the sealing mechanism fail, there is the possibility of oil entering the compressed air system. Not to mention contaminants contained in the atmospheric air drawn into the compressor. Seal failure can also result in significant

waste and downtime. Therefore, air from oil-free compressors requires the same level of careful filtration as lubricated compressors to remain compliant.

COST OF OWNERSHIP It is often stated that using an oil-free compressor reduces the user's overall cost of ownership as costly filters can be eliminated, as is the need to change filter elements. System pressure losses are also slightly reduced, again lowering costs. As purification equipment is based

A recent report into the global air compressor market has found that oil-free air compressors are expected to increase their share of the market, contributing more than half of the total market share. Here, Andy Jones, managing director at Mattei, argues that oil- free compressors aren’t as infallible, or necessary, as they’re often made out to be


he global air compressor market continues to expand, with the latest

estimates showing the market will reach $26.85 billion, with an annual growth rate 4.47 per cent to 2023. A key part of this expansion is the oil-free segment, which has held the largest share of the market in the last couple of years. It is expected that the oil-free market will maintain its lead through 2023, growing at a faster rate of 4.77 per cent than its counterpart — oiled air compressors. Many industries, such as pharmaceuticals

and food and drink manufacturing, require a high level of air purity for a number of operations and for compliance with regulations —allowing only trace amounts of residual oil in their air. Compressed air users are often

convinced to install oil-free compressors in place of their oil-lubricated counterparts on the grounds of improved air quality, as well as reduced costs for purification equipment and maintenance. But there are many myths surrounding oil-free compressors and the quality of air they deliver, including the assumption that the air is totally oil-free. Let’s take a closer look at some of these myths and try to set the record straight.


DELIVERING EFFICIENCY The fast growth of the oil-free air compressor market is attributed to the growing need for optimising efficiency with the elimination of lubrication in various industrial processes. However, oil filtration technology has reached a point where lubricated compressors may not only sufficiently meet stringent air purity standards — but may be the more functional and cost-effective choice. End users can now achieve the highest

quality of compressed air through the use of oil-lubricated compressors, which offer a number of significant advantages over traditional oil-free systems.

OIL-FREE STANDARDS One of the main industry myths is that oil-free compressors do not use oil. By design, oil-free compressors do not use oil in the compression chamber and therefore oil does not contact the air being compressed. However, oil is often used for the lubrication of moving parts and cooling of the machine. Typically, oil-free compressors will

utilise elaborate and complicated sealing systems to prevent the lubricating oil from entering the compressed air. But, should

End users can now achieve the highest quality of compressed air through the use of oil- lubricated compressors, which offer a number of significant advantages over traditional oil-free systems

upon the contaminants entering through the compressor intake, contaminants added by the compressor and rust and pipescale in the compressed air system mean that no matter what type of compressor is installed, the same level of purification equipment is required. This negates the argument of lower overall cost of ownership. Typically, the purchase price of an oil-

free compressor is 45 to 50 per cent higher than that of an equivalent lubricated compressor. Maintenance of the air end is generally more frequent than lubricated equivalents, and in some models, complete replacement of the air end is required after only a short number of years, which actually increases the overall cost of ownership significantly. It is also worth noting that the higher

the quality of the compressed air, then the higher the cost of producing it is. We often find factories using oil-free compressors to provide all of their air requirements, when actually only a small part of their demand requires such high levels of purity. This requirement could be addressed by point of use filtration, or if absolutely required, a smaller local point of use oil-free compressor with filtration. At Mattei, we believe that a

compressed air system combining lubricated vane compressors with high quality dryers and filters offers the best value and performance. Despite the market for oil-free compressors continuing to expand, uncovering these myths is vitally important for factory managers to ask if it’s worth paying more to go down the ‘oil-free’ compressor route — or whether filtration will suffice.

Mattei T: +44 (0) 1789 450 577


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