Choosing an air compressor involves numerous decisions, one of which is determining the type of air compressor that would work best for your facility and application. Air compressors can pressurize air in several ways. Two of the most common methods of pressurizing are screw compressors and reciprocating compressors.

When choosing a compressor, it is important to examine the advantages and disadvantages of each type. You can determine which characteristics will work best for your application by evaluating capacity requirements, uptime requirements, maintenance resources and budget. While each type of compressor delivers compressed air to your facility, they achieve this in vastly different ways, with vastly different considerations to make.

In this piece, we will look at the difference between a screw compressor vs. reciprocating compressor and examine the pros and cons of each.



What Is the Difference Between Rotary Compressor and Reciprocating Compressor Equipment?

Rotary compressors — also called screw compressors — incorporate two helical screws that rotate near one another, compressing air as the volume in each air channel decreases. Rotary compressors use oil to keep the screws lubricated while controlling their temperature. These types of compressors are capable of operation at 100% duty cycle.

Reciprocating compressors — also called piston compressors — use the linear, back-and-forth movement of pistons within chambers to draw in, compress and expel pressurized air. These types of compressors may involve single-stage or two-stage compression, and they have an optimal duty cycle of 50%.

Pros and Cons of Rotary and Reciprocating Compressors

There are many pros and cons of rotary and reciprocating compressors to consider. These include:

Rotary Compressors

In this section, we will explore the pros and cons of rotary screw compressors.


  • Capable of “always-on,” constant operation at a 100% duty cycle
  • Maintain excellent cooling capabilities because of the incorporation of oil into the rotary screw mechanism
  • Do not require extra cooling time between operating cycles
  • Offer the quietest operation among air compressor types
  • Offer maximum uptime due to lack of cooling time and reduced maintenance requirements
  • Longer expected equipment life


  • Application sizing – if unit is oversized, could run the risk of not producing enough heat to remove water from the oil.
  • Maintenance costs tend to be a bit higher

Reciprocating Compressors

Here, we will examine the pros and cons of reciprocating piston compressors.


  • Feature a simple design
  • Offer high discharge pressure
  • Initial costs are lower, though these compressors require more maintenance and downtime over the life of the equipment


  • Louder operation due to the nature of the reciprocating design
  • Optimal duty cycles range from 30% to 50%
  • Require downtime for cooling due to heat generated by friction between the pistons and chamber walls
  • Cannot run around the clock, requiring downtime for cooling
  • Expected life is very dependent of duty cycle.

Make the Choice That’s Right for You

With this examination of the pros and cons of rotary compressors and reciprocating compressors, you now have the basic information you need to decide which is the right compressor for you. Important considerations to keep in mind are downtime tolerance, air compressor maintenance budget, efficiency and duty cycle requirements, pressure and capacity requirements, and more.

At Kaishan USA, we offer a wealth of expertise in the air compressor field. We are on hand to answer any additional questions you may have about the different types of compressors and how to choose the right one for you. To learn more, get in touch with one of our helpful representatives today.

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