What is a Centrifugal Compressor?

Lori Kilchermann

A centrifugal compressor is a type of compressor that utilizes rotating vanes or impellers to compress a gas instead of a piston. This design is used in high-end air compressors as well as on refrigeration units and air conditioners. This type of compressor is able to be used in stages to create ultra-high compression of gasses or air. This type of compressor has fewer moving parts and operates more smoothly than a piston-type compressor.

Air conditioners typically use centrifugal compressors.
Air conditioners typically use centrifugal compressors.

Turbo chargers utilize a centrifugal compressor due in part to the durability and the capability of operating at high and prolonged engine speeds or revolutions per minute (RPMs). Compared to a positive displacement compressor, the centrifugal one is much more energy efficient. The only drawback is the need to run multiple stages to achieve ultra high compression. A benefit of this type of compressor is the ability to operate for extended periods with little change to the output level.

Auto repair shops may use a centrifugal compressor to power pneumatic tools.
Auto repair shops may use a centrifugal compressor to power pneumatic tools.

Quieter operation as well as a lower manufacturing cost make the centrifugal compressor a popular choice for small aircraft engines. Ease of maintenance and durability in prolonged operation suit this compressor to aircraft gas-turbine engine applications. In manufacturing, this type of air compressor is preferred for producing a steady feed of air to operate pneumatic tools and pneumatically operated machines.

Used primarily for medium volume and pressure air pumps in manufacturing, the ability to provide a smooth discharge of air is beneficial to the operational readiness of an assembly-line environment. By supplying large quantities of compressed air at a steady pressure and volume, air-operated tools used in an assembly line situation operate at the proper speed and provide consistent torque output over an extended period of time.

The centrifugal compressor is often the preferred type of air compressor for use in automobile refinishing operations. The consistent flow and volume of air allow sanders and other tools to operate continually for hours. The fact that the oil is separated from the air by diaphragms and seals allows the tools to operate without contaminating the work surface with an oily reside. This feature in a centrifugal compressor also benefits the painting process and eliminates the danger of getting oil in the paint system. From auto body repair shops to automobile turbo chargers and aircraft engines, the centrifugal pump provides proper air flow and pressure to allow each individual use to achieve optimal group results.

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