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Comparing Two Air Compressors: Piston and Rotary Screw

Estimated time to read: 5 minutes

September 4, 2023

graphic of woman and two air compressors

The variety of compressed air solutions available on the market can initially appear daunting. This guide aims to assist you in understanding the difference between two primary types of air compressors: piston and rotary screw. Additionally, it will provide insights into their operational aspects.

Both categories come in a different sizes, and offer choices between oil-free or oil-injected engines. To determine the most suitable choice for your specific application, it's crucial to take into account the following factors:

  • Budget and energy efficiency
  • Desired air pressure level (measured in psi)
  • Compliance with clean air standards
  • Frequency of utilisation
  • Significance of remote monitoring tools

Continue reading to delve further into how these themes will shape your equipment choices. If you're new to buying compressed air equipment or looking to enhance your current setup, we hope you find the following information helpful.

Click on the topics below to browse through the article:

chicago pneumatic screw compressor

Rotary screw air compressors are the most efficient option. They come in both fixed speed and variable speed drive (VSD) motor configurations. With various setups available for rotary screw equipment, there's a solution to suit most budgets.

It's important to note that these machines typically come with a higher upfront cost compared to piston air compressors. However, because of their advanced technology, they generally result in cost savings over their lifespan when compared to piston machines. Furthermore, unlike piston air compressors, which require resting periods, rotary screw machines can operate continuously throughout the day.

To learn more about the benefits of different types of rotary screw air compressors, please read our article. Below we will briefly highlight the key distinctions.

Fixed speed

Fixed speed rotary screw machines consistently provide a constant level of air supply throughout the day. They excel in scenarios with stable job requirements and workflows where demand remains constant. Additionally, these machines often come with the most affordable initial investment cost among rotary screw air compressors.

Variable speed drive

Variable speed machines are ideal for minimising electricity usage and optimising output by adjusting their speed to match changing air demand. Advanced models, such as those equipped with iPM motors, have the ability to save up to 45% energy. This surpasses the typical 35% efficiency gain of VSD over fixed speed models.

Advanced equipment for rotary screw compressors

Monitoring and control systems can enhance efficiency in both fixed speed and VSD air compressors. These systems offer functions such as analytics, timers and maintenance alerts.

chicago pneumatic piston compressor

Piston air compressors are a popular choice because of their cost-effective initial investment. They are well suited for small to medium-sized worksites and tasks, boasting a straightforward design. However, as mentioned earlier, piston machines require downtime and cannot operate continuously.

For a more in-depth exploration of the benefits of a piston air compressor, read our article. Piston air compressors excel in DIY projects and compact job sites. Their relatively small footprint eliminates the need for a spacious air compressor closet.

Quiet models for noise-sensitive environments are available, allowing convenient location near the point of use.

When exploring piston and rotary screw air compressors, you'll encounter both oil-free and oil-injected varieties. Your choice largely depends on your industry requirements. For instance, in sensitive industries such as medical, food and beverage, and chemical, opting for an oil-free model is paramount.

Oil-free and oil-injected models differ in how they lubricate them. Oil-injected air compressors use oil to reduce engine friction keep temperatures low. This makes them suitable for many uses and allows them to produce high-quality air. We employ special filters to reduce oil contamination in the output.

Situations that cannot handle small amounts of oil require alternative methods to maintain the air compressor's cooling and functionality. Fans and other mechanisms typically achieve this. Since oil-free machines need additional components, they are generally pricier. 

No matter which option you select, rest assured that we are committed to providing you with top-tier machines. Our aim is to assist you in delivering the cleanest air possible for your work and customers. 


We trust that this guide has been helpful in clarifying the differences between piston and rotary screw air compressors. If you find yourself still unsure about which option is best suited to your needs, don't hesitate to reach out.

Please feel free to contact us today, and we'll gladly provide guidance to steer you in the right direction. Our team of experts is ready to assess and analyse your specific work requirements. We eagerly await your communication.


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