Five Things To Know About Single Acting Reciprocating Compressors

With the development of highly efficient air compressors, there’s still a place for the most basic design: the single acting reciprocating compressor.  When the piston moves out of the cylinder, it draws air in, at atmospheric pressure.  When it moves in to the cylinder, it reduces the volume that air occupies, increasing its pressure.  These machines are durable, effective, relatively inexpensive, and pretty easy to maintain.  Here are a few interesting things to know about them:

1. Popularity. Because of the simplicity of their design, they’re the most common air compressor in the 10HP and under sizes.  You can get them from a number of sources, and they’re not going to set you back as much as some other types.
2. Oil free air (part 1) While the most basic design uses oil to lubricate the piston rings in the compression cylinder, oil-less reciprocating compressors have cylinders with very smooth (and hard) bore surfaces, like nickel or chrome plating. A series of guide rings around the whole circumference of the piston prevent metal-to-metal contact, eliminating the need for liquid lubrication in the compression cylinder.
3. Oil free air (part 2) If oil in your compressed air is a problem, an oil-free (as opposed to oil-less) compressor is another option. While an oil-less compressor doesn’t use lubricant for the piston movement, an oil-free compressor’s moving parts are oil lubricated, but that oil is kept away from the compression cylinder(s) with connecting rod(s) so that the oil is confined to the lower moving parts…the crankshaft and bottom ends of the connecting rods, and away from the pistons & compression cylinders.
4. Foundation. Reciprocating machinery, as the name implies, has parts that move back and forth. The sudden reversal of direction of heavy metal pistons & rods, dozens of times a minute, means that their operation is inherently unbalanced. This out-of-balance condition, though, can be absorbed by properly securing the compressor to a properly prepared foundation.
5. Higher pressures. If your facility’s compressed air usage primarily entails pneumatic tools, cylinders, and blow off devices like air guns, the system header pressure is likely maintained at around 100psig. While a one-stage reciprocating compressor is usually rated for discharge pressures up to 125psig, a second stage can increase that to 175psig. Multi-stage compressors are used for applications that require up to 3,000psig compressed air. Examples of these are scuba breathing air, pneumatic excavators, and my personal favorite: ballast tank blowing air, used to surface a submarine.

4-stage reciprocating compressors charge 3,000psig air tanks that are used to rapidly push water from a submarine’s ballast tanks to create positive buoyancy.  Because keeping your ‘diving-to-surfacing’ ratio at 1:1 is important.

At EXAIR Corporation, helping you get the most out of your compressed air system is important to us.  If you’ve got questions about how to do just that, give me a call.

Russ Bowman
Application Engineer
EXAIR Corporation
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About Single Acting Reciprocating Compressors

Whether you’re new to the field of compressed air, an experienced technician, or just in the market for a new compressor, you may find yourself coming into contact with various compressor types.  Within the world of compressed air supply there are two types of compressors: positive displacement and dynamic.  These two compressor types branch off into several different variations, as shown in the chart below.

Compressor types

Positive displacement compressors increase air pressure by reducing air volume within a confined space.  In a positive displacement compressor mechanical linkage is used to reduce the volume of air (the fluid), which results in a change to the air pressure.  To think of it another way, the energy which is used to displace the air volume is converted into an increase in air pressure.

Dynamic compressors, on the other hand, utilize an increase in air velocity to cause a change in air pressure.  For a dynamic compressor, the fluid (air) is accelerated to a high velocity through a rotor or impeller.  The kinetic energy of the air is then converted to an increased potential energy/static pressure by slowing the flow through a diffuser.  The air at the outlet of the diffuser is the compressed air which is used to perform work.

The internals of a single acting reciprocating compressor.

Within this vast field of compressed air generation, one of the most common types of compressors is the single acting reciprocating compressor.  The term “single acting” refers to manner in which the cylinder inside of the compressor motor interacts with the working fluid (the air).  When the fluid (air) acts only on one side of the piston, the motor is referred to as “single acting”.  This type of motor relies on the load of the motor, a flywheel, springs, other cylinders, or some other device/momentum to return the piston back to its original location.

Single acting compressors can be air-cooled or water cooled, lubricated or non-lubricated, and packaged to provide a wide range of pressure and flow capacities.  Because of this adaptability, single acting compressors are quite common and serve a variety of industrial needs.

No matter the type of compressor on the system’s supply side, having engineered products on the demand side improves overall system performance and efficiency.  If you’d like to discuss engineered solutions for your compressed air system, EXAIR Application Engineers are ready and waiting.

Lee Evans
Application Engineer
LeeEvans@EXAIR.com
@EXAIR_LE

 

Compressor internals image courtesy of h080, Creative Commons License.