Comparing the Rotary Screw and Reciprocating Compressors

Rotary Screw vs. Reciprocating Compressors
Rotary Screw vs. Reciprocating Compressors

Rotary Screw vs. Reciprocating Compressors

The two common types of air compressors systems you will find in the market are the rotary screw air compressors and the reciprocating compressor. In this article, I will be comparing the features of these two air compressor systems, why they are in demand, and important tips that can help you make a better buying decision.

The main factor that can influence your decision when buying an air compressor that has the rotary screw or reciprocating system is productivity. Contractors or private users need an air compressor that can deliver the right air pressure for the type of jobs they often have to handle. Also, costs can be a significant factor that influences a buyer’s decision.

Let’s start with a brief explanation about the two air compressor models in question.

The rotary screw air compressor design

The rotary screw air compressor systems have premium features that make these air compressor units more expensive. In these air compressors, the functional systems work with high-quality parts that have been developed to produce adequate air pressure without consuming too much energy or causing noise pollution. The rotary screw air compressors do not feature pistons.

The air pressure output from the rotary screw compressors is significantly consistent, cleaner, and cooler. Air compressors with the rotary screw functional system consume low energy while functioning at maximum capacity.

The Reciprocating air compressor models

The reciprocating air compressors function with pistons. This is the major difference between the two air compressor systems.

The reciprocating air compressors feature an air tank as well; the pistons are responsible for compressing the air that is released through the output nozzles. The reciprocating air compressor models are usually oil-lubricated; they work with recommended synthetic oils, as stated by the manufacturer. These air compressors also function with the belt-drive system and high-quality cylinders.

While in use, the air compressor produces a significantly louder mechanical noise due to how the pistons work. These air compressors also consume more energy; however, the air pressure output is remarkably efficient.

The reciprocating air compressor design is mostly used for industrial air compressor models that can be used to handle major projects.

Differences between the Rotary screw and reciprocating air compressors

In the following part, I will be highlighting the main differences that set both air compressor models apart. Please note that these differences do not hinder the functional capacity of both air compressor models.

A quick search online reveals that there are so many users who are satisfied with the functional capacity of both air compressor models. It is just a matter of choice based on their features.

Comparing the performance of both models

Regarding performance, many contractors or private users of air compressors value the speed at which the unit can work. The air compressors that are known to work faster are in high demand. However, the performance of an air compressor can be attributed to the reputation of the manufacturing brand.

From a general perspective, a comparison of the two models in question, with the same features and functional capacity, reveals that the rotary screw air compressor models have a higher performance rating than the reciprocating air compressors in terms of the magnitude of air pressure produced.

The reason for this difference in performance is attributed to the fact that the rotary screw air compressor models do not require a large air tank to produce the required air pressure output. The reciprocating air compressor system requires a large air tank to store the compressed air. The compressed air stored in the tank is delivered with fewer air pulses.

Comparing the duty cycle

Another factor that contractors who need to buy an air compressor model should consider is the recovery time. It is better to have a compressor unit that has a 100% duty cycle. The duty cycle is the maximum time the air compressor can be used without a break.

In many cases, users need to take breaks, the recovery time, to prevent overheating which can damage important parts of the air compressor. The rotary screw air compressor models have a 100% duty cycle. These air compressor models can be used for long hours without breaks. This is possible because of the low energy consumption and cooling systems in these air compressor units.

On the other hand, the reciprocating air compressors have a shorter duty cycle mainly because of their design, which features cylinders and the belt-drive system, as well as other mechanical parts such as the crankshaft and rings. These mechanical parts cause the internal temperature to rise very fast.

Maintenance requirements

The rotary screw air compressor models have significantly low maintenance requirements when compared to the reciprocating compressor models. The rotary screw air compressor models are oil-free; this means there is no need to change the oil in the system frequently. Also, the absence of mechanical parts reduces the chances of wear and tear, when parts need to be frequently replaced.

The reciprocating air compressors are more prone to wear and tear because of the mechanical parts in the system. The oil in the system also needs to be bought and changed frequently to keep up the performance.

Life span

Averagely, the rotary screw air compressor models last longer than the reciprocating air compressor units. This is mainly due to the reasons that have been stated above.


The rotary screw air compressor units are significantly smaller and more portable than the reciprocating air compressor units. The rotary screw air compressors weigh only a few pounds and can be easily carried in the trunk of a car. They also come in hand-carry models. These lightweight air compressors are suitable for the use of hand-held air tools.

The reciprocating air compressors are much larger in size. They come with bulky metal belt guards and larger air tanks. These air compressor units are usually stationary models.

The CFM output capacity of both air compressor models also vary, but this depends on the model. The information above gives a general perspective regarding the operation of both types of air compressors to help you understand their features and how the units can be used more effectively to meet your needs.


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