A Comparison of Top Air Compressor Models
Air compressors offer a combination of power and portability, providing versatile compatibility with a limitless range of tools in almost any location. From large industrial production machinery to smaller air tools like impact wrenches, spray guns, hammers, and even engraving pens, one air compressor can accommodate a range of different tools, servicing an entire operation.
In this article, we'll compare top air compressor brands such as Atlas Copco, Boge, and Ingersoll Rand while focusing on three distinct types:
Metrics to consider
Within this category, you'll find a range of different sizes and weights, including air compressors that are portable, stationary, truck mounted, and towable. When comparing air compressors, start by pairing the following key features and specs with your performance needs:
- Tank size. Generally speaking, the bigger the tank, the better the performance. Large tanks require less of the motor (which is used to refill the tank when it drops below a certain point). This not only provides uninterrupted use, it also minimizes motor strain.
- Max pressure. Many popular air tools are engineered for a psi between 90 and 100. This means that the air compressor should be a 7 bar. Be sure to check the manufacturer's specifications as some equipment may require higher levels of max pressure, 15 to 30 bar on the mid range, and 200 to 300 bar on the high end.
- Running power. Power is measured in cubic feet per minute (CFM). Determine your total power requirement by adding the CFM requirements for all air tools connected to the compressor.
- Weight. With portable compressors weighing from 40 to 70 pounds on the light side to stationary models from 250 to 500 pounds and up, weight affects installation and mounting. This is an important consideration for environments that require mobility - automotive shops and spray paint booths being two prime examples.
- Stages. Referring to the number of cylinders in an air compressor, your options will be single stage (offering up to 135 psi) or two-stage (offering up to 175 psi). Most single stage compressors are adequate for smaller shops and individual use. Large operations and industrial applications require the extra storage available through a two-stage air compressor.
- Design. Three different designs exist, including reciprocating, rotary screw, and centrifugal. The one you select will depend on your output requirements, specifically occasional use or continuous duty.
- Power type. Air compressors are fueled by diesel, electric, or gas. Your location will determine the type you need, with gas and diesel models offering slightly higher CFMs but limited to outdoor use due to the fumes they produce. Electric models are among the most popular as they can be used indoors.
In addition to output and portability, size and continuous use are primary concerns within most businesses. It's also important to note that air compressors pressurize air through either positive displacement (within smaller, portable models) or centrifugal force (within industrial, stationary models).
Reciprocating and rotary screw compressors use positive displacement for its ability to compress a small volume of air into high pressure output. In contrast, centrifugal models compress air through a variety of stages, requiring a large framework. The one advantage is that they are well suited to the continuous use demands of industrial machinery.
Using positive displacement, reciprocating compressors are the smallest of the three types available, often available in either single stage or two-stage models. Power outputs range from around 1 to 15 hp, making them well suited to a wide range of air tools.
|Reciprocating Air Compressors||Atlas Copco||Bauer||Boge||Ingersoll Rand||Kaeser|
|Model||LFx .7||C120-9||K 6-270||TS4N5||KCD 450|
|Tank Size (gal)||13 gal.||Optional Tank Mount||Optional Tank Mount||80 gal.||56.8 gal.|
|Weight (lbs)||108 lbs.||1,510 lbs.||720 lbs.||600 lbs.||230 lbs.|
|Max Pressure (psig)||145||5,000||150||175||145|
|Running Power (hp)||.7 hp||7.5 hp||5.5 hp||5 hp||4.5 - 7.5 hp|
|Power Type (diesel, electric, gas)||Electric||Electric||Electric||Electric||Electric|
|Design (stationary, portable, towable, truck mounted)||Portable||Stationary||Stationary||Stationary||Portable or Stationary|
|Uses||Low-pressure tools; pressure washers, tire inflation; nail/staple gun||Power drying||Fleet maintenance; machine shops; wood working||Fleet maintenance; machine shops; wood working||Machine shops; wood working|
|Pricing||$800 - $1,400||$25,000+||$1,200 - $2,200||$1,000 - $1,200||$1,300 - $2,000|
Rotary Screw Compressors
Named for the combination of interlocking screws that draw air into the compressor, rotary screw compressors are available in two specific types, flooded and oil-free. The flooded type (also referred to as "oil-flooded") combines oil with air as it's pressurized, a process that reportedly helps lubricate the internal parts of the air compressor and seal in air.
Oil-free rotary screw compressors omit the oil and seal in air with non-contracting carbon ring seals. In doing so, this latter type is said to cut costs through reductions in oil collection and disposal as well as downstream filter replacements while providing a purer stream of air, free of contaminates.
|Rotary Screw Compressors||Atlas Copco||Bauer||Boge||Ingersoll Rand||Kaeser|
|Tank Size (gal)||53 gal.||100 - 120 gal.; Optional Tank Mount||90 - 100 gal.; Optional Tank Mount||80 gal.||60 gal.|
|Weight (lbs)||367 lbs.||1,433 lbs.||1,630 - 1,700 lbs.||650 lbs.||276 lbs.|
|Max Pressure (psig)||150||125||100 - 190||125||110 - 145|
|Running Power (hp)||3 hp||25 hp||40 hp||15 hp||5 hp|
|Power Type (diesel, electric, gas)||Electric||Electric||Electric||Electric||Electric|
|Design (stationary, portable, towable, truck mounted)||Portable||Stationary||Stationary||Portable||Stationary|
|Uses||Machine shops; wood working; auto refinishing||Machine shops; assembly lines; auto refinishing||Machine shops; assembly lines; auto refinishing||Machine shops; wood working; auto refinishing||Automotive service shops; dry cleaners|
|Pricing||$7,500 - $8,900||$4,200 - 4,900||$25,000+||$7,600 - $8,200||$3,900 - $4,100|
The largest of the three types, the centrifugal design is typically reserved for large industrial air compressors and machinery that gets integrated into the manufacturing processes. Unlike reciprocating and rotary screw air compressors, centrifugal models do not compress air through positive displacement. Instead, air is pressurized as it passes through a system of staged compression with a minimum of two stages and as many as five being highly common. Far costlier than the other two types, centrifugal compressors are also easier to customize, with air pressure easily manipulated through adjustments to inlet, outlet, and velocity.
|Centrifugal Air Compressors||Atlas Copco||Ingersoll Rand|
|Weight (lbs)||6,700 lbs.||18,180 lbs.|
|Max Pressure (psig)||87 - 130||45 - 185|
|Running Power (hp)||470 hp||700 - 1,750 hp|
|Power Type (diesel, electric, gas)||Electric||Electric|
|Design (stationary, portable, towable, truck mounted)||Stationary||Stationary|
|Uses||Industrial manufacturing||Industrial manufacturing|
|Pricing||$170,000 - $225,000||$307,000 - $365,000|
Choosing a brand
The best air compressors are those that come backed by the highest levels of support - an aspect of service that is even more important with larger stationary or truck mounted models. This makes the process of choosing a brand one of the key steps in the purchase decision.
Reviews. Positive air compressor reviews will tell you two things: what a company specializes in and what niche they cater to. The most reliable reviews, posted by actual owners, are often found on message boards by searching for the particular model in combination with "customer reviews."
Awards and recognition. Industry recognition is another way to discern industry leaders. Awards run the gamut, from product design and safety to customer service. Though not technically awards, two certifications you should be on the lookout for are ISO 14001 (Environmental Management) and OHSAS 18001 (Occupational Health & Safety Management).
Help and support centers. This is often something reserved for larger models, but timely service even on smaller air compressors can mean the difference between a cost-effective job and one that results in overages. When breakdowns occur, the ideal vendor will have a system of service and support that mirrors your hours of operation, even when working remotely.
Training and maintenance agreements. Again, this is more of a concern for larger models. Major brands like Ingersoll Rand offer training classes and seminars at centralized factory locations. Topics cover everything from theory and practical hands-on operational training to aspects that deal with service and maintenance.
Similarly, maintenance agreements are available through most major suppliers and ensure that your compressor remains up and running while removing the burden of labor from you and your staff - a benefit that's ideal for small shops with limited personnel.
|Supplier||Atlas Copco||Bauer||Boge||Ingersoll Rand||Kaeser|
|Most Recent Award||Thomson Reuters Top 100 Global Innovators, 2011||BAUER PureAir certification for high-quality breathing air (diving)||iF seal for outstanding design quality in the industrial products category by Industrie Forum Design (Germany)||2010 Innovation Award winner by Professional Tool & Equipment News||Gold 2013 King Award in the Fluid/Pneumatic Power Category for M350 portable air compressor|
|Help & Support||Online parts catalog and ordering; “Plus Program,” offering extended warranty and service agreements||Bauer University, including product training with live instructor e-courses||Planned Preventative Maintenance through service centers; “Aftercare,” a range of synthetic and mineral lubricants as well as a comprehensive service kits||“PackageCare” or “PlannedCare” programs for required maintenance; customer training available; remanufacturing service for specific parts or machines||Major and minor services intervals provided through non-binding service agreements; 24-hour emergency repair|
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