Air Compressor Comparisons

A Comparison of Top Air Compressor Models

Reciprocating Compressors

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:

Rotary Screw Compressors

Centrifugal Compressors

  • 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.

Model comparisons

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.

Reciprocating Compressors

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 CompressorsAtlas CopcoBauerBogeIngersoll RandKaeser
ModelLFx .7C120-9K 6-270TS4N5KCD 450
Tank Size (gal)13 gal.Optional Tank MountOptional Tank Mount80 gal.56.8 gal.
Weight (lbs)108 lbs.1,510 lbs.720 lbs.600 lbs.230 lbs.
Max Pressure (psig)1455,000150175145
Running Power (hp).7 hp7.5 hp5.5 hp5 hp4.5 - 7.5 hp
Power Type (diesel, electric, gas)ElectricElectricElectricElectricElectric
Design (stationary, portable, towable, truck mounted)PortableStationaryStationaryStationaryPortable or Stationary
UsesLow-pressure tools; pressure washers, tire inflation; nail/staple gunPower dryingFleet maintenance; machine shops; wood workingFleet maintenance; machine shops; wood workingMachine 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 CompressorsAtlas CopcoBauerBogeIngersoll RandKaeser
ModelGX2AS25/E3S 40-2R11I-15TASSX-6
Tank Size (gal)53 gal.100 - 120 gal.; Optional Tank Mount90 - 100 gal.; Optional Tank Mount80 gal.60 gal.
Weight (lbs)367 lbs.1,433 lbs.1,630 - 1,700 lbs.650 lbs.276 lbs.
Max Pressure (psig)150125100 - 190125110 - 145
Running Power (hp)3 hp25 hp40 hp15 hp5 hp
Power Type (diesel, electric, gas)ElectricElectricElectricElectricElectric
Design (stationary, portable, towable, truck mounted)PortableStationaryStationaryPortableStationary
UsesMachine shops; wood working; auto refinishingMachine shops; assembly lines; auto refinishingMachine shops; assembly lines; auto refinishingMachine shops; wood working; auto refinishingAutomotive service shops; dry cleaners
Pricing$7,500 - $8,900$4,200 - 4,900$25,000+$7,600 - $8,200$3,900 - $4,100
Centrifugal Air Compressors

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 CompressorsAtlas CopcoIngersoll Rand
ModelZH 350C1000
Weight (lbs)6,700 lbs.18,180 lbs.
Max Pressure (psig)87 - 13045 - 185
Running Power (hp)470 hp700 - 1,750 hp
Power Type (diesel, electric, gas)ElectricElectric
Design (stationary, portable, towable, truck mounted)StationaryStationary
UsesIndustrial manufacturingIndustrial 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.

SupplierAtlas CopcoBauerBogeIngersoll RandKaeser
Most Recent AwardThomson Reuters Top 100 Global Innovators, 2011BAUER 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 NewsGold 2013 King Award in the Fluid/Pneumatic Power Category for M350 portable air compressor
Help & SupportOnline parts catalog and ordering; “Plus Program,” offering extended warranty and service agreementsBauer University, including product training with live instructor e-coursesPlanned 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 machinesMajor and minor services intervals provided through non-binding service agreements; 24-hour emergency repair

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