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
E-mail: TylerDaniel@EXAIR.com
Twitter: @EXAIR_TD




Photo courtesy of Ingersoll Rand CC BY 3.0, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=32093890

Sliding Vane Compressors: How they Work

When it comes to air compressors there are many different types to choose from. Each compressor performs differently and have their own benefits and downfalls. In this case we will be taking a look a Sliding Vane Compressor which is a positive-displacement compressor. Positive-displacement type compressors have a given amount of air or gas that gets trapped in a compression chamber. From there the volume of that air is mechanically reduced causing an increase in the pressure. Sliding vane compressors use a circular stator that is housed in a cylindrical rotor; the rotor contains radially positioned slots where the vanes reside. These vanes are what create the compression in the “cells”.

Diagram of a sliding vane compressor

The inlet port on the system is positioned in a way that allows the air flow into each cell, optimizing the amount of air that each cell can hold. Once the air enters the system the cell size is reduced down farther and farther as rotation continues and each vane is pushed back into its original slot in the rotor. Compression will continue until each cell reaches the discharge port. One of the more common forms of a sliding vane compressor is the lubricant injected variety. These compressors inject a lubricant into the chamber to lubricate the walls and the vanes; this removes the heat of compression, as well as provide a seal on the cell. These air compressors are generally sold in a 10 – 200 HP range with capacities running between 40 – 800 acfm.

Advantages of a lubricant injected sliding-vane compressor include:

  • Compact size
  • Relatively low purchase cost
  • Vibration-free operation does not require special foundations
  • Routine maintenance includes lubricant and filter changes

Some of the disadvantages that come with this type of compressor:

  • Less efficient than the rotary screw type
  • Lubricant carryover into the delivered air will require proper maintenance of an oil-removal filtration system
  • Will require periodic lubricant changes

If you have any questions about compressed air systems or want more information on any of EXAIR’s products, give us a call, we have a team of Application Engineers ready to answer your questions and recommend a solution for your applications.

Cody Biehle
Application Engineer
EXAIR Corporation
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Photo Credit to Compressed Air Challenge Handbook

About Sliding Vane Air Compressors

In positive-displacement type compressors, a given quantity of air or gas is trapped in a compression chamber. The volume of this air is then mechanically reduced, causing an increase in pressure. A sliding-vane compressor will consist of a circular stator that is housed in a cylindrical rotor. The rotor then has radially positioned slots where the vanes reside. While the rotor turns on its axis, the vanes will slide out and contact the bore of the stator wall. This creates compression in these “cells”.

An inlet port is positioned to allow the air flow into each cell, allowing the cells to reach their maximum volume before reaching the discharge port. After passing by the inlet port, the size of the cell is reduced as rotation continues and each vane is then pushed back into its original slot in the rotor.  Compression will continue until the cell reaches the discharge port. The most common form of sliding-vane compressor is the lubricant injected variety. In these compressors, a lubricant is injected into the compression chamber to act as a lubricant between the vanes and the stator wall, remove the heat of compression, as well as to provide a seal. Lubricant injected sliding-vane compressors are generally sold in the range of 10-200 HP, with capacities ranging from 40-800 acfm.

 

Sliding Vane
Air enters from the right, and as the compression chamber volume reduces due to counterclockwise rotation, the pressure increases until the air discharges to the left

Advantages of a lubricant injected sliding-vane compressor include:

  • Compact size
  • Relatively low purchase cost
  • Vibration-free operation does not require special foundations
  • Routine maintenance includes lubricant and filter changes

Some of the disadvantages that come with this type of compressor:

  • Less efficient than the rotary screw type
  • Lubricant carryover into the delivered air will require proper maintenance of an oil-removal filtration system
  • Will require periodic lubricant changes

With the host of different options in compressor types available on the market, EXAIR recommends talking to a reputable air compressor dealer in your area to help determine the most suitable setup based on your requirements. Once your system is up and running, be sure to contact an EXAIR Application Engineer to make sure you’re using that compressed air efficiently and intelligently!

Jordan Shouse
Application Engineer
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Photo Credit to Compressed Air Challenge Handbook

What is an Air Compressor?

Internals of an air compressor

What is an air compressor?  This may seem like a simple question, but it is the heartbeat for most industries.  So, let’s dive into the requirements, myths, and types of air compressors that are commonly used.  Like the name states, air compressors are designed to compress air.  Unlike liquid, air is compressible which means that it can be “squished” into a smaller volume by pressure.  With this stored energy, it can do work for your pneumatic system.

There are two types of air compressors, positive displacement and dynamic.  The core component for most air compressors is an electric motor that spins a shaft.  Positive displacement uses the energy from the motor and the shaft to change volume in an area, like a piston in a reciprocating air compressor or like rotors in a rotary air compressor.  The dynamic types use the energy from the motor and the shaft to create a velocity energy with an impeller.  (You can read more about types of air compressors HERE).

Compressed air is a clean utility that is used in many different ways, and it is much safer than electrical or hydraulic systems.  But most people think that compressed air is free, and it is most certainly not.  Because of the expense, compressed air is considered to be a fourth utility in manufacturing plants.  For an electrical motor to reduce a volume of air by compressing it.  It takes roughly 1 horsepower (746 watts) of power to compress 4 cubic feet (113L) of air every minute to 125 PSI (8.5 bar).  With almost every manufacturing plant in the world utilizing air compressors much larger than 1 horsepower, the amount of energy needed to compress air is extraordinary.

Let’s determine the energy cost to operate an air compressor to make compressed air by Equation 1:

Equation 1:

Cost = hp * 0.746 * hours * rate / (motor efficiency)

where:

Cost – US$

hp – horsepower of motor

0.746 – conversion KW/hp

hours – running time

rate – cost for electricity, US$/KWh

motor efficiency – average for an electric motor is 95%.

As an example, a manufacturing plant operates a 100 HP air compressor in their facility.  The cycle time for the air compressor is roughly 60%.  To calculate the hours of running time per year, I used 250 days/year at 16 hours/day for shifts.  So operating hours equal 250 * 16 * 0.60 = 2,400 hours per year.  The electrical rate at this facility is $0.10/KWh. With these factors, the annual cost to operate the air compressor can be calculated by Equation 1:

Cost = 100hp * 0.746 KW/hp * 2,400hr * $0.10/KWh / 0.95 = $18,846 per year in just electrical costs.

So, what is an air compressor?  The answer is an expensive system to compress air to operate pneumatic systems.  So, efficiency in using compressed air is very important.  EXAIR has been manufacturing Intelligent Compressed Air Products since 1983.  If you need alternative ways to save money when you are using your air compressor, an Application Engineer at EXAIR will be happy to help you.

John Ball
Application Engineer
Email: johnball@exair.com
Twitter: @EXAIR_jb

 

Compressor internals image courtesy of h080, Creative Commons License.