Reciprocating Air Compressor

The idea of reciprocation, that refers to moving something forward and backward, underlies the operation of reciprocating air compressors. These devices, also referred to as piston compressors, are positive displacement machinery, which means that they increase air pressure in order to compress it. Choosing the best model for your application, whether you're a home craftsperson or in charge of a manufacturing floor, requires a thorough understanding of reciprocating compressor design, manufacturers, and the working principles of the other available types.

Inside the reciprocating compressors, there are cylinders with pistons. Each cylinder is finished at one end with a moveable piston and has a concealed end next to the head of the cylinder. The read end of the compressor's valve chambers is where the cylinder valves are positioned. A suction valve, opened by the piston's movement, allows air to enter the cylinder during the initial stage of compression. This leaves a void. After that, the piston starts compressing the air as it reverses direction, completing the "reciprocating" half of the term. When the pressure inside the cylinder is higher than the pressure in the discharge pipes, valves open and let air out.

Reciprocating Low Pressure Air Compressor
Reciprocating Low Pressure

INDO-AIR Single-stage air compressors are designed for low pressure application.

Two Stage Reciprocating Air Compressor
Two Stage Reciprocating

NDO-AIR Two - stage air compressors are designed for medium pressure application and are made of heavy-duty components to give optimum performance.

High Pressure Reciprocating Air Compressor
Reciprocating High Pressure

INDO-AIR Multi-stage, High Pressure Air Compressors are available in two & three stages in two cylinder & three cylinder versions.

Working principle of a reciprocating air compressor

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Diesel engines are typically used to power reciprocating compressors. A direct-drive or belt drive system can be used for this, and both will run continuously till the engine is running. The process for unloading aids the cycle, and in some systems you can find a governor that is normally located next to the compressor. A governor helps to carry out the particular intake and eliminate pressure when it is present. Let's look at some fundamentals of the reciprocating compressor.

The Intake Cycle

The piston is moved through the cylinder downward to begin everything. This action creates a vacuum between the piston top and the head of the cylinder, and ultimately creates a low pressure into the cylinder that goes through a series of inlet valves. These valves are situated above the descending piston head. In this phase of the cycle, the discharge valves remain closed and the inflow valves remain open.

The Unloading Process

The inlet valves close as the piston goes back up, trapping the air inside the cylinder. The area that air takes up in the cylinder is reduced when you keep pushing the piston on the upward direction, creating pressured air. The discharge valve will open once the pressure inside the cylinder quickly overcomes the discharge valve spring's resistance, allowing the newly pressurised air to leave the system before the cycle is repeated. A closed discharge valve prevents air from returning to the cylinder's low-pressure area after it has been compressed. After passing through an air receiver tank, the air leaving the discharge outlet is smoothed out of the low-frequency pulsations it picked up during compression.

The Duty Cycle

The duty cycle is one of the fundamentals of a reciprocating compressor that is crucial to understand. The amount of time the compressor is filled is compared to the amount of time it is running entirely unloaded or off to establish the duty cycle. Reciprocating compressors should only be used at 20 to 30 percent of their full capacity at all times. To maximise the life of your compressor, make sure it is running within the permitted duty cycle range. Selecting a compressor that is too small for your application or intentionally raising the load by disregarding air leakage may strain the system beyond its capacity and cause expensive, early compressor component wear and tear.


There can be differences in the working mechanism of many reciprocating compressor, but it is conceivable for the drive motor pump to share some of its lubricant with the compressor. The feed from the sump is necessary for this configuration to maintain proper lubrication throughout the entire system. The oil change-out intervals advised by the engine manufacturer would need to be modified in this setup because they do not account for the additional requirements of the compressor. If you wish to accurately estimate the lubricant's reduced life expectancy, the new routine must take into account the heat load that the compressor imparts on the lubricant.


The main source of cooling for the majority of engine-powered air compressors is lubricant. This lubricant is cooled by the engine oil cooler before being recycled by the compressor. The air from the fan in the engine oil cooler can also eradicate a tiny percentage of the heat the compressor body releases, eliminating it from the system together with the discharged exhaust air.

A reciprocating compressor's cooling system is essential to the equipment's durability. Without them, the risk of exceeding temperature limits increases significantly if your application runs at a higher duty cycle than is advised.

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Types of Reciprocating Compressors

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An inlet valve and a discharge valve, both of which are one-way and spring-loaded, make up the fundamental configuration of a single-acting compressor. While the piston descends, the inlet valve draws air in, and the discharge valve doesn't open until enough force has been applied. Due to the presence of valves only at the top of the cylinder, single-acting reciprocating compressors only undergo one compression cycle for every crankshaft rotation. For a variety of reasons, single-acting compressors are the most popular.

Booster Compressor


With outlet and inlet valves on either end of the cylinder, a double-acting reciprocating compressor performs two compression cycles for every crankshaft rotation. Due to their extremely efficient design, double-acting reciprocators are best suited for the manufacturing sector. A double-acting compressor with less than 100 horsepower is uncommon. But when space is at a premium, their power comes with an enormous footprint that isn't always feasible.

Advantages of reciprocating compressor

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Reciprocating air compressors have plenty of uses for all business sizes. Here are a few of the most typical applications for compressors in small- to medium-sized businesses:

  • Sandblasters in machine shops or factories
  • Wood or auto body sanding
  • Spray painting vehicles
  • Creating snow for activities like skiing
  • Various dental and other medical tools
  • Pneumatic nail guns, hammers and drills in construction
  • Air guns for cleaning machinery
Booster Compressor

Reciprocating Compressors vs. Other Air Compressors

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Booster Compressor

It's vital to understand the differences between the rotary screw compressor and the reciprocating/piston compressor before choosing which compressor is best suited for your company. Their compressor working principle is one of the obvious distinctions. Rotary compressors work by trapping air between two screws that rotate in opposition to one another. The air inside the cylinder is compressed by reciprocating compressors using pistons that rise and fall. Although most businesses have relied on the traditional piston model and reciprocating air compressors, evaluating the maintenance costs, necessary applications, appropriate mode of formula and unique characteristics of each compressor diagram will help you decide which is best for your productivity.

Compressor Maintenance

The rotary screw compressor has fewer maintenance needs and expenses than the reciprocating compressor, which is one of its benefits. Generally speaking, filter and lubricant maintenance is minimal for rotary compressors. In reciprocating air compressors, numerous components, including valves and piston rings, need to be checked often. Without a continuously high degree of maintenance, the compressors might gradually lose performance value as these parts wear down over time and produce more heat.

Compressed Air Applications

It's crucial to take your intended use into account when evaluating different compressor types. Reciprocal air compressors can operate at greater levels, which is a definite advantage over rotary screw compressors. For tasks needing pressures of more than 150 psi, these are a better option. They are employed in many different industries because of their versatility in demanding applications. They can also be base mounted or installed right onto tanks.

Some of them work best when the pressure is less than 150 psi. They are therefore perfect for common applications in the plant industry. Many medical and industrial establishments find them to be more cost-effective because they are dependable and have lengthy lifecycles.

Where are reciprocating air compressors used?

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Given the intercooler feature, these compressors are widely used in auto service, dental service, and a variety of recreational services. In the agriculture sector, they are used for -

  • Conveyors that transfer feed or grain between silos and other destinations
  • Ventilation systems in greenhouses or hydroponic systems
  • putting insecticides or fertiliser onto crops
  • powering several kinds of material handling equipment
  • powering various dairy equipment, including those for milking and moving materials

Compressed air is also essential for businesses which involve large scale manufacturing. This can be for assembly, fabrication, refinery plants and their uses can vary from -

  • Air tools and automated machinery
  • Welding or cutting equipment
  • Component ejection from molds
  • Production monitoring devices
  • Feed and roller machinery adjustments
  • Molding gas tanks and plastic bottles
  • Positioners, air knives, clamps and air chucks
  • Pneumatic finishing and packaging devices
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Common questions we get asked about air compressors with our replies.
Trouble shooting questions are answered on another page, there links to other popular air compressor related pages to the right.

Reciprocating compressors are widely used in the chemical, oil, and gas industries for moving compressible fluids reliably.

During the first stage of compression, air moves into the cylinder via a suction valve, triggered by the movement of the piston. This creates a vacuum. The piston then reverses its motion, fulfilling the “reciprocating” part of the name, and begins compressing the air in the process.

The reciprocating compressor is a type of compressor in which the compression of the gas is achieved by piston strokes. The most common form of a reciprocating compressor is the piston compressor, which has a sliding piston located inside a cylinder containing the gas to be compressed.

There are four main advantages to choosing reciprocating air compressors. These advantages include flexibility of use, higher pressure generation, high efficiencies achieved, and the efficiency of use in intermittent cycling.

Reciprocating compressors are typically used where high compression ratios (ratio of discharge to suction pressures) are required per stage without high flow rates, and the process fluid is relatively dry.

Rotary compressors have two screws that turn in opposite directions, trapping the air between them causing compression. Reciprocating compressors use pistons that move up and down to compress the air inside the cylinder.

Reciprocating air compressor is best suited for

  • large quantity of air at high pressure.
  • small quantity of air at high pressure.
  • smallsmall quantity of air at low pressure.
  • large quantity of air at low pressure

Applications include oil refineries, gas pipelines, oil and gas production drilling and well services, air and nitrogen injection, offshore platforms, chemical plants, natural gas processing plants, air conditioning, and refrigeration plants.

The rotary vane mechanism is simpler, more durable, and more efficient than reciprocating compressors (also called “piston compressors”), and the result is a better machine — one with more uptime, better energy efficiency and cost-effectiveness, higher air quality, and a longer lifespan.

A two-stage double-acting reciprocating compressor is the most energy-efficient air compressor.14-Jan-2008

Though less common nowadays, oil-lubricated air compressors tend to last longer than their oil-free air counterparts due to the routine maintenance they receive.

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    Booster Compressor
    Booster Compressor 10 To 40 HP Reciprocating

    Indo-Air pressurizes the air entering the compressor at 7-13 bar up to 40 bars with the IBH series booster air compressors in its production range.

    Rotary Screw Compressor
    Rotary Screw 7.5 To 270 HP Lubricated

    Main part of Screw Compressor is Air-end, consisting of a pair of rotors. The male motor is driven by electric motor. Suction of air though Inlet filter and suction control valve.

    Oil Free High Pressure Compressor
    Reciprocating Oil Free High Pressure Water-Cooled 40 To 215 HP

    The search for a reliable 100% Oil Free quality air has prompted INDO-AIR to come out with totally engineered, tested and high performance range of compessors.

    Oil Free High Pressure Compressor
    Oil Free Medium Pressure Water Cooled 30 To 215 HP

    The search for a reliable, 100% oil free quality air has prompted Indo-Air to introduce a totally engineered, tested and high performance range of compressors.

    Reciprocating Low Pressure Air Compressor
    Reciprocating 1 To 20 HP Single-Stage Low Pressure

    INDO-AIR Single-stage air compressors are designed for low pressure application. These compressors have cylinders of same size (regardless of the number of cylinders).

    Reciprocating Medium Pressure Air Compressor
    Reciprocating 2 To 30 HP Two-Stage Medium Pressure

    INDO-AIR Two - stage air compressors are designed for medium pressure application and are made of heavy-duty components to give optimum performance.