Air Compressor Works

Piston vs Rotary Screw

September 7, 2021
Piston Compressor vs Rotary Screw Compressor

Piston Compressors versus Rotary Screw Compressors; the two most popular compressor technologies available today.


Piston vs Rotary Screw Compressors


Duty Cycle – the percentage of time a compressor may operate without the risk of overheating and causing excessive wear.

  • Piston: Limited
  • Rotary: 100%

Noise Levels – rotary screw compressors are quieter and produce less vibration.

  • Piston: 80+ dB(A) Louder than an alarm clock
  • Rotary: 65 – 75 dB(A) Similar to a toilet flush

Oil carry-over – when oil that is used to lubricate your air compressor makes it into the air lines.

  • Piston: 10 ppm+
  • Rotary: 1 – 7 ppm

Flow – the ability of an air compressor to continuously perform a task. Usually measured in cfm.

  • Piston: 3 – 3.5 cfm/hp
  • Rotary: 4 – 4.5 cfm/hp

Moisture – the hotter the air, the more moisture it holds. Approximately every 20°F increase in temperature doubles air’s ability to hold moisture.

  • Piston:

    Internal Operating Temperature: 300 – 400°F

    Discharge Temperature: 100°F+ above ambient temperature

  • Rotary:

    Internal Operating Temperature: 170 – 200°F

    Discharge Temperature: 15 – 25°F above ambient temperature


  • Piston: lower initial cost
  • Rotary: lower operating cost


  • Piston

    Intermittent use

    Lower cfm

    Higher pressure

    Smaller shops and manual applications

  • Rotary

    Continuous use

    Higher cfm

    High-volume and robotic manufacturing and conveyor systems

    Applications requiring very clean air

related post

Compressor Basics: Rotary Screw Compressors


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