Rotary and reciprocating compressors are both components of gas transfer systems. They both have the same purpose–to bring a gas into the system, inhale exhaust, then repeat the process. They both do this by changing the pressure at certain points in order to force gas in and exhaust out.


One key difference is that reciprocating compressors use pistons while rotary compressors do not. A reciprocating compressor has a piston move downwards, reducing pressure in its cylinder by creating a vacuum. This difference in pressure forces the cylinder door to open and bring gas in. When the cylinder goes back up, it increases pressure, thus forcing the gas back out. The up-and-down motion is called a reciprocating motion, hence the name.


Rotary compressors, on the other hand, use rollers. They sit slightly off-center in a shaft, with one side always touching the wall. As they move at high speeds, they accomplish the same goal as the reciprocating compressors–one part of the shaft is always at a different pressure than the other, so gas can come in at the low pressure point and exit at the high pressure point.

Advantages and Disadvantages

Reciprocating compressors are marginally more efficient than rotary compressors, generally being able to compress the same amount of gas with between 5 and 10 percent less energy input. However, since this difference is so marginal, most small-to-medium level users are best off using a rotary compressor. Reciprocating compressors are more expensive and require more maintenance, so it is often not worth the extra cost and headache for such a small difference in efficiency.

Large users, however, are generally best-served by reciprocating compressors. These are users for whom 5 percent represents a substantial figure, often substantial enough to justify the added expense.

Comparison Between Reciprocating and Rotary Compressors

Comparison between Reciprocating and Rotary Compressors can be done in aspects like pressure ratio, handled volume, speed of compressor, vibrational problem, size, air supply, purity of compressed air, compression efficiency, maintenance, mechanical efficiency, lubrication, initial cost, flexibility and suitability.
Reciprocating Compressors
Rotary Compressors
1 Pressure Ratio Discharge Pressure of air is high. The pressure ratio per stage will be in the order of 4 to 7. Discharge pressure of air is low. The pressure ratio per stage will be in the order of 3 to 5.
2 Handled Volume Quantity of air handled is low and is limited to 50m3/s. Large measure of air handled can be handled and it is about 500 m3/s.
3 Speed of Compressor Low speed of compressor. High speed of compressor.
4 Vibrational Problem Due to reciprocating section, greater vibrational problem, the parts of machine are poorly balanced. Rotary parts of machine, thus it has less vibrational problems. The machine parts are fairly balanced.
5 Size of compressor Size of Compressor is bulky for given discharge volume. Compressor size is small for given discharge volume.
6 Air supply Air supply is intermittent. Air supply is steady and continuous..
7 Purity of compressed air Air delivered from the compressor is dirty, since it comes in contact with lubricating oil and cylinder surface. Air delivered from the compressor is clean and free from dirt.
8 Compressed efficiency Higher with pressure ratio more than 2. Higher with compression ratio less than 2.
9 Maintanence Higher due to reciprocating engine. Lower due to less sliding parts..
10 Mechanical Efficiency Lower due to several sliding parts.. Higher due to less sliding parts.
11 Lubrication Complicated lubrication system. Simple lubrication system.
12 Initial cost Higher. Lower.
13 Flexibility Greater flexibility in capacity and pressure range. No flexibility in capacity and pressure range.
14 Suitability For medium and high pressure ratio.
For low and medium gas volume.
For low and medium pressures.
For large volumes.

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