Although much of the press about air compressors in recent years has focused on the new market for small and medium sized air compressors, traditionally they were primarily used by heavy industry and this remains the case today. The industrial air compressor is typically a fixed machine and usually operates on a much higher level than the compressor available at your local hardware store. Some compressors operate using hundreds, thousands, and even tens of thousands of horsepower and create pressure levels well beyond any non-industrial application.
One of the industries that rely most heavily on the industrial air compressor is the petroleum and natural gas industry. These companies use enormous compressors for a myriad of purposes. Almost all natural gas pipelines are fueled using a massive industrial air compressor, which is frequently operated by a natural gas turbine. This turbine is fueled directly by the natural gas being pumped through the pipeline, so they are able to operate without an additional external power source. Petroleum refineries and natural gas plants also tend to create huge amounts of intermediate and end-product gasses in their various processes, all of which is also compressed using massive industrial compressors. The manufacturing of industrial compressors for the petroleum and natural gas industry is a specialized niche, with many companies that build compressors exclusively for these industries and purposes.
Industrial air compressors are also used in a wide range of industrial and manufacturing applications, where the use of pneumatic tools is more efficient than other options. Virtually every major production factory has one or more industrial compressors that are used to power a wide range of tools and systems within the factory or plant. Pneumatic tools and devices are inherently more energy effective and less polluting than most of the alternatives available, so they play a key role in almost all major factories, regardless of the product being made or the type of work being done. Many of the largest factories have their industrial air compressors custom built to meet their very specific and exacting demands, and there is an entire industry devoted exclusively to building and maintaining these customized compressors.
The industrial air compressor also plays a key role in the production of stored air and other gasses for a wide range of applications. From the tanks used by scuba divers, to hospitals, to firemen and welders; the vast majority of them are filled on an industrial scale from massive industrial compressors. The compressors used to store breathable air and special gasses all operate under very specific guidelines that are designed to ensure that the end product is safe and effective. Many very specialized compressors are required to handle these special needs and this is at least in part of the reason why so many different types of industrial compressors remain in production. Quite simply, no single type of compressor can meet all of the specifications of every type of gas to be compressed.
The word “industrial” may be applied to many different types of compressors, but more often than not, when one thinks of an “industrial” air compressor, one is thinking about one of these giant “mega-machines” which are truly feats of engineering in their own right.