5 July, 2022

A closer look at the oil-free option

11 April, 2019

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 and growing at a faster CAGR of 4.77% to 2023. However, 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.

In recent years, we have seen an increase in demand for ‘oil-free’ compressed air. 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.

However, today ‘oil-free’ has almost become a buzz word. The result is that some compressed air users have misconceptions about the benefits of oil-free air and wrongly assume that it means the air is totally oil-free.

The fast growth of oil-free air compressor market is attributed to the growing need for optimising efficiency with the elimination of lubrication in various industries 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.

Oil-lubricated compressors

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. For example, lubricated, rotary vane compressors, for which Mattei is the market leader, are exceptionally durable, as much as 15% more energy efficient, and up to 50% less expensive than traditional oil-free compressors.

What’s more, the reality is that oil can still enter the air via other sources because oil-free compressors use oil in other parts of the system which are sealed off from the compression chamber. Seal breakage can 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.

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.

The environmental issue

Another myth we often hear is that if you don’t use oil you will be more environmentally friendly, but this is more than negated by the higher energy consumption required to run an oil free compressor compared to an oil lubricated compressor.

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.


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