The rotary screw element

Let me explain how a rotary screw element is built up. See this example picture of an oil-free screw element.

Compressor element (oil-free type). Photo: Atlas Copco Of course, we see the two rotors (male rotor on the bottom, female rotor on the top) and the housing (the gray part). As we see the rotors have different kinds of bearing son both sides so they run smoothly for years without any maintenance. There are usually two pairs of bearings on both sides; bearings for radial loads (loads because of the turning of the rotors) and axial bearings. Because the screw 'push' are to one side (the high pressure side) the rotors want to move to the opposite direction. The axial bearings take on this load. We can also see that the male rotor has an axle that sticks out with a gear on it. This is the driving gear. Sometimes it's a pulley. The two rotors are also connected to each other by gears (on the left side in the picture) these are the synchronization gears. The element is water-cooled, for this purpose there are water cooling pockets in the element housing (the green parts). The gears are lubricated with oil, as is indicated by the yellow/brown parts. Oil-injected screw elements don't have this, since they are cooled by the injected oil. There is a sealing between the oil and the compressed air compartments, to prevent any oil from contaminating the compressed air (specific for oil-free compressor elements). The housing can be disassembled for maintenance.

What a screw element looks like Air-ends come in many differten sizes. but they all look basically the same. . Here are some photos of air compressor elements. This one is on a brand new compressor. Air compressors element. as you still it's still clean and shiny.

Air compressor element on variable speed compressor. This is what a compressor typically looks like: dirty! .

. which are also positive displacement compressors). How it works How does it work? Inside the compressor element are two screws (called 'rotors') that turn in opposite direction.and scroll-compressors. The rotary screw compressor is a 'positive displacement' compressor.Compressor element on portaable air compressor. Which simply means that the air is physically squeezed together by an external force (like piston.

This compression requires power. high pressure). and is discharged on the other side (hot. the air gets trapped between the two rotors. Types of screw compressor elements There are two basic types of screw compressor: oil-injected and oil-free. the other one is called the 'female' rotor. There is a male rotor and a female rotor. Yes. One rotor is called the 'male' rotor. Rotors / helical screws The rotors have the shape of what is called an "helical screw". chemical plants. The rotors have a special design for optimal efficiency and performance. I will explain later why the oil-free type is more expensive. . etc). low pressure). since they are the cheaper ones of the two types. which is usually supplied by a big electro motor.Trapped air between the roters In the case of the rotary screw. it looks like a screw. Oil-free screw compressors are only used in applications where to compressed air must be 100% oil free (usually in food-processing plants. gets trapped between the rotors. As can be seen on the picture: air gets sucked in on one side (cold. Oil-injected rotary screw compressors are the most common.

Mostly. They are synchronized. The exact design and manufacture of the screw is one of the most best-kept secret of any air compressor manufacturer. the female rotor turns exactly 1. Drive shaft and synchronization gears The female rotor is driven by gears off the shaft of the male rotor. while the female rotor has 6 grooves. it has lobes. Manufacturers are always looking to improve the screw design. The hot air will also heat up the rotors and the metal housing of the compressor element. The air gets trapped between the male and the female rotor and is transported to the exhaust side of the element in 'air pockets'.5 times. The male rotor is the 'thick one'.go / no photographs area of the factory. pockets of air that are trapped between the rotors. Pressure ratio Because of the compression. In other words: how to pump the most are with as little possible power. When the male rotor turns 1 time. the air heats up. It's a no. They look for a design that gives the best efficiency. the male rotor has 4 lobes. The gears that drive the female rotor are called synchronization gears. .Male and female helical screw rotors. They run anywhere between 1000 and 6000 rpm. The female rotor is the 'thin one' and has grooves or 'flutes'. But this is not set in stone. The male rotor is driven by an electro motor or sometimes a diesel engine (which is the case with portable compressors).

Steel has the bad habit of expanding when it gets warmer. robot controlled cnc-machines and complicated mathematic models. oil-free screw compressors used two stages. more air flows through the same gap). We'll see later why. The high compression ratio will result in a higher exhaust temperature. This higher leakage reduces the overall element efficiency. Design limits in creating the best screw element The rotary screw element is an example of a highly engineered part. in this age of computer-aided design. As said before. the two rotors will touch each other and/or the housing… this will usually result in a completely messed up screw element (costly!). But why is it so difficult. this compression ratio is about 3. When it expands too much. A higher pressure-ration means more internal air leakage (at a higher pressure. to create a single-stage oil-free air compressor? The problem is that many factors influence each other. This all adds to the problem of making the clearance as small as possible (too small and the rotors will touch each other when warming up!).This is a problem. The maximum pressure a screw element can create is called the pressure ratio. it becomes bigger. This gives extra problems with vibrations and life time of the rotors and bearings. For oil-free types.5 max. Because of the lower efficiency. More on oil-free and oil-injected screw compressors in the following paragraphs. There are many variables to think about when designing the best screw element. That is the maximum output pressure divided by the input pressure. we can't make an unlimited high pressure this way. For this reason. For oil-injected types. with an intercooler to reach the desired end pressure. The high temperatures result in high thermal expansion of the rotors. it would simply get too hot. because hot metal expands. Oil-free vs oil-injected What are the differences between oil-free and oil-injected rotary screw elements? And why is n oil-free element more expensive compared to an oil-injected element? . with thousands hours of research into it. the pressure ratio is normally maximum 13. the rotors will need to run in at a higher speed.

there comes a point where the upward force of the compressed air is higher than the downward force of the spring. Besides this. Because the oil-free type compressors don't have any oil. The pressure in transformed into a force. Wich simply means. The lever in turn opens the electrical contacts and the compressor stops.2 mm. . When the membrane moves upward. How much force depends on two things: the area (square mm's) of the membrane and the pressure (bar) of the compressed air. the force generated is directly proportional to the air pressure. For the inner workings of the pressure switch. Gaps and clearances allow the compressed air to flow back the 'wrong way'. Because of this the price of an oil-free air-end is much higher. This mechanism is also connected to the second set-screw which sets the differential pressure. The membrane (and lever) will move upward at this point. the oil-free elements require extra pockets and channel for cooling water. Since the area is constant. this simply means that the switch closes again at a lower pressure than the pressure where the switch closes (built-in hysteresis). which is pretty small for such a complicated shape. that there is an electrical switch. which is forced open or closed by air pressure. But when the pressure rises. max. The needed maximum clearance depends on the rotor diameter and is about 1 thousand of the diameter. Now this isn't a direct connection. the clearance between the rotors and the housing must be much smaller compared to oil-injected type screw elements. The oilinjected type element is cooled by the injected oil and doesn't need extra cooling water. the clearance would be only 0. Pressure Pressure switches are pressure actuated electrical switches. As long as the downward force of the spring is higher than the upward force of the compressed air. It lowers the efficiency and performance of the air-end. and not slowly slowly ("snap-action"). The air pressure at the inlet port acts on a flexible membrane. but there is an ingenious mechanism inside. the membrane (and lever) stay down. at a certain pressure.The injected oil has several functions. that makes the switch flip-over at once. so does the lever. So if the diameter of the rotor is 200 mm. one of those functions is to seal any gaps and clearances between the male and female rotors and between the rotors and the housing. The other side of the membrane is connected to a spring and a lever that acts on the electrical switch.

The spring 'wins' and the membrane stays down.I will try to explain it with the pressure switch I have here on my desk. I bought this pressure switch just for the purpose of illustration. I will simulate the air pressure with a screwdriver (instead of the compressed air pushing up. as it will damage the membrane.. so here it goes. This is not recommended when you still want to use your pressure switch.. The electrical contacts are closed (blue circle) Pressure switch with high air pressure . and have no intention of using it on an air compressor. while the air pressure tries to push it upwards (yellow arrows). it's me with the screwdriver pushing up :). Pressure switch with low air pressure Pressure switch inner workings at low pressure: the big spring is forcing the membrane (green circle) downwards (red arrow).

In other words: the pressure setting is lowered. the spring is compressed more. the spring becomes less compressed.Pressure switch inner workings at high pressure: the big spring is forcing the membrane (green circle) downwards (red arrow). It will now be easier for the compressed air to push against the spring. while the air pressure tries to push it upwards (yellow arrows). To be able to change the pressure setting. Now the pressure is high enough and the membrane moves upwards. When you turn the screw counter-clockwise. The electrical contacts open (blue circle) and the compressor stops. The adjustment is done by compressing the spring using a long screw. In other words: we raised the pressure setting. When you turn the screw clockwise. It will now generate a larger downward force on the membrane. . the downward force of the big spring can be adjusted (red arrow in above pictures). Setting the pressure. so we need an higer air pressure to overcome this force.

The main spring is almost not compressed. The pressure switch is set at a very low pressure. .

which of course would result in a way too high pressure). the pressure switch works as expected. It opens and closed automatically according to the pressure. In the AUTO ('ON') position. (an ON postion wouldn't make much sense. The compressor is stopped. the pressure settings are overruled and the electrical contacts are always open. The off/on/auto switch Some pressure switches have a switch or push button for on/off control.The spring is highly compressed now. . but the words "AUTO / OFF" would be more correct. The pressure switch is set at an high pressure. In the OFF position. as this would make the compressor run indefinately. On some switches it says "ON / OFF".

. The plastic block in turn opens the electrical contacts. The white pin pushes down on the black plastic block (red circle). Auto / off switch action. When the pressure switch is set "OFF". the pin pushes down on a plastic block. The black plastic block forces the electrical contacts open and the compressor stops.How does it work? The on/off buttons or switch are connected to a plasitc pin. The compressor will stop and stay stopted.