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How it Works: Piston Compressor


A piston compressor is the oldest and most common type of industrial compressor. It uses the principle of displacement to increase the pressure of the enclosed volume of gas or air.

Piston Compressor Configurations

Piston compressors are available in a variety of configurations, including single-acting, double-acting, oil-lubricated or oil-free. One of the most common configurations is the double-acting design, which features an L-configuration with one vertical, low-pressure cylinder and one horizontal, high-pressure cylinder. Oil-lubricated designs use splash lubrication or pressure lubrication and oil-free designs feature piston rings or toothed walls.

Most piston compressors have self-acting valves that open and close based on pressure differences on both sides of the valve disk. Some larger machines are equipped with a crosshead, seals and a ventilated intermediate piece to prevent oil from being transferred into the compression chamber.

How Does a Piston Compressor Work?

In a piston compressor with a valve system and two stainless steel valve discs, the piston moves downward and draws air into the cylinder. The largest disc flexes to fold downward, allowing the air to pass. When the piston moves upward, the large disc flexes again to seal against the valve seat. The compressed air is then forced through the hole in the valve seat and delivered to the end process.

Learn more about the technology behind your favorite Atlas Copco machine by downloading a copy of our free air compression manual or contact us – we’d be happy to send you a copy of your own. And, if you’re interested in learning more about our piston compressor offerings, please check out our website

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