When it comes to selecting an air compressor for your business, you have a wide range of options. Industrial air compressors vary in terms of power as well as the air flow and pressure they can produce. They also come in various motor types, sizes and designs, and you can choose from numerous features.

It’s crucial that you know how to choose an air compressor that meets your needs and gets you the results you want while keeping your costs manageable. If you purchase one that doesn’t have enough power, for example, you won’t be able to complete your work reliably. It might even damage your equipment and cause you to face safety hazards. If you buy a system with more power than you need, though, you’ll end up spending more than necessary, and the added expenses won’t necessarily provide you with any benefits.

Because of these possibilities, it’s crucial to carefully evaluate your needs and consider all of your options when selecting an industrial air compressor. This article can serve as an air compressor buyers guide, which you can use the next time you need to purchase this equipment. Taking a look at each of the following factors will help you make the right choice.

Factors to Look at When Choosing an Air Compressor

The type of air compressor that’s right for your business will depend on how you plan to use it, the tools you plan to use it with and the resources available to you. Rather than buying the most powerful model you can afford or the least expensive one that meets your requirements, you should carefully evaluate your needs and the options available to you. Here are the factors you should consider.

1. Stationary or Portable? Inside or Outside?

Most industrial air compressors are built to stay in one place in a factory or other facility. Some applications, however, require you to move it from place to place, perhaps to various job sites. Because of these needs, compressors are available in both stationary and portable models. Portable models aren’t as powerful as stationary ones, but a high-quality piece of equipment will still have the capability to get the job done.

If you’re using a portable machine, it’s also more likely that you’ll be using it outside. Consider whether you’ll be using the system inside or out when selecting a compressor. One that you use primarily outside will need protection from the elements. Indoor industrial environments can be quite harsh as well, though, so compressors typically come with some protective features either way.

2. Drive System Type

Where you use your commercial air compressor will also play a role in the type of drive you need it to have. You can choose between an electrically powered motor and a diesel-powered one. Electric motors are typically less costly to operate and need less maintenance, but they require a constant source of electricity. If you’re working on various job sites, you might not have that access and would instead need diesel-powered equipment.

Some air compressors feature variable frequency drive, or VFDs, which adjust the amount of energy used based on the task at hand. They accomplish this by altering the motor input frequency and voltage, which saves energy and lowers operating costs. However, machines with these drives can be more sensitive to debris and harsh work environments.

3. Cfm

A vital step in choosing an air compressor is determining the amount of power you need. Manufacturers measure the capabilities of their machinery in various ways, all of which are useful for selecting the perfect piece of equipment for your needs. Cubic feet per minute, or cfm, is a unit of measure for the amount of air flow that a compressor can produce. There are multiple types of cfm measurement, including:
  • Displaced cfm: Dcfm is calculated using the bore, stroke and revolutions per minute (rpm). It will be the highest of the three cfm measurements because it doesn’t take into account variables like temperature, friction or heat dissipation, making it less useful for real-world applications.
  • Standard cfm: Scfm is the measured flow of free air in a standard set of reference conditions. This measurement is the easiest figure to use when buying air compressors because it allows you to compare different units on an even playing field since everything relates back to the standard.
  • Actual cfm: Acfm takes the specific conditions of an environment into account when measuring the pump’s output. This number is useful because of its precision and its relations to your particular work environment, but it’s difficult to calculate.

To determine the amount of cfm you need, add up the requirements of all the tools you expect to use at one time with the compressor unit. Then, add 30 percent to that number as a safety net.

4. Psi

Psi, which stands for pounds per square inch, measures the amount of pressure a compressor can produce. This measurement is also sometimes written as psig, which stands for pound-force per square inch gauge. The psi of your compressor should match or be higher than that of your highest-rated tool. You don’t need to add the measurements together like you do to determine cfm. Psi and cfm are the two main power measurements you will use when selecting an air compressor.

5. Horsepower

Horsepower measurements can also tell you useful information about the capabilities of a compressor but aren’t used as a primary factor in how to choose a commerical air compressor. The cfm and psi you need will usually help determine the amount of horsepower you will get.

Manufactures usually measure the running, or rated, horsepower of a motor, which is the output it can produce once it reaches its operating rpm. This horsepower measurement is the one that’s most relevant to the air compressor selection process.

You might also see peak, or brake, horsepower, which measures the maximum output a motor can generate while the start windings are engaged. This description is less useful than running horsepower because the start windings stay engaged for a very brief period under normal operations. This level of output can’t be sustained for extended periods. The peak horsepower can be as much as seven times higher than the running horsepower.

Other noteworthy specs include the duty cycle and service factor. The duty cycle will be either intermittent or continuous. It describes whether the motor can run at full horsepower intermittently or constantly. If you need full power at all times, you’ll want a continuous duty cycle.

A motor’s service factor describes the percentage of the rated horsepower that it can operate safely at and is typically higher than the rated horsepower. Machines with higher service factors can run in more adverse conditions, such as low voltage or high startup load, without failure.

6. Electrical Requirements

Before purchasing an air compressor, ensure that it is compatible with your incoming electrical supply. Most industrial facilities have three-phase electricity, while residential and commercial buildings use single-phase power. You’ll also need to select the right voltage. A qualified electrician will be able to tell you the electrical requirements of your facility.

7. Tank Size

You’ll also need to figure out what size you want your storage tank, which is also called a receiver tank, to be. With larger tanks, you’ll have more pressurized air available for immediate output. If you have a smaller tank, the compressor will have to work harder to get the same output. These tanks are useful for storing air when demand is higher than the compressor’s capacity. They also help reduce pulsation in the air line.

Look for a tank size of at least five gallons per cfm. If you plan to use your compressor in short bursts, you can use a smaller tank. If you’re going to use it for longer periods, you should choose a larger tank. If you won’t need to use it for long periods in the beginning but might eventually move to jobs that require that type of function, consider purchasing an air compressor with a large tank to cover both your current and future requirements.

You can also choose between a horizontal and a vertical tank. The option that’s best for you depends on the intended location of your air compressor and the space available in your facility. Vertical designs have a smaller footprint and work better if you have limited space.

8. Costs

Cost is also an important factor for you to consider in your industrial air compressor selection. Carefully calculating the specs you need can help you to keep costs low by ensuring you don’t purchase a more powerful system than is necessary or, worse, one that’s not powerful enough.

The purchase price isn’t the only cost factor to consider. Higher-quality systems may cost more up front, but they can save you money in the long run through reduced operating and maintenance costs and a longer lifecycle. If you purchase a more reliable, high-quality unit, you’ll have to spend less on repairs and won’t have to replace it as soon, which may make the extra upfront expense worth it.

Look for efficiency ratings and the listed life expectancy of vital components during your research. Warranties will give you peace of mind in case something does go wrong. Also consider the product’s reputation for durability, reliability and maintenance costs.

Features of Different Kinds of Air Compressors

Different kinds of air compressors come with different features. Sometimes, these features will come standard. Other times, you may have the option of adding the ones you need. Consider the benefits a feature will provide you with and weigh the costs against those advantages. If the function will provide a net benefit, it’s a smart investment. Here are some of the features you might encounter when selecting a commercial air compressor.

1. Materials

One important consideration is the materials that the components are made of. Look for materials that are durable such as steel and cast-iron. The better your system can resist wear, corrosion and other damage, the longer it will last, and the lower your maintenance costs will be. A durable construction also means that your compressor will work more reliably, so don’t overlook this quality.

2. Components

You should also pay careful attention to the make and model of all motors, starters, belts and other critical components. Ask about smaller but still significant parts such as valves, bearings and gears. The manufacturer and distributor should be able to give you information about the parts used in an air compressor’s construction. All the components your equipment uses should have a reputation for reliability and durability.

3. Controls

Air compressors use various types of control systems, all of which work to match the amount of air supplied to the amount of air you need. The two main control types are fixed-speed and variable-speed controls.

Fixed-speed controls aim to keep the speed of the compressor constant. Numerous technologies enable fixed-speed control, including modulation, variable displacement, dual and start/stop.

Variable speed controls allow you to adjust the speed of the compressor so that its output equals the demand exactly. This process enables you to operate your compressor much more efficiently. These types of systems are more advanced and need to be able to run reliably and efficiently at multiple speeds.

Before choosing an air compressor, take a look at how the controller works for the system and the features it includes. The controller might be digital or manual. Many of our models come with password-protected touchscreen controllers that can sequence up to 16 machines. They also provide access to maintenance schedules, history and fault alarms so that you have the exact data you need for best performance.

4. Noise Reduction System

Noise level varies from model to model, but any compressor will make some amount of noise when operating. A unit’s noise rating, which is measured in decibels, will tell you how loud you can expect the system to be. Because they’re designed to help make the workplace a more comfortable environment, many air compressors come with noise reduction systems, such as sound enclosures. Carefully consider your team and the environment you’ll be working in before deciding on an acceptable noise level.

5. Cooling System

To prevent overheating, air compressors need a system to dissipate waste heat. This cooling system may use air or water — or sometimes another liquid, such as oil — to cool the equipment. It might also be an enclosed or an open system and use either centrifugal or axial cooling fans. Your air compressor unit might include an air dryer or aftercooler as well to remove heat from the air stream.

The cooling mechanism is a crucial system and has an impact on your compressor’s efficiency, noise level and reliability. Remember that if you’re operating the compressor indoors, sufficient ventilation is crucial for adequate cooling.

6. Structural Protection

If you are using your air compressor outdoors, you’ll need to make sure it has sufficient protection from the elements. Inside, it needs protection from debris and dust, which could cause severe damage. For increased reliability, your compressor should have structural protection for all critical parts and fittings. A frame made of a sturdy material will also help to improve durability. Know your environment well and determine where you’ll use the compressor most often before selecting the best model for your operations.

7. Safety Features

Safety is always a priority, so make sure that your air compressor has the safety features you need. Useful safety features include guards around potentially dangerous components, automatic shutdown mechanisms in case of overheating and alarm systems that will alert you if an error occurs. These safety systems will help protect not only your employees but also your equipment.
How Your Industry Plays a Role in Your Air Compressor Selection

A wide range of industries uses air compressors, including the manufacturing, automotive, agricultural, energy exploration, construction, woodworking and pharmaceutical sectors along with many others. The type of industry and the types of tasks you plan to use your compressor for are vital aspects of how to choose an air compressor.

Air Compressor Types

For industrial applications, you need a rotary screw compressor. There are other technologies available, but they don’t provide enough power for most industrial uses. Rotary screw compressors are also more efficient and cost-effective than other options for industrial applications.

Tool Type and Use

The types of tool that your industry uses also play a critical role in air compressor selection, as the tools that you use with your air compressor determine the cfm and psi requirements of your compressor unit. If you use these tools intermittently, you can choose a smaller tank. If you need to use them continuously for long periods, you’ll need a larger tank.


If you work in an industry that requires you to move from job site to job site, you’ll need a portable air compressor with a diesel-powered motor. You might not always have access to electrical power at these job sites, so portable, diesel-powered equipment will give you the flexibility you need to move around. Industries such as construction, demolition and energy exploration need this type of compressor unit.

On the other hand, if you’re part of a sector such as manufacturing where you work in one facility all the time, you can instead use a stationary, electrically powered air compressor. These units are less costly to purchase and operate, and they can also be more powerful. The trade-off, of course, is that you cannot move the equipment around, and you need constant access to electric power.

Don’t forget to consider the environment in which you’ll be using the machinery. If you plan to use it outside, you should prioritize protection from the elements over other features. Think about the typical weather in your area and whether moisture, heat, cold or other conditions will be of concern.

Indoor environments can also sometimes be harsh. The air in manufacturing facilities, for instance, often contains a substantial amount of debris such as dust and dirt. Be realistic about the type of exposure your air compressor will have before you decide so that you don’t have to worry about maintenance or repairs quickly after purchase.

Compressors From Kaishan Compressor

When choosing an industrial air compressor, you want to ensure you make the right choice and get a machine that meets your needs while maintaining efficiency and cost-effectiveness. Considering all of the factors listed above is an essential step in this process. Working with an experienced company with knowledgeable staff is also extraordinarily helpful.

Kaishan Compressor is an engineering-based company that has been in the air compression business for more than 60 years. We sell our products in more than 60 countries and offer a wide variety of air compression products — you’re bound to find something that fits your needs from our selection of more than 60,000 rotary screw compressors. We utilize vertically integrated production, and our equipment provides industry-leading reliability and value.

At Kaishan Compressor, we’ve made large research and development investments to ensure we’re designing the best equipment. From enclosures, tanks and frames to coolers, castings and air ends, you can rest assured that we build our own components for the highest performance and quality.

Browse our website for more information on our products. You can also contact us to learn more about what we offer and get help in the selection process. Our team of helpful, knowledgeable professionals is standing by!
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