How To Size An Industrial Air Compressor For Your Needs

Inefficiently sized compressors don’t just make working harder, they can result in higher energy costs per unit of compressed air. If you’re in the market for a new compressor, this guide can help ensure you pick the right one. Keep in mind, you shouldn’t use horsepower to make your decision. Focus on considering your CFM needs, duty cycle and pressure when choosing the right compressor for the job. 

While compressor needs can be tough to predict, we’ll help you work smarter in no time with this systematic guide on sizing an industrial air compressor for your business. You’ll need a few things to get started, so gather up your current tools and continue reading.

Determine Your Air Requirements

size an industrial air compressor

First, you’ll want to put together a list of all the current tools used – and how many of them. Whether you’re selecting a compressor for a service shop, body shop, or other, you’ll want to know your CFM requirements per tool. We recommend checking with each tool manufacturer for exact CFM requirements. Write them down on your list next to the corresponding tool. Once you’re done, you’ll have to add all CFM requirements together to calculate your total air needs, so being able to view this information in one place is key.

Don’t forget to increase all of your calculations by about 25% to allow for leaks and reliably plan for the growth of your business.

What Is Your Duty Cycle?

size an industrial air compressor

Your duty cycle or power cycle can help you determine your air compression system needs. A duty cycle is the amount of time a compressor is providing consistent pressure (PSI) and flow (CFM). Start the process of calculating this by logging your current tool usage per day. The general formula used to calculate this is expressed as compressor time on/ (time on + time off) = Duty Cycle percentage.

For example, if a compressor is said to use a 100% duty cycle, that would mean that the compressor provides 25 CFM and 125 PSI for 100% of the time it is in use.

If you need additional help, JHFOSTER can evaluate your compressed air system by focusing on your goals such as reduced energy cost, improved productivity, increased system reliability and more. 

If you’re just starting out, don’t worry, simply take a look at your expected daily tasks and estimate the percentage of time you plan to run the compressor during working hours. Understanding your duty cycle can be the difference between a job done right or utter frustration.

Remember that maintenance and repairs should be considered, too. By offering an in-house team that can provide on-demand repairs to your compressor, JHFOSTER ensures you won’t have to worry about unforeseen equipment issues. 

Do You Know Your Pressure?

Most shop tools/equipment operate at approximately 90-100 psi, with the exception of tire changers, air jacks and in-ground lifts that operate at 150 psi. Reference your equipment list and check with each manufacturer for exact psig recommendations. Write them down. 

size an industrial air compressor

Remember, you don’t have to add all of your psig values like you did CFM requirements, just use the value of the tool that requires the greatest amount of pressure.

Check Your Voltage

What type of electrical supply do you use? Single-phase or three-phase? Residential and commercial buildings generally have single-phase or 115 volt, 60-cycle power systems. If you’re in an industrial building, you can usually count on a three-phase power supply, but it depends on the size of the building.

This is one of the most important steps, so if you’re not sure what your current voltage is, be sure to contact a qualified electrician for guidance.

Pick a Compressor 

You’ll now be able to determine the compressor tank or receiver size fit for your needs. Most compressor manufacturers offer standardized sizes based on the CFM – the most popular sizes are 80, 120 and 240 gallons. The receiver stores compressed air to minimize the risk of inefficient and short cycling of the compressor. You’ll also want to take into consideration motor characteristics and maximum pressure in addition to tank size. 

You’ll also have an option between single-stage and two-stage compressors. Single-stage compressors have a maximum psig rating of 135. Two-stage compressors have a maximum psig rating of 175. Remember, more horsepower doesn’t always mean a better compressor, so you can see how all of your needs stack up against each product offering.

Additional Resources

Choosing the right-sized compressor is just the first step, optimize your business efficiency by following these 5 steps prior to installation

If you need additional resources, don’t forget to check out our compressed air library. There you can find air quality standards, management checklists and even tax deduction guidelines for your equipment.


size an industrial air compressor

Don’t continue your struggle with inefficient tools. Talk to a JHFOSTER expert who can provide support every step of the way. From providing guidance in sizing your industrial air compressor to fit your needs to providing repairs and support, we can help you reduce business costs, increase efficiencies, and ensure a longer lifespan for your equipment.