How Do Scroll Compressors Work?

Humans by nature are looking to make things work better, more efficiently, or save time. This is no different when it comes to the tools in your shop, garage, or home. Air Compressors power many of the tools we use daily and when our compressor isn’t working efficiently, neither are we. In recent years technological advances in air compressors have brought industrial technology closer to small shops and garages and more people are researching these options on the market.

Possibly the most efficient of these air compressors are Scroll Air Compressors. These are much different than a traditional piston driven compressor. While scroll technology hasn’t changed much and has been around for some time; it is now just getting the attention it deserves. The first scroll compressors were used just after WWII but they didn’t see much commercial use until the 1980’s and not even for compressing air, but for compressing refrigerant in air conditioning systems.

**Image courtesy of: https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=12236983

Scroll Compressors whether they are for compressing refrigerant or air work the same. There are two scrolls that are interconnected and when they orbit they can compress or pump air or fluid that is trapped between the vanes in the scrolls. This technology was even used in G-Lader superchargers on Volkswagens of the late 80’s and early 1990’s.

There are a handful of reasons a scroll air compressor would be chosen over a piston type compressor. The biggest reason being the noise. A piston driven compressor has a loud sound just because of the mechanics it takes to run the motor. This can make it hard to talk or work in a shop or in a home garage can make for some angry neighbors. The scroll compressor doesn’t have a piston or rotating assembly and the sound is considerably quieter  (we’ve seen close to HALF the decibels in some tests!) as well as the noise it does make is more of a “white noise”. The difference in sound can be the best described as the difference between a diesel vehicle running at idle versus the engine shut off and only the radiator fan being run at high speed on the same vehicle. The decibels are much lower AND the type of noise it makes is much easier to work around.

Maintenance is also another reason a scroll compressor is far superior. Because there isn’t a rotating assembly, or a piston there isn’t much maintenance need. No piston rings to wear out, oil consumption isn’t an issue either. A scroll compressor has very few moving parts which means it has less parts that will wear out or need repair/maintenance.

Finally the design of scroll compressors allow them to pack a large punch in a smaller package. Scroll Compressors are far more efficient than a reciprocating piston style compressor and therefore they generally come in a smaller package. We’ve found that a small 30 gallon Scroll Compressor can equal the same performance as a much larger 60-80 gallon reciprocating piston style compressor. Because the recovery time is so short on a scroll it doesn’t need as large of a air reserve so the tank and compressor itself tend to be smaller.

While scroll compressors previously have only been found in large industrial type settings, the technology has been shrunken down into smaller packages that can easily fit in a home shop and also can be afforded by a DIY enthusiast or hobbyist. We predict that in the next 1-3 years we will start seeing many more scroll compressors in small garage and home settings.

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