Piston vs Rotary Screw Air Compressor

It is only a small step from a piston to a rotary screw compressor, but it is one that can pay great dividends

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1. februar 2021

Don't Limit Yourself When Choosing a Small Compressor

When small businesses or operations with a (relatively) low compressed air demand invest in a compressor, they often needlessly limit their own flexibility by making a short-sighted purchase instead of an investment in the future. 

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It is an easy mistake to make, especially for companies without a compressed air expert on staff. Where they often go wrong is by assuming that, as an operation with basic compressed air needs, they should buy a basic piston compressor with a low investment cost.

However, the price tag of a compressor is not an accurate indicator of how much it is going to cost over its entire lifetime. The initial investment constitutes only a fraction of the total cost of ownership of a compressor and is therefore a very poor indicator of what is a “good deal.”

In fact, most of the money spent on compressors (often more than 70%) over their lifetime will go toward energy costs, with the rest paying for the machine itself and maintenance.

This doesn’t mean that a piston compressor is always the wrong choice. There are cases in which it is a perfectly sensible investment, especially for do-it-yourselfers and companies that use a compressor so infrequently that the energy costs, air quality or noise matter less.

In most cases, however, those looking to invest in a small compressor should at the very least consider going with a rotary screw compressor. While this is only one step up in the hierarchy of compressors, the differences between the two technologies are profound.

Let’s take a look at some of the benefits a small rotary screw compressor like the Sonetto 3-9 from ALUP offers.

Perhaps most importantly for small operations, while the purchase price of rotary screw compressors is generally higher than that of piston compressors, their total cost of ownership can be much lower. The Sonetto 3-9, for example, is highly efficient and consumes a lot less energy than a piston compressor (and also a lot less than its peers). Over time, this will translate into much lower operating costs and massive savings for you.

An added benefit is that the reduced energy use also means fewer emissions and a smaller carbon footprint. 

A downside of piston compressors is that they can’t run continuously and need periodic cool-down periods to avoid breakdowns. So, while they may be able to meet the compressed air demand of a small operation now, can they keep up when the business grows or would that force another investment in a compressor?

This isn’t a problem for the Sonetto 3-9 from ALUP, which can run around the clock and reliably operates even in tough environments, such as ambient temperatures of up to 46°C.  

Another major benefit of rotary screw compressors is that they limit the oil content in a compressed air system. That is important because less oil in the air means that your air-powered tools will last longer and the quality of your end products is safeguarded.

While a typical piston compressor has an oil carry-over of more than 30 ppm, that of rotary screw compressors is significantly lower. The Sonetto 3-9 from ALUP even achieves just 5 ppm. 

Finally, piston compressors are very loud, which means you can’t set them up anywhere without being subject to noise regulations and/or jeopardizing the health of their operators. Rotary screw compressors, on the other hand are much less noisy. Here, too, the Sonetto 3-9 from ALUP excels with a noise level as low as 61 decibels. The result is added flexibility with regard to where the compressor can be used.

In addition to all of these inherent benefits of rotary screw compressors, the Sonetto 3-9 also has a variety of features that make it the ideal starter compressor for small operations.

For example, it is delivered ready to go and can be installed by one person. Its operation is extremely easy thanks to its Infologic2 Basic controller. And even laypersons will be able to take good care of the Sonetto 3-9 because it provides service indications and visual alerts that ensure that their operators will never miss recommended maintenance or any potential problems. 

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All of these benefits make the choice between piston and rotary screw compressors an easy one: In many cases, the latter not only offers economic and operational benefits, but it also provides its users with the flexibility to grow, to run their compressor at any time and install it anywhere – and that’s something you can’t put a price tag on.

Check out our Piston and Screw Compressors