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How to: Design a Compressed Air System for New or Remodeled Shops

When it comes to designing a compressed air system for a new or remodeled vehicle service shop, there are several system requirements to look into. Depending on what kind of work a shop does, and how many people are using equipment, there are numer- ous compressed air system options and design qualities that can make a shop efficient and safe. So says Jarrett Affolter, Product Specialist Team Leader, Compression Technologies & Services, Ingersoll Rand, a global leader in compression technologies and services.

“Shops should secure baseline readings on an air system’s load profile before any renovation or new build,” he advises. “OEMs, such as Ingersoll Rand, can easily conduct one of these readings via IntelliSurvey – a seven-day assessment of an air system with datalogging equipment to determine a system’s load profile. The results of the readings can help shops determine the right compressed air system to set up, based on current shop needs and conditions, as well as any improvements that could be beneficial to improving a shop’s bottom line.”


When one is building a shop from the ground-up and looking to purchase a new compressor, it’s important to consider all of the equipment options and shop requirements in order to make the right purchase, Ingersoll Rand’s Affolter says. Some questions to ask are:

  • What are you using the compressor to power?
  • How many people will be using power from the compressor at once?
  • What is the power supply at the shop? Do you need a trans- former to support the air compressor you are evaluating?

These questions can help you choose the right compressor capacity, whether it be a small reciprocating unit or an oil-flooded rotary screw compressor.

“Generally, small reciprocating units are ideal for small service shops with intermittent tool use, but they can also power large equipment, such as a vehicle lift,” says Affolter. “Rotary screw compressors are designed for shops that use compressed air continu- ously and need more power than a reciprocating unit can support.

“A rotary screw compressor is ideal for larger shops with more than three service technicians, and can support several tools and equipment running all at once.”

If upgrading equipment, Affolter says it’s advisable to keep any old compressor tanks for extra capacity and back-up. Even an older, noisy compressor can have a role in the shop. The sound can be diffused by:

  • Relocating the compressor to a different area of the shop.
  • Building an enclosure around the compressor to muffle the sound.
  • Remotely plumbing the intake.


If expanding to more space in the shop or building a larger shop, consider installing or reconfiguring the compressed air piping to make sure all equipment is getting equal air power, Affolter of Ingersoll Rand says.

“Using a loop formation rather than one, single pipe that spans across the entire shop will ensure that the same pressure and flow is delivered to each point of use,” he says. “This is a fundamental detail, but often overlooked.”

If a shop needs new piping or needs to reconfigure its current structure, he says it’s important to think about the following:

Consider installing a new system regulator

“Not all systems need to run at the maximum pressure an air compressor is capable of at all times,” Affolter notes. “A regulator will help output only the pressure needed. This ensures the system runs at premium efficiency. Take advantage of any piping reconfiguration to add a system pressure regulator.

Do research on piping materials

Affolter points out aluminum is recommended for vehicle service applications, though there are a number of other options.

“Some piping materials are more susceptible to corrosion and high- er pressure loss,” he says. “For example, polyvinyl chloride (PVC) material is the lowest cost material, but it can also result in a safety hazard. The piping can shatter if PVC lines are over pressurized.”

In addition, synthetic compressor lubricant can make the glue on PVC connections deteriorate, resulting in the piping coming apart. Contact an OEM that manufactures quick-fit piping systems that are user-friendly and easy to install, such as SimplAir from Ingersoll Rand, recommends Affolter. Shops that install piping in-house save resources on labor. OEM technicians are also available to help install compressed air systems.


Air cleanliness and filtration are especially important in a shop environment because of all of the equipment that compressors power. “Clean, dry air, free of debris and moisture, keeps pneumatic shop tools and equipment running reliably for a long time,” Affolter says. “Effective compressed air drying also has a significant impact on the quality and integrity of vehicle service applications. It directly impacts end results, including paint finishes, where you can see issues such as ‘fish eyes’ and ‘orange peels.’”

Tire filling applications need clean dry air with the use of tire pressure monitoring systems, and there are long-term benefits of keeping the air dry and clean for long rim and tire life, he adds.

“Consider adding dryer equipment to a compressed air system to ensure that the system is outputting high-quality air,” he says. “While much thought and calculation often goes into the selection of an air compressor to ensure the necessary volume of air is generated, selecting the proper dryer will have a significant impact on the quality of the air that is ultimately delivered.”