How Does An Air Compressor Work?

You might have seen an air compressor at the tyre shop or maybe used one at home to power pneumatic tools; but have you ever wondered how an air compressor works? A simplified explanation is that a basic air compressor works with a motor, a drive and a storage tank. The drive powers the motor which draws in air and compresses it. The motor is powered by electricity, a gasoline or diesel engine. The compressed air is stored in the tank at the required pressure and released via the supply unit for varied application. Some of the ways compressed air is applied include;

  • Fill gas cylinders with clean air
  • Inflate pool toys
  • Inflate tyres
  • Power pneumatic tools such as drills, nail guns and paint sprayers
  • Running laundry presses
  • Running some steam cleaners

The more complex answer as to how an air compressor work require a more technical response. We will have to explain how each part of an air compressor works to covert ambient air in to usable compressed air.

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An air compressor is made up of the following essential parts

  • Air filter
  • Inlet valve
  • Rotating impeller or reciprocating piston
  • Motor
  • Discharge valve
  • Storage tank
  • Supply unit

The element essential for the compressor to work is air, which is made up of gases, dust and moisture. Dust, dirt and water particles are removed using a filter as air is drawn in. Failure to filter the air will compromise the efficiency of the compressor and the compressed air as well. The filter ought to be changed before it becomes ineffective. A pipe delivers the filtered air to the inlet valve which controls the volume of air and releases the compressed air through the discharge valve.

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An air compressor uses a motor run rotating impeller or reciprocating piston to compress air. A rotating impeller spins around and runs on positive displacement. Compression occurs within its compartments that reduce the air’s space. A reciprocating piston creates a vacuum as it moves back and forth. Air from the inlet valve fills the front when the piston moves back.

The piston moving to the front compresses the air and pushes it out through the discharge valve. The inlet valve is held shut to prevent compressed air from leaking out of the wrong tank. The storage tank maintains the pressure of the compressed air. Industrial operations, mechanics and construction workers prefer rotating impellers for their high intensity pressure.

Air compressor pumps either have or lack lubrication. The air compressor therefore works with an oil free pump or a lubricated pump. An oil free pump has bearings with lasting lubrication and works best with applicators that do not function with oil at all. Oil lubricated pumps on the other hand, use oil to lubricate the bearings, walls and seals, keep pressurised air from exiting though the inlet valve and remove excess heat from the system.

Air compressors are built different depending on the manufacturer but generally, this is how most air compressors work.

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