Air compressor supplies air into a nail gun

An air compressor is a device that converts power (usually from an electric motor or diesel / gasoline engine) into kinetic energy by pressurising and compressing air, which is then released in quick bursts. There are numerous methods of air compression, divided into either positive-displacement or negative-displacement types.[1][2]


Positive-displacement air compressors work by forcing air into a chamber whose volume is reduced to effect the compression. Piston-type air compressors use this principle by pumping air into an air chamber through the use of the constant motion of pistons. They use unidirectional valves to guide air into a chamber, where the air is compressed.[1] Rotary screw compressors also use positive-displacement compression by matching two helical screws that, when turned, guide air into a chamber, the volume of which is reduced as the screws turn. Vane compressors use a slotted rotor with varied blade placement to guide air into a chamber and compress the volume.


Negative-displacement air compressors include centrifugal compressors. These devices use centrifugal force generated by a spinning impeller to accelerate and then decelerate captured air, which pressurizes it.[1]

Most air compressors are either reciprocating piston type or rotary vane or rotary screw. Centrifugal compressors are common in very large applications. There are two main types of air compressor's pumps: Oil lubed and oil-less. The oil-less system has more technical development, but they are more expensive, louder and last for less time than the oiled lube pumps. However, the air delivered has better quality as it is 'clean'. I a lot of applications the air is also treated to remove moisture.


The air compressors seen by the public are used in 5 main applications:

  • To supply a high-pressure clean air to fill gas cylinders & vehicle braking systems (air brakes)
  • To supply a moderate-pressure clean air to supply air to a submerged 'surface supplied' diver (deep water diving uses a special mixture of gasses)
  • To supply a large amount of moderate-pressure air to power pneumatic tools
  • For filling tires, air beds and inflatable boats
  • To produce large volumes of moderate-pressure air for industrial processes (e.g spray painting or 'blast' cleaning dust)).

See alsoEdit


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