Rotary Air Compressors: How Do They Work?

Ingersoll Rand Rotary Screw Compressor

One thing that is found in virtually every industrial environment is an air compressor. Some uses for the compressed air generated are: powering pneumatic tools, packaging, automation equipment, conveyors, control systems, and various others. Pneumatic tools are favored because they tend to be smaller and more lightweight than electric tools, offer infinitely variable speed and torque, and can be safer than the hazards associated with electrical devices. In order to power these devices, compressed air must be generated.

There are two main categories of air compressors: positive-displacement and dynamic. In a positive-displacement type, a given quantity of air is trapped in a compression chamber. The volume of which it occupies is mechanically reduced (squished), causing a corresponding rise in pressure. In a dynamic compressor, velocity energy is imparted to continuously flowing air by a means of impellers rotating at a very high speed. The velocity energy is then converted into pressure energy. We’ve discussed the different styles of air compressors here on the EXAIR Blog in the past. Today I’d like to highlight the rotary compressors, one of the positive-displacement types of compressors.

Positive-displacement compressors are broken into two categories: reciprocating and rotary. The rotary compressors are available in lubricant-injected or lubricant-free varieties. Both styles utilize two inter-meshing rotors that have an inlet port at one end and a discharge port at the other. Air flows through the inlet port and is trapped between the lobes and the stator. As the rotation continues, the point inter-meshing begins to move along the length of the rotors. This reduces the space that is occupied by the air, resulting in an increase in pressure.

In the lubricant-injected varieties, the compression chamber is lubricated between the inter-meshing rotors and bearings. This lubricant protects the inter-meshing rotors and associated bearings. It eliminates most of the heat caused by compression and acts as a seal between the meshing rotors and between the rotor and stator. Some advantages of the lubricant-injected rotary compressor include a compact size, relatively low initial cost, vibration free operation, and simple routine maintenance (replacing lubricant and filter changes). Some drawbacks to this style of compressor include lower efficiency when compared with water-cooled reciprocating compressors, lubricant carry over must be removed from the air supply with a coalescing filter, and varying efficiency depending on the control mode used.

In the lubricant-free varieties, the inter-meshing rotors have very tight tolerances and are not allowed to touch. Since there is no fluid to remove the heat of compression, they typically have two stages of compression with an inter-cooler between and an after cooler after the second stage. Lubricant-free compressors are beneficial as they supply clean, oil-free compressed air. They are, however, more expensive and less efficient to operate than the lubricant-injected variety.

Each of these compressors can deliver air to your Intelligent Compressed Air Products. If you’re looking to reduce your compressed air consumption and increase the safety of your processes contact an EXAIR Application Engineer today. We’ll be happy to discuss the options with you and make sure you’re getting the most out of your compressed air usage.

Tyler Daniel
Application Engineer
Twitter: @EXAIR_TD

Photo courtesy of Ingersoll Rand CC BY 3.0,

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