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What is the difference between Reciprocating and Rotary Screw Compressors?

by Nick Calvo on May 06, 2020

Reciprocating vs Rotary Screw

Reciprocating or Piston-Type

Reciprocating or Piston-Type compressors pump air by action of pistons. Drawing in air on the down stroke and discharging air on its upstroke. Reciprocating compressors can be single-stage or two-stage, while two-stages of compression creates greater efficiency. These compressors are designed to run for a period, and then have down time to cool.

Rotary Screw

Rotary Screw uses two helical screws that rotate with close clearances next to each other. Air travels through the grooves and is compressed as the channels volume decreases, which increases pressure. Rotary compressors have fewer moving parts and excellent cooling capabilities, meaning they can run 100% of the time without needing down time to cool. Oil is used to cool, lubricate, and seal the screws – which must be separated from the air after the compression cycle.

Reciprocating Rotary Screw
  • Simple design
  • Two-stage models makes them more efficient
  • Low initial cost
  • Excellent cooling capabilities
  • Quiet Operation
  • Designed to run 100% of the time (100% duty cycle)
  • Loud Operation
  • Heat caused by friction of pistons requires down time to cool
  • Higher maintenance cost
  • Not designed to run 100% of the time
  • High rotational speeds
  • Oil injected results in oil carryover
  • Difficult to operate in dirty environments


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