compressor types, but last longer as they have fewer wearing parts. As most screw compressors found in mobile applications are oil-injected, they have an independent lubrication circuit. As a result, the oil used is specific to the compressor and the system will require routine maintenance.

Rotary Vane Compressors  

Rotary Vane Compressors

Of the three common compressor types found in mobile applications, the rotary vane compressor is the least common. There are fewer manufacturers of the vane compressor compared to reciprocating compressors, and service parts can be more challenging to find.


Like the rotary screw compressor, the rotary vane air compressor has fewer moving parts when compared to a reciprocating option. Vane compressors are compact in size when compared to reciprocating and rotary screw compressors when comparing equal CFM compressors. They are designed for continuous duty and deliver a relatively pulsation free air flow to your tools or equipment. The rotary vane compressor generally has a lower initial purchase cost.


As with other wearing compressors, oil carry-over increases the longer it is in service. A complete rebuild is required to prevent this from happening, which is an expensive process. Finding service parts and support can also be a challenge.

Choosing An Air Compressor

When choosing a compressor for your mobile application, there are many factors to consider. The initial purchase price, ease of and cost of maintenance, size, availability, air flow and longevity are all important for your overall satisfaction with your compressor.  Knowing which compressor meets your needs is an important step in finalizing your industrial compressor system.

Visit our OEM page to find out how VMAC can help you build your custom industrial application!