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How to Choose Air Compressors for Industrial Applications

Choosing the right size reciprocating piston air compressor for your automotive or industrial needs is crucial for efficient operation, cost-effectiveness, and equipment longevity. This guide will walk you through the key factors to consider and provide a step-by-step approach to selecting the perfect compressor.

Determine Air Demand

Start by assessing the air demand of your application. Consider factors such as the number of air tools or equipment that will run simultaneously, their air consumption rates (measured in cubic feet per minute, CFM), and any intermittent or continuous usage patterns. Intermittent air usage involves tools that start and stop often, such as impact wrenches, sanders, paint spray guns, sandblasting cabinets, etc. Continuous air usage refers to equipment that requires a steady airflow, such as paint agitators, factory equipment, regenerative dryers, piping air leaks, etc. Add up the CFM requirements of all the tools or equipment to calculate the total CFM needed at peak demand. Typically, manufacturers will include average CFM consumption and working pressure ratings on the technical data sheets of their products.

Factor in Pressure Requirements

Determine the minimum and maximum operating pressures required for your application. Most air tools have a specified operating pressure range, and the compressor should be capable of delivering air within that range.

Account for Ambient Conditions

Consider the ambient temperature and altitude of the operating environment, as these factors can affect the performance of the compressor. Higher temperatures or altitudes may reduce the compressor’s efficiency and output capacity.

Compressor Flow Rate

The flow rate of the compressor (CFM) is an important factor to consider. Make sure to choose a compressor with a flow rate that meets or exceeds the demands of your equipment.

Compressor Horsepower

The horsepower of the compressor may also impact its performance. A higher horsepower compressor will typically be able to deliver more compressed air, but it varies between manufacturers. C-Aire recommends sizing a compressor based on the required CFM instead of horsepower.

Tank Size

Determine the appropriate tank size based on the compressor’s intended use and duty cycle. A larger tank provides more stored air, reducing the frequency of compressor cycling and ensuring a steady supply of compressed air during peak demand periods.

Compressor Configuration

Piston compressors come in various configurations, including simplex, duplex, gas drive, and portable models. Choose the configuration that best suits your application’s requirements for pressure, flow rate, and portability.

Evaluate Additional Features

Consider optional features such as an aftercooler, automatic tank drain, vibration reduction pads, and other technologies to enhance the compressor’s performance, reliability, and user comfort. C-Aire offers a Fully Packaged add-on that includes an oversized aftercooler, energy-saving automatic tank drain, and installation kit.

Electricity Limitations

Always consult with your electrician before sizing an air compressor. An industrial air compressor should be hardwired to a dedicated electrical circuit. Electric air compressors vary widely in the voltage and phase they can operate at, so check our fact sheets or specification tables to learn about electrical compatibility.

Size of the Facility

The size of your facility and the available space for the air compressor should also be taken into consideration. Larger facilities with more piping and equipment may require a high horsepower unit or an upgrade to a duplex compressor to meet their air demand.

Evaluate Future Growth

It’s important to consider not only your current air demand but also any potential future growth. If you anticipate your air demand increasing in the future, it may be worth investing in a larger air compressor to meet those needs.

Compressor Duty Cycle

An air compressor duty cycle refers to how long an air compressor can operate continuously before needing to rest and allow the pump to cool down. It is also the amount of time a compressor provides consistent pressure (PSI) and flow (CFM). Duty cycle is typically expressed as a percentage of run time over a given period. C-Aire air compressors have a duty cycle of 70%, which means the compressor can run continuously for 7 minutes in any given 10-minute period.

Pump RPM

C-Aire uses low RPM pumps, which are quieter, cooler, more efficient, and last longer.


Reduces the temperature of compressed air between stages, making the second stage of compression more efficient.

Type of Drive

Piston air compressors can be driven by either an electric motor or a gasoline engine. Electric motor-driven compressors are generally more efficient and have lower operating costs, but they may not be suitable for use in remote locations or areas without access to electricity. Gasoline-powered compressors are more portable and can be used in a wider range of locations, but they may have higher operating costs and produce emissions.


Regular maintenance is important for ensuring the performance and longevity of your air compressor. Make sure to follow the manufacturer’s recommended maintenance schedule and keep track of any necessary repairs or replacements.

C-Aire Piston Compressor CFM Sizing Table

View C-Aire’s Piston Compressor CFM Sizing Table to find guidance on typical airflow requirements per person for various industries, including automotive, manufacturing, construction, woodworking, and more.

Piston Compressor CFM Sizing Table - C-Aire Compressors



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